Week of Prayer for Unity: Foundations 1744 - 1908

Home Some History 1744 - 1908 1908 - today Why Pray? Why January? Paul Wattson Paul Couturier Resources Centenary Links Gallery

Pray without ceasing 


Jonathan Edwards, 1705-58, the New England Congregationalist, calls for 'A Concert of Prayer… for the revival of religion' among the different churches touched by North America’s early pentecostal revival movement, at agreed, set times


The Concert of Prayer spreads to Scotland – every Saturday evening and Sunday morning, and also the first Tuesday of each quarter


John Wesley preaches in Newcastle on Catholic Spirit, calling for a spiritual inclusiveness beyond church boundaries (recently termed ‘transconfessional evangelicalism’)


Charles Wesley issues Catholic Love, a poem calling for unity in ‘the hidden Church unknown’ (pre-figuring Couturier’s ‘Invisible Monastery)


James Haldane Stewart, rector of St Bride’s, Percy Street, Liverpool, publishes Hints for the General Union of Christians for Prayer for the Outpouring of the Spirit, suggesting the first Monday of each New Year as a day of prayer for unity. For the first time this brought people of different denominations to pray together in public, and so was an early visible sign of unity, although the prayer was principally concerned with united renewal in the Holy Spirit, rather than the visible unity of Christians as it is now conceived


Johann Adam Möhler publishes Unity in the Church, recovering the idea of Church as communion, achieved through convergence in unity of spirit (spiritual affinity of prayer), unity of mind (doctrinal accord), and unity of body (fullness of spiritual and sacramental life through perfect communion). Ideas developed in dialogue with Lutherans at Tübingen – hugely influential on Cardinal Wiseman and John Henry Newman, then Yves Congar and thus Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium


Edward Pusey, leader of the Oxford Movement, declines the suggestion of prayer for unity within the Church issued by Evangelicals concerned at the rise of two movements in the Church of England tending in different directions. His insistence was that prayer for unity had to embrace the whole Church, which the Evangelical approach at the time did not consider


Ignatius Spencer, a Passionist priest, meets Newman and Pusey and suggests a 'Union of Pryer for Unity', with Anglicans and Catholics praying separately for unity. The agree on a 'Plan of Prayer for Union' (devised by Newman) for the recovery of unity between Anglicans and Roman Catholics (praying individually, not together). It failed to attract the interest of the Anglican bishops but was subsequently sanctioned by Cardinal Manning


The Evangelical Alliance calls for the first Sunday of the New Year to be a day of prayer for unity among its 52 member churches


The Association for the Promotion of the Unity of Christendom founded by Anglicans (such as Bishop Forbes of Brechin and Dr Frederick Lee of Lambeth), Catholics (such as Augustus Welby Pugin) and Orthodox with the support of Cardinal Wiseman, as a league of concerted prayer for corporate reunion. In 1864 there were 5,000 Anglican members, 1,000 Catholics and 300 Greek Orthodox. Catholics were obliged to leave in 1864 following pressure from Manning and a decree from Rome forbidding participation because of the 'possible danger of religious indifference'


The second Lambeth Conference recommends a season or day of prayer for reunion either on the Tuesday before Ascension Day or the seven days after


Henry Lunn, a Methodist, holds Home Reunion Conferences at Grindelwald and calls on the Archbishop of Canterbury to designate Pentecost as a day of prayer for unity

1894 &5

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Edward Benson, calls for Whitsunday to be observed as a day of prayer for unity, in  anticipation of a successful conclusion to the commission in Rome on Anglican-Catholic relations and Church Order


Pope Leo XIII calls for an octave of prayer between Ascension and Pentecost for Christian Unity, promoting patient study of the possibility of unity through a conciliatory letter, Amantissimae Voluntatis, to the people of England. The Archbishop of York, William Maclagan, proclaims ‘unity is in the air’


The Vatican commission’s adverse decision (influenced by Manning) on mutual recognition of Anglicans and their Church Order, announced in Leo XIII’s letter Apostolicae Curae


Archbishops Frederick Temple and William Maclagan reply with Saepius Officio, and call for persistence in prayer and work for unity in the Church


Leo XIII in the encyclical Provida Matris formally approves throughout the Roman Catholic Church the novena between Ascension Day and Pentecost as a season of prayer for the Unity of Christians – arguably in response to Saepius Officio. He establishes the novena – ‘in perpetuity’, in the Encyclical Divinum illud munus, his encyclical on the Holy Spirit


Spencer Jones preaches a sermon at St Matthew’s Church, Westminster, before the surviving Association for the Promotion of the Unity of Christendom, on England and the Holy See, calling for the corporate reunion of Anglicans with the Roman Catholic Church.


Bishop George Howard Wilkinson of St Andrews (primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church) joins with Dr William Milligan and other Presbyterians to set aside 13 October as a day of prayer for union among Christians in Scotland


Spencer Jones adapts his 1900 sermon into book on the suggestion of Lord Halifax, England and the Holy See: An Essay Towards Reunion. Published in 1902 it causes a sensation and leads to a coreespondence between Jones and Paul Wattson, an Anglican Franciscan in New York State, on the need to pray for reunion


Spencer Jones proposes the Feast of St Peter the Apostle on June 29th as an annual day of prayer for unity. Wattson welcomes the idea, but proposes a ‘Church Unity Week’ beginning on the old Feast of St Peter’s Chair (i.e. commemorating his assumption of the leadership of the Church in Rome) on January 18 and ending on the Feast of St Paul’s Conversion on January 25.


The Church Unity Octave is first observed between 18 January and 25 January, simultaneously in St David’s Church, Moreton in Marsh, Gloucestershire (Spencer Jones’s parish) and in the chapel of Our Lady of the Angels, Graymoor NY, home to Paul Wattson’s community. In the October, the friars become Roman Catholics corporately, and become the Society of the Atonement, with the mission ever since to pray and work for unity


(c) 2007