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the first Friday in March World Day of Prayer

February 23, 2001

The prayers below were used in World Day of Prayer services in 2001. These prayers come from women in Samoa, and from New Zealand. They don’t do the historically usual thing and refer to God in male, gender-based language. They don’t do the women’s movement neutral thing, avoiding any reference to gender. They specifically, explicitly, refer to God and creation in an inclusive way, embodying both genders.

Did we, the women who worked so hard in the last years of the last century to have neutral language substituted for gender specific language, made a mistake? 20th century language was predominantly male (i.e., Workman’s compensation, instead of Worker’s compensation). Perhaps we should have worked for gender inclusive language, language that makes reference to women and to men, language that makes us visible and equal. Well, it’s not too late to start.

Christians gather on the first Friday in March every year to celebrate the World Day of Prayer. The World Day of Prayer was begun by women in Canada and the USA in 1922. It now is observed by women and men in more than 170 countries. In 2001, in Canada alone, 2,000 communities shared a service written by women in Samoa.

The Women’s Inter-Church Council (WICC) organizes the World Day of Prayer in Canada. It is an independent, ecumenical organization of Christian women in Canada. In 1918, women representing the Anglican, Congregationalist, Methodist and Presbyterian women’s missionary societies met to discuss “united prayer and action and a stronger voice in national questions.” The WICC has 11 church partners. It is engaged in work around ecumenism, women’s spiritual growth, social justice and women’s issues.

“Informed Prayer, Prayerful Action” is the theme chosen by the Samoan women. In their own language the theme is even more meaningful. We need to be informed when we pray. We need to be practical after our prayer. The meaning implies that it is not prayer if we do not act. They tell us something of their own history.

“We welcome you to the Pacific Ocean country of Samoa, comprised of two main islands and 8 smaller islands. Samoan weather is pleasantly warm with some rainy seasons. The Samoan islands are blessed with spectacular beauty, historic sites and unique forests, wildlife and plant life, especially our national flower, Teuila, known in English as ginger. The Samoans still live in traditional villages and retain many customs and traditions of their ancestors from centuries ago.

The social and economic life of a Samoan was greatly influenced by the Christian churches. Samoa’s motto is “Samoa is founded on god.” All government offices and shops are closed on Sunday.

“According to Samoan legend, the war goddess Nafanua prophesied that a new religion would come to Samoa. The arrival of John Williams in 1830, the first missionary from the London Missionary Society to Samoa, was understood to be the fulfillment of the prophecy ... When the Samoan leader Malietoa accepted Christianity, he proclaimed peace for his country. We believe that Malietoa’s acceptance of Christianity was an example of how his informed prayer developed into prayerful action and peace for the community.”

The language and imagery of the service are inclusive of, and affirming for, women, consistent with the roots of the World Day of Prayer itself. Here is the Prayer of Confession from the service:

Leader:

Let us offer our prayer of confession;
When we could have been filled with joy
and inspiration, we let our lack of faith
keep your presence from living among us.

All:

Loving God, father and mother of us all
we seek forgiveness and the empowerment
to change our ways.

Leader:

When we could have been building understanding
and loving concern for our families, communities
and global partners, we let selfish ways and
harmful attitudes prevent us from working
together for a better world.

All:

Loving God, father and mother of us all,
we seek forgiveness and the empowerment
to change our ways.

Leader:

When we heard the cry of children seeking relief
from poverty and war, we allowed apathy and
indifference to keep us from creating a world
where all children can reach their full potential
as part of the human family.

All:

Loving God, father and mother of us all
we seek forgiveness and the empowerment
to change our ways.

Leader:

When our bodies and minds needed physical and
spiritual nourishment, we let busyness and neglect
prevent us from using and appreciating the
gifts of creation that were meant to give us
a full and healthy life.

All:

Loving God, father and mother of us all
we seek forgiveness and the empowerment
to change our ways. Amen.

The service includes a Kava Ceremony, an ancient and sacred Samoan ceremony. It is a special reception offered to guests and friends, an expression of friendship and love. In this ceremony, a precious gift of nature, the Kava root, is presented to the guests and then made into a drink to be shared by the whole community. While the root is being presented and the drink prepared, a dialogue takes place with one speaker representing the Samoan community and the other the guests.

For those of you familiar with the Lord’s Prayer, the service concludes with Jesus’ Prayer, taken from the New Zealand Prayer Book:

Eternal Spirit, Earth-maker, pain-bearer, Life-giver,
Source of all that is and shall be.
Father and mother of us all, Loving God, in whom is heaven:
The hallowing of your name shall echo through the universe!
The way of justice be followed
by peoples of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom
sustain our hope and come on earth.
With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and test, strengthen us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.
For you reign in the glory of the power that is love,
now and forever. Amen.

The WICC suggests actions that can be taken following this year’s World Day of Prayer. Samoa is listed by the United Nations as one of the world’s least developed countries. It is modernizing and this is having an effect on traditional family structures. Although most people still live in villages under the leadership of village heads (mostly men), many husbands and family members move to urban centres or other countries to find work. More than 90% of people living in rural villages are dependent on money sent home by family working elsewhere.

More than half of Samoa’s population is under 15 years of age, resulting in strain on education and health systems. Social support systems are also affected, since the migration of workers often causes marriage and family break-ups. Poverty appears to be increasing, resulting in malnutrition and poor health. There is also a significant level of violence against women.

Despite modernization, there are few options for good jobs. Many women scrape out a living by producing food and crafts to trade.

Fish stocks are threatened by huge factory ships operated by some large Asian fishing companies that continuously cruise in Samoan waters. Illegal fishing methods, like the use of poison and dynamite, and the disposal of industrial waste into the sea have caused many species of fish to disappear. The ocean ecology has also been damaged by French and U.S. nuclear tests. Global warming has resulted in a rise of the sea level and the loss of some coastal land in Samoa. In order to gain more land for agriculture, Samoans are cutting down forests, and much fertile soil has been washed into the sea by tropical rains.

If you look in resources below, you will find a list of Canadian organizations actively working in Samoa and other south Pacific countries.

more to consider

What a powerful, positive notion is embedded in the theme for the World Day of Prayer that the Samoan women bring to us – that prayer is not complete without action following it. That's an empowering message. It is a challenge to us. We need to take it up. Everyday, each of us sees something that is in our power to do. It doesn’t matter how modest or great our power is. Just do it!

The things that are happening to women, children and families in Samoa, the things that are undermining and destabilizing their traditional way of life, are common to women around the world.

Women around the world have come to know each other. We are aided by technologies that in other respects are destructive. We have come to see how much we have in common, both in terms of problems and solutions.

It’s overwhelming to contemplate the impact women could have on the direction and development of our societies and the world – if we could develop a common vision and support each other to achieve it.

resources for this story

To contact the Women’s Inter-Church Council of Canada, WICC, e-mail wicc@wicc.org Or write to WICC, 394 Bloor Street West, Suite 201, Toronto, ON M5S 1X4, tel. (416) 929-5184, fax (416) 929-4064.

WICC publishes Making Waves, an ecumenical feminist journal, quarterly. It is available for an annual donation of $20 or more to WICC.

According to WICC, the following organizations are actively working in Samoa and other South Pacific countries:

  • Oxfam Canada
  • Project Ploughshares
  • Pacific Peoples’ Partnership, 1921 Fernwood Road, Victoria BC V8T 2Y6
  • Greenpeace Canada

It is also suggested that you could contact the world outreach or development division of your denomination.

This feature was first published on section15.ca’s predecessor site CoolWomen.

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