A service was held at Oxford Christadelphian Church at 2pm on Sunday 21st January, as part of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2024, using an order of service put together by churches and Christian groups in Burkina Faso. Each year, Churches Together worldwide choose a different country to create the order of service, which is then distributed globally. Burkina Faso was chosen for this year's focus. Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in West Africa, and is experiencing one of the world's fastest growing displacement crises at this time, due to multiple coups, famine, and natural disasters. It has one of the world's highest food inflation rates, and 40% of the country is controlled by armed groups. The International Rescue Committee rank it as the 4th most important crises the world can't ignore. As part of our service, we took a retiring collection to support the International Rescue Committee's work in Burkina Faso. We raised £200.
The Cowley/Cowley Road unity service began with a bring and share meal which was then followed by worship together. Over 50 people attended, from different church backgrounds, nationalities, and walks of life, with a good mix of ages (the youngest were infant school aged), professions, and levels of church involvement. The service was put together by Libby Hawkness-Smith (Community Chaplain and Outreach Worker based at Cowley Road Methodist Church), and was led by Professor Bev Clack (Professor of Philosophy of Religion at Oxford Brookes, and Senior Steward of Cowley Road Methodist Church). Rev Canon Dr Geoff Bayliss (Area Dean of Cowley Deanery, and Rector of Cowley Parish) preached, and the Christadelphian community made us all feel very welcome.
(Some of the other clergy who attended the service included Sister Francis – from All Saints Sisters of the Poor, Rev David Gimson – curate at Cowley St John parish, and Rev Margreet Armitstead CBE – priest-in-charge at St Mary St Nicholas Littlemore).
Music was led by a group who had come together especially for the service, having never played with each other before. Musicians comprised members of Refugee Voices Welcome, St Mary St Nicholas Littlemore, St Aldate's, Oxford Christadelphians, and Cowley Road Methodist Church. Eight songs/ hymns were included in the service – each of which chosen by a different church/group who attended the service (one was also chosen by the Punjabi Congregation, Oxford Methodist Circuit, who were unfortunately unable to attend the service itself but still wanted to be involved).
The service included two readings: the Old Testament reading was brought by a member of Cowley St John parish, and Oxford Diocesan Deaf Churches, who chose to use the King James version, and the gospel reading was read by a member of Cowley Parish, who chose to use The Message version. Prayers were led by members of Cowley Road Methodist Church, Oxford Christadelphians, and Brother Martin and one of his congregants from St Edmund and St Friedeswide (Greyfriars). Libby chose to use the version of the Lord's Prayer, which is used in the New Zealand Book of Common Prayer (a translation that was retranslated from the Maori translation).
The service finished promptly at 2.55pm, allowing those present to continue to the Together for Humanity community gathering happening at Oxford Town Hall that afternoon, part of the day of mass vigils happening across the country on Sunday 21st January to bridge divisions over the Israel-Gaza, and Ukraine wars.