Sunday 3 November 2013

Blogging From Busan - Crossing Bridges for Sunday Worship and Reflection

In Luke 8:22 Jesus says to his disciples, "Let us cross over to the other side." Today, we got onto our denominational buses and went to local parishes. Few crossed to the other side in terms of the "rivers" separating denominations -- I was one of those longing for a "good Anglican Mass" and so instead of going to my allocated local parish we went to the small local cathedral in BUSAN.

The bus literally crossed over a reclaimed part of the sea over to the other side. Structural engineers have constructed quite complex bridges joining the side of town in which we are holding the assembly and the older side of Busan where the cathedral is located. In real life, crossing over to the other side from yours is as complex as building the bridges; although it may not need structural engineers, it can nonetheless be difficult. Anglicans often see themselves as bridge-builders, and our Province in particular sees itself as a bridge-builder in Communion matters. When I saw the bridges crossing over the sea today -- at the same time experiencing changeable weather -- I appreciated the depth and complexity of some of our challenges when acting as bridges to carry others over to the other side.

Unlike a bridge, which will one day collapse if it is not properly maintained on site, we are nurtured and "maintained" by word and sacrament daily, wherever these are preached and celebrated anywhere in the world. This Sunday, we were part of an international congregation which joined the local parishioners to fill the cathedral. Bishop Alan Abernethy of Connor in Northern Ireland was the preacher and the diocesan bishop, Bishop Onesimus Dongsin Park, the celebrant.
Much as we crossed cultural, linguistic and location boundaries, there is something always special about the familiarity of Anglican liturgy and worship. We could join in melody, humming along, and we always knew where we were in the service. Reflecting on the readings, Bishop Alan coined a phrase summing up the essence of the assembly, saying that "God in Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit is at work in unexpected places," suggesting that we need to open our eyes and ears to discern this presence so that, like Zacchaeus, we feel his transformative presence.

It is indeed in those defining moments, transformative moments, when we consciously and unconsciously connect the dots, in life, in worship or our thoughts that we cross to the other side. Like epiphany moments, we connect the dots not for our own sake, but for the other as we join with what God is up to in his world. At lunchtime, Bishop Alan and I connected the stories of Belfast and South Africa; I recalled the 1998 pre-Lambeth Conference international youth conference at Stranmillis, and he recalled our time at the 2008 Lambeth Conference, relating how useful he found the Indaba process. His son works in the Diocese of Natal, and my son, when on a Face to Face/Faith to Faith interfaith youth leadership programme made friends with an Irish team.

Crossing over to the other side is not about bridges, boats and buses but people taking the first step, and maintaining the subsequent ones in engaging at a deeper level, ensuring relationships last and can withstand both the human and natural elements. It my prayer that the WCC assembly will ensure we form deeper and lasting relationships with those of different denominations or no denominations as we all witness for peace with justice in our world.

Back at the assembly, the children's choir at tonight's Korean cultural evening was for me about crossing over to the other side. The Gospel was retold through cultural lenses in a such a beautifully choreographed manner, through both a Western eye and a Korean eye, and the subtle synergies were profound. May the harmony of their little voices and the movements we saw today characterize our ecumenical witness and remind us that ecumenism does not only matter but is the lifeblood of our Christian identity, a bridge which will enable all to cross over difference and serve the common good.

God bless