After four days of meetings, some 240 leaders of a broad range of churches, confessions and interchurch organizations from over 70 countries agreed to carry forward what they call "the Global Christian Forum process", an open platform for encounter and dialogue whose goal is to "foster mutual respect, explore and address common challenges".
Participants broke into a spontaneous doxology when the final draft of a "Message from the Global Christian Forum to Brothers and Sisters in Christ Throughout the World" was approved at the last session of the meeting, which took place 6-9 November 2007 in Limuru, near Nairobi, Kenya.
The message, one of the few tangible results of the forum, says the event was a "historic breakthrough" as participants were able to gather "globally as never before". Representatives of the historic Protestant Churches, the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Churches, the Pentecostal Churches, the broader Evangelical movement and other Christian churches, communities and interchurch organizations, attended the meeting.
"We are extremely pleased by the development and outcome of this meeting," said the Rev. Dr Walter Altmann, moderator of the World Council of Churches (WCC) central committee. "What one decade ago was born within the WCC as an idea that seemed fragile and almost impossible to achieve has led to a milestone in the ecumenical journey."
Among the forum's achievements, participants affirmed they were encouraged "to move out of the familiar ground, [and] to meet each other on a common ground where mutual trust might flourish", and where they "might be empowered to celebrate, enter into dialogue and act together".
They also agreed to "repent of past failings" in their relationships, and felt encouraged to "develop a new awareness and understanding of one another, and to recognize that God is graciously working among us". This came in spite of an acknowledgment they still have "differing views on substantive issues such as ecclesiology [the understanding of the church], the scope of evangelism and mission".
For the Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, general secretary of the Reformed Church in America and a member of the forum's continuation committee on behalf of the WCC, the event is a "watershed in modern Christian history… God's Holy Spirit has begun erasing the excuses that have kept Christians apart from one another and judging one another."
The message affirms the participants' commitment to promote "ever greater understanding and cooperation among Christians". That is to be done by building "on the basis of many ecumenical, inter-confessional and other historic initiatives to overcome divisions in the Christian family. We do not seek to replace these efforts."
The way ahead
In a separate "Proposals for the future" document, participants made several precise recommendations as to the next steps. The forum's focus will continue to be "relationships" and "conversations", while "any resulting joint actions will be outworked through the participating churches and organizations".
In addition, the process will continue to be based on "committed participation" rather than becoming a "membership organization". The "circle of participation" will be "broadened and deepened", with "particular attention to under-represented groups, including women, youth, indigenous peoples and the physically challenged".
The forum's continuation committee, which will drop the "continuation" from its name, will pursue the forum process at "regional, national and local levels, as well as at the global level".
A "small secretariat" - so far staffed with one person working half time - will ensure the follow up, and in order to fund it "participating church bodies" will be requested to "assume financial responsibility". The forum's committee will undertake to "establish a broad and sustainable financial basis" for its work.
"The WCC, in cooperation with other partners, is committed to supporting the secretariat of the forum as has been the case up to now," said WCC central committee moderator Walter Altmann, commenting on the recommendation.
A "thorough evaluation" of the nine-year forum process will take place and a "representative consultation" will review it and "reflect further on the future of the forum". The forum committee will "engage in dialogue with the church families and bodies represented in Limuru" concerning the appointment of a new committee.
A moving moment of the final session came when participants joined in a standing ovation for Mr Hubert van Beek, the secretary of the forum's continuation committee, in recognition of his unparalleled contribution toward making the whole process possible.
"There have been others before us and there will be others who will take over from us", he said in thanking the group for its acclamation, "because our goal does not depend on individual persons, but rather is in God's hands".
Global Christian Forum website: http://www.globalchristianforum.net/