Canadian Council of Churches - 75 Years

Christians on a Journey: 2020 WPCU in Burlington, ON

A lay-led ecumenical group celebrates the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

A visible token of Christian unity: Christians on a Journey clergy and lay leaders, and two special guests from the Canadian Council of Churches, gather for 2020 WPCU ecumenical worship service at the Archangel Raphael and Saint Marina Coptic Orthodox Church in Burlington, ON.
(Left to right) Front row – Pastor John Veenstra, New Street Christian Reformed; Pastor Colin Cameron, Holy Cross Lutheran; Pastor David Ogilvie, Burlington Baptist; Ms. Pat Lovell, Vice-President of the Canadian Council of Churches; Pastor Michael Brooks, Port Nelson United; Rev. Peter Noteboom, General Secretary of the Canadian Council of Churches; Father Anthony Wadie, Archangel Raphael and Saint Marina Coptic Orthodox. Back row: Wilma and Frank Malick, St Raphael Roman Catholic; Mary Carey, Port Nelson United; Bob Luyk, New Street Christian Reformed; Anneke Kramer, New Street Christian Reformed.

Christians on a Journey, a grass-roots ecumenical group that brings together Christians from eight churches in south-east Burlington, Ontario, began with a personal dream and a small step.  

Anneke Kramer, member of the New Street Christian Reformed Church, had always felt a sense of sadness and frustration about the invisible walls dividing Christians in her neighbourhood. “There are several churches on New Street,” says Anneke, “and we call ourselves brothers and sisters, yet we’ve never really encountered one another. There was a sense of ‘them’ and ‘us.’ I wanted, in some small way, to answer Jesus’s prayer in John 17, ‘that they may be one’. I wanted to celebrate and grow the unique bond that we share as Christians. And I wanted to let our little light shine in Burlington, to pray for and reach out into the community that God had placed us in." 

"I wanted, in some small way, to answer Jesus’s prayer in John 17, ‘that they may be one’. I wanted to celebrate and grow the unique bond that we share as Christians. And I wanted to let our little light shine in Burlington, to pray for and reach out into the community that God had placed us in." - Anneke Kramer  

In June 2016, Anneke took a very simple yet bold step. She wrote a letter to all the churches on New Street and invited them to form an ecumenical group. When she spoke with the priests and pastors of these churches, she let them know that this would not be yet another job for them, but a lay-led local movement.  

Frank and Wilma Malick, parishioners of St Raphael Roman Catholic Church on New Street, felt an immediate sense of connection with Anneke’s dream. And, just like that, Christians on a Journey was born. “We started small,” says Frank, “getting the folks from our two churches together for monthly prayer, building friendships, just spending time with one another.”  

Pastor John Veenstra presenting the message of Day 3 – Hope – at the New Street Christian Reformed Church. The boat and oars symbolize the main theme of 2020 – Unusual Kindness – experienced and manifested through Reconciliation, Enlightenment, Hope, Trust, Strength, Hospitality, Conversion and Generosity. 

But the real sense of momentum came during 2017 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. That year’s theme drew on the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation and invited Christians to heal their divisions and celebrate God’s reconciling grace. Christians on a Journey reached out to the Holy Cross Lutheran church and invited them to celebrate together. “It was a powerful experience,” says Frank. “I particularly remember the central worship symbol that year. We carried ‘stones’ up the central isle, with names of the sins that separate us - failure to love, pride, prejudice, etc. – written on them. We used these ‘stones’ to build a wall of division at the beginning of the service and, at the end, transformed that wall into the reconciling cross. It really spoke to what Christians on a Journey were trying to do in our community.”  

Soon, folks from other churches started to join and now eight churches participate: Appleby United, Archangel Raphael and Saint Marina Coptic Orthodox, Burlington Baptist, Holy Cross Lutheran, New Street Christian Reformed, Knox Presbyterian, Port Nelson United, and St Raphael Roman Catholic. Six lay members – Anneke Kramer from New Street Christian Reformed, Frank and Wilma Malick from St Raphael Roman Catholic, Mary Carey from Port Nelson United, June Pare from Appleby United, and Bob Luyk from New Street Christian Reformed – share leadership. “But this is just ‘for now’,” says Anneke. “We have plans to visit more local churches, talk to their pastors and members, invite, encourage.”  

Twelve or fourteen ‘regulars’ come together every month, have coffee and pray together, lifting up the ministries, needs and joys of their communities and their city to the Lord. The group also shares news of special events among the participating churches and encourages members to attend. 

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity remains the heart of Christians on a Journey. Not content with coming together for just one ecumenical worship service, each participating church hosts a celebration during the January ‘octave’.  

This year, the Week began on Sunday, January 19, with an hour-long ecumenical worship service at Appleby United, during which Anneke lifted up a special prayer for the spiritual leaders of the participating churches. Monday through Saturday, half-hour prayer services based on the daily theme were held in different churches, with 25 to 40 people attending. Each service reflected the worship tradition of the host church. On Sunday, January 26, the newest member of Christians on a Journey – Archangel Raphael and Saint Marina Coptic Orthodox Church – welcomed about 80 people for worship and fellowship. “They are new to our neighbourhood,” says Frank, “so folks were curious. Most of their community showed up as well. After the service, their priest came up to me and said, ‘This really made a huge difference. We truly feel part of the community now.’ And, really, this is what the Week of Prayer is all about.” Anneke resonates with Frank’s experience: “The moment that will stay with me most this year is seeing all the ordained leaders of our churches standing together, shoulder to shoulder, at one of the services. This is a visible token of the unity we are all striving for and the bond that we have already created.” The Week wrapped up at Burlington Baptist, with the sermon bringing together the messages and themes of the 8 Days of Prayer. 

‘That they may be one’: Laughter and conversation among friends during the fellowship hour on Sunday, January 26, at Archangel Raphael and Saint Marina Coptic Orthodox Church. 

“I really think we put a smile on God’s face when we come together during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity,” says Frank Malick. “The more people do it, the better understanding we will have of one another as we truly are – as brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Anneke agrees: “The Week of Prayer lets us celebrate who we are, before God – his children, his beloved friends, journeying together toward greater unity.” 

In just a few years, Christians on a Journey transformed the Christian communities in south-east Burlington. When asked what changed, Frank muses, “I think we’ve learned how to talk to one another, be with one another. We’ve learned to ask questions and be open to understanding one another’s beliefs without judgment, with sensitivity. It's amazing that I can now reach out to my brothers and sisters from other churches in times of need. Or that a Presbyterian minister can call me just to find out where I got the DVD with the story of Paul’s shipwreck on the island of Malta, which we projected at the Week of Prayer service in my church this year. None of this would have happened five years ago.” Anneke’s dream and initiative have borne rich fruit. 

When asked what advice they would give to folks who’d like to start a local ecumenical group or a Week of Prayer tradition in their community, Anneke and Frank give similar answers. “Start small and don’t be discouraged by setbacks,” says Frank. “Sometimes you knock on a door and it’s not the right moment - maybe the church you contacted is in a period of transition, maybe they need time to warm up to the idea. Keep knocking and have hope. Things will happen, but it might be on God’s time not on our time. Don’t get impatient. If only two churches want to come together, start there and others will follow.”

“Anneke’s advice? Take the first step. Write a letter. Call a pastor. Visit the church next door and chat to folks during coffee hour. Download the Week of Prayer materials and share them when you visit. Just start.”