Walls and wills

Israel's separation wall in the West Bank Photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Shutterstock
Published January 3, 2017

(This article first appeared in the January 2017 issue of the Anglican Journal.)

The history of humanity is marked by many walls of empires risen and fallen.

All of us have images of the Walls of Jericho, Hadrian’s Wall, the Great Wall of China, the Berlin Wall and the Separation Wall in the West Bank. People in the United States are apprehensive about recent talk of building a wall along the border shared with Mexico.

These political walls often take the form of enormous concrete blocks piled high, massive steel plates welded together, vast stretches of chained link fencing topped with barbed wire. Others are swaths of highly militarized territories often described as “no man’s land” separating people one from another.

Our world is also familiar with other kinds of walls representing racial, class, economic, gender and religious divides.

Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther nailed to the door of a cathedral church in Wittenburg his 95 theses for reform in the church. at Reformation brought with it many blessings, but it also spawned many movements through which the church has been further divided.

In the midst of liturgies for this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity,* people will be invited to participate in both the erection and dismantling of a wall. The construction will be marked by confession of all the sins by which we have been so deeply divided-ignorance, contempt, spiritual pride, abuse of power, intolerance and assimilation, inquisition and persecution, and acts of exclusion, to name but a few. I have no doubt that in building this wall, people will be imaginative in their use of wood and stone, and fencing and fabric. Once it is built, the people will pray:

“Lord, our God, look upon the wall we have built which separates us from you and from one another. Forgive us our sins. Heal us. Help us to overcome all walls of division and make us one in you.”

As the liturgy continues, that wall will be dismantled. Its pieces will be quietly rearranged in a form taking the shape of a cross. Here will be a dramatic reflection on St. Paul’s preaching: “Christ has broken down the dividing wall of hostility…that he might create in himself a new humanity, making peace, reconciling us to God in one body through the cross…” (Ephesians 2:14-16).

Pray with me, dear friends, that our wills be made strong for continuing to dismantle the walls that so sadly divide us, and that our common witness to the gospel of Christ be more worthy of his prayer that “they all may be one” (John 17:21).

* Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: January 18-25, 2017



  • Fred Hiltz

    Archbishop Fred Hiltz was primate of the Anglican Church of Canada from 2007 to 2019.

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