Nigerian Methodist will keep unity impulse moving forward

By agency reporter
27 Nov 2007

Methodist Archbishop Michael Kehinde Stephen of Nigeria has been chosen to moderate the Continuing Committee on Ecumenism in the 21st Century, a group assigned to monitor and encourage initiatives in a global quest for Christian unity.

He was affirmed by consensus of the fourteen members attending the committee’s first meeting during the week of 18-20 November in Bossey, Switzerland.

Archbishop Stephen was active in two earlier conferences that led to establishment of the continuing committee: a 2003 session in Antelias, Lebanon on “reconfiguring the ecumenical movement” and a 106-person consultation in late 2004 at Chavannes-de-Bogis, Switzerland on “ecumenism in the 21st century”.

A quartet of alp-horns welcomed the committee to the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey and was featured in opening prayers, emphasizing the Swiss context for the gathering of Christian leaders from six regions of the world. The group included representatives of the Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, Protestant and Pentecostal churches as well as Christian youth, regional ecumenical organizations, Christian world communions, national councils of churches and relief and development agencies.

Georges Lemopoulos, deputy general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), noted that the process leading from Antelias to Bossey has relied on the Council’s backing but is not under its control. In recent years, Lemopoulos said, “we have sincerely moved from seeing the WCC as the central, privileged instrument of the ecumenical movement to a vision of a polycentric movement”.

The Council has been seeking new and renewed partnerships with Evangelical and Pentecostal churches as well as the Roman Catholic Church in a manner “characterized by a spirit of mutuality and cooperation, by a practice of shared tasks and resources, by a common policy of avoiding competition and the demarcation of areas of influence”. He called this process “a shared journey” in which the WCC wishes to assist administratively by ensuring coherence and effectiveness.

Robina Winbush, a member of the WCC central committee, agreed that the Council has no desire to be the “centre or controlling force” in emerging initiatives toward unity in Christ. “This is not about institutional survival issues,” she said, “but about re-envisioning what is possible. My prayer is that the future of institutions will also become plain along the way.”

Rudolf von Sinner of the São Leopoldo school of theology in Brazil pointed out that the Greek term pistis can mean both “faith” and “trust”. It is through recognition of mutual faith in one God that Christians “can risk to trust each other. This makes us vulnerable, but it is the only way to build meaningful relationships.” Beyond trust, he stressed the need for “concrete goals, from practical cooperation to strengthening relationships between congregations and participation in the struggle for a more just, more democratic and more peaceful world”.

Several committee members reported on the recent Global Christian Forum in Limuru, Kenya, an example of Christians from an unusually wide range of traditions discovering common ground for dialogue and cooperation.

Several institutional recommendations were forwarded by the continuing committee to the February 2008 meeting of the WCC central committee. Amongst them, one proposed to arrange for an inter-organizational planning of an extended gathering at the time of the WCC’s Tenth Assembly in 2013. This would allow for the meeting of many Christian organizations in what each would consider “home space” rather than “guest space”. In line with this goal, planning of WCC business sessions should be separate from the planning of common activities including worship.

Stories, reflections and photos from the Global Christian Forum meeting in Limuru, Kenya can be found at: http://www.oikoumene.org/?id=4775

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