Tuesday 5 November 2013

Blogging From Busan - Reflections on Church Unity, Ecumenism - And a Little Gossip?

Today we discussed church unity, with Dame Mary Tanner from our Communion moderating the session. She concluded her opening remarks by saying, "It remains a scandal and a wound that we can't share together at the table of the Lord."
These words are apt and real and sum up the doctrinal and ecclesial wedges which have separated us over many years. In some ecumenical gatherings, at least in Southern Africa, this has eased a bit and I hope we will one day share not only in ministries but also the same cup of the Lord regardless of denomination, especially those who take sacramental ministries seriously.

In the unity plenary, we were careful not to raise the core issues of Orthodoxy and orthodoxy. His Excellency Metropolitan Nifon raised important theological matters, stressing that we all inherited our kinship as brothers and sisters in the Lord through baptism and that we need to remember the perichoresis, the concept that holds the Trinity together, as holding us together too, not allowing room for any differentiation or discrimination. But then he contradicted himself and said ecclesiology remains a challenge because "confessional dress" should lead to exclusion if we don't interpret the same understanding that God's eternal ideals are unchangeable. He did not dwell on this point and assumed we understood and agreed with this statement. A fellow South African, Ms Alice Fabian of the United Congregational Church, presented a view of church unity from the perspective of two congregations, who were once separated by apartheid and are now joined together to be one parish. The other presenters sketched the real issues of race, sexuality, class, gender and denominational dominance as they impacted on church unity.

Among statements which the main business plenary deliberated on was the unity statement, which was careful to raise only biblical and theological matters and the historical journey of the the WCC, staying away from controversial subjects, at this stage avoiding even mentioning same-sex unions. However, the participants forced the referral of the statement back to committee and for further submissions. The session was lively, it becoming apparent who the assembly's most eloquent spokespersons were -- they never failed to use their God-given time to approach the microphone and state their case on any issue.

The ecumenical conversations ended today. Bishop Jo and I have religiously attended these and we both agreed that we now have a better grasp of the concept of just peace. We both attended the Madang presentation by the Norwegian church on peace and signed our names to be included on any global network or initiative for peace if done ecumenically.

It is nearing time to say goodbye and termination anxiety is setting in. So completing the ecumenical conversation was the first stage of the goodbyes. In the business sessions we sit behind two Aussies, Archbishop Phillip Aspinall, the Primate of Australia and the Archbishop of Adelaide. We connect daily and reflect quietly on the process, its similarities to and stark differences from the assumptions and practices of the Anglican way doing things. On my left, we are next to Archdeacon Bruce Meyers from Canada, who was a student I was suffragan bishop in Grahamstown. So we are well placed among Anglicans and can confer (or is it gossip?) on matters from time to time.

Again I conclude with where we started the day. We had greetings from the CEO of The Lausanne Movement, who reiterated the need for us as the household of faith to pursue unity, maintain ongoing dialogue and at least to foster partnerships in our mission and ministry to God's world. And as I reflected on bridges on Sunday, may we indeed continue to be "pontiffs", bridges that foster this unity that our Lord and yearned and prayed for.

God bless

Top - Dame Mary Tanner; Middle - Business plenary; Bottom - Morning prayer (All photos by Peter Williams, WCC)