The Archbishop of Canterbury struck a note of humility and encouragement in his message to the tenth Assembly of the World Council of Churches.
Archbishop Justin Welby, who is spiritual head of the Church of England and of the 78 million-strong global Anglican Communion, told the gathering in Busan, Republic of Korea: "It is a great privilege – more than I can express in words – for me to be here at the opening of the 10th Assembly.
"Ever since the first Assembly at Amsterdam in 1948, Archbishops of Canterbury have been present at Assemblies, a personal sign of how important the fellowship of churches has been, and still is, for Anglicans. As a result we have sometimes been uncomfortably challenged and even moved to reform ourselves. We have learned so much from our participation in the life of the fellowship. We have made so many friends.
"Friendship is the seed bed in which unity, the visible unity of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church grows and flourishes.
Archbishop Welby continued: "This is my first Assembly. I am enjoying sense of wonder at my smallness, my tiny place among God’s great Church, which draws together women and men, young and not so young, lay and ordained, from different continents and cultures and different ecclesial traditions.
"Being here together a fresh vision of that to which we are called. It is an opportunity for genuine encounter, an opportunity to learn about one another and to learn from one another. We must learn to hear Christ through one another. We renew our commitment to the ecumenical journey and the ecumenical task. We need one another.
"We have travelled to this place praying, ‘God of Life: Lead us to justice and peace.’ Peace and justice begin with us and God. When we are not at peace with God through Jesus Christ we cannot be peacemakers in the world. God calls us to be reconciled reconcilers, reconciled ourselves to God and to each other. Peace and justice become in us a cause for which any sacrifice is worthwhile when they are given birth in each of us and in the church by the Holy Spirit. For that reason we need to be seen again to be a people of prayer; faced with the God of peace and justice our hunger for unity grows, we are able to forgive and love one another with the love that God puts in our lives.
"It is God, who is the perfection of unity. In God is the one Father, the one Lord, the one Spirit, who in Christ draws us into unity with God and with one another (a paraphrase of Lambeth 1920).
"We are to be one, visibly one, so that the world may believe. We are to be one so that the Gospel we preach is not denied by the way we live in separation. We are to be one because we are more effective together than apart. We are to be one – one people worshipping one God Father, Son and Holy Spirit, eating and drinking around the One table of the Lord, for that is Jesus’ prayer for his disciples, then and for us now.
"The fellowship of churches in the World Council of Churches has helped us Anglicans to understand something of the unity that is God’s gift and our calling. But so often we have made God’s amazing and precious gift sound like an impoverished unity, the life of an inward-looking, self-absorbed community, only intent on self-preservation.
Only institutions that are willing to lose their lives for the sake of the good news, the gospel, and for Christ, will find the life God offers. As Anglicans, as the WCC, we must die to live.
"When we look to God our eyes are turned outwards to His world, and we hear again the command, as Pope Francis said, to be a poor church for the poor. The children of Christ act instinctively to love those who suffer, as He loves us. If justice faints, hope fades. But when justice is loved, and lived, the poor have hope and the whole world begins to sing. Our vision has to be of God and God’s world and the Church made sense of in that perspective.
"The unity statement before this Assembly tries to capture this vision. To fulfil that vision we need a fresh confidence in the good news as the best way for every human being on the planet, a fresh Spirit of grace to one another, and a fresh commitment to sacrifice all in the name of Christ for unity that reveals Him. ‘God of Life: lead us together in unity to justice and peace’," the Archbishop concluded.
* Official website of the WCC 10th Assembly: http://wcc2013.info/en
* More from Ekklesia on the WCC and its 10th Assembly: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/wcc