The Anglican Bishop of Barking, the Rt Rev David Hawkins, who represented the Archbishop of Canterbury at the first worldwide Global Christian Forum meeting held earlier this month, has hailed the gathering as the fulfillment of a vision of locally expressed unity.
The meeting took place from 6 – 9 November in Limuru, Nairobi, Kenya. The Bishop was joined by eight others representing the Anglican Communion plus another 240 church leaders from the most diverse representation of churches and Christian organisations ever assembled.
African Independent leaders, Pentecostalists and American Evangelicals rubbed shoulders with Orthodox, Roman Catholics and the rest of the historic denominations.
Many of the participants had never been to an ecumenical gathering before, since the idea was to draw in participants who have not been involved in formal structures (like the World Council of Churches) established from the 1940s.
One of the distinctive features of the gathering was that the Forum began with each participant sharing their own story of faith in Jesus Christ and their calling to ministry and mission.
Recognising the grace of God and the face of Christ in one another was a moving and uniting experience, said participants. The emphasis of all the proceedings was about collaboration for more effective mission "so that the world may believe." (St John 17.21)
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, communicated a short message of appreciation to the GCF, but apparently decided not to send a senior bishop to represent him.Bishop Hawkins is well respected, but he is a local rather than a diocesan episcopal figure.
The bishop commented: “From this beginning of interpersonal affirmation and trust the conference began to explore the riches that each tradition brings - as well as the divisions and obstacles that are between us."
He continued: “The idea of the Forum came in 1998 from Konrad Raiser, the then General Secretary of the World Council of Churches. He recognised that the WCC represented only a selective number of churches worldwide and there was a need for a forum independent from the existing ecumenical structures if it were to win the confidence of Pentecostal and evangelical churches. The conference last week was a remarkable fulfilment of that vision.” Much appreciation was expressed for all that the ecumenical movement has achieved to date at the same time as a recognition that a new style of inter church cooperation was now needed."
Bishop Hawkins concluded: “Holding the conference in Africa was a deliberate message to remind the world church that in the past few decades the Christian centre of gravity has moved to the southern hemisphere where it is growing at an unprecedented rate.”
The conference agreed the text of a message to world churches which encourages the Global Christian Forum process to be developed at national, regional and local levels.
In the UK there are already many expressions of new styles of inter-church collaboration, including Churches Together initiatives, the Peace Alliance, Soul in the City, Hope 08, The Global Day of Prayer and Street Pastors.
"The message of the Global Christian Forum can only encourage these examples of local inclusive ecumenical life and mission", said Bishop Hawkins.