A global gathering aimed at bringing together representatives of all the world's main Christian traditions has opened in Kenya with leaders saying they want to find new ways of working together - writes Fredrick Nzwilli.
"I don't think it is going to be easy, but I hope we will find a meeting space," the Rev Setri Nyomi, general secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches told Ecumenical News International on the opening day of the 6-9 November 2007 meeting, called the Global Christian Forum, at Limuru, near Nairobi.
The forum was originally proposed in the mid-1990s by the Rev Dr Konrad Raiser, a German theologian who was then general secretary of the Geneva-based World Council of Churches.
He said it could reach out to Roman Catholic, Pentecostal and Evangelical churches that do not belong to the WCC, whose 347 member churches are drawn predominantly from Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox traditions.
"Our differences are not bigger than what binds us together," said Nyomi. "We have more in common, but how we express it is different."
The WCC described the Kenya gathering as bringing together "the broadest range of Christian traditions ever represented at a global meeting".
About half of the 250 participants come from Evangelical and Pentecostal churches, which are growing rapidly in many regions of the world, particularly in the Southern hemisphere.
"It is a wonderful opportunity for the broad spectrum of Christian churches and communities to encounter one another and to be in conversation with one another, not with the view of creating complicated structures, but rather with the view of maintaining the fellowship of conversation and of Christian hope," the Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky of the Orthodox Church in America, told ENI.
The WCC said the meeting is intended to allow representatives of all the main Christian traditions and of their global organizations to explore and address together common challenges.
Addressing the forum's opening session, the Rev. Peter Karanja, an Anglican priest and general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Kenya, said churches are increasingly reluctant to make moral, ethical or spiritual demands on their members for fear of being labelled legalistic, fundamentalist or fanatical.
"The individuals are left to choose what being a Christian means for them and as long as they are happy, then everything goes," said Karanja. "There is something inauthentic about our faith, if it just remains in our heads or liturgy, but does not translate into changed lives and conduct."
The Global Christian Forum states on its Web site that its intention to bring together Christians and churches from very different traditions who have little or no contact with each other. "It is about building bridges where there are none, overcoming prejudices, creating and nurturing new relationships," it says.
Regional meeting have been held under the auspices of the forum in Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America.
"I expect we shall come into an agreement regarding the future of the Global Christian Forum, and I hope we agree to have a very small staff to keep the contacts going," said the Rev. Ishmael Noko, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation.
He said, "These things [issues] should be delegated to the regions and national levels in the spirit of the global forum."
The Christian traditions represented at the Global Christian Forum are: African Instituted, Anglican, Baptist, Evangelical, Disciples (Churches of Christ), Friends, Holiness, Lutheran, Mennonite, Methodist, Moravian, Old Catholic, Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, Pentecostal, Reformed, Roman Catholic, Salvation Army, Seventh-day Adventist, United and Uniting Churches.
Web links: Global Christian Forum - www.globalchristianforum.net
WCC news and reflections on the Global Christian Forum: