By Maggie Breen
It was opening day today of the 10th assembly of the World Council of Churches in Busan, Korea. Delegates from 345 member churches together with ecumenical partners gather at this, the highest decision-making body of the World Council. Around 5,000 filled the worship space today and worshiped together the One who unites us. We heard the confession of each continent. From North America:
Lord, have mercy on us,
In the morning we heard a lecture from Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon who reminded the group of theological students here for this assembly that hope differs from optimism. Hope, he said, is grounded in faith that God will unfold a new way as we attend and care for each other. Optimism, on the other hand, is centered in our own efforts and leaves no
room for the Spirit.
I believe I heard the Spirit in the words of two sisters tonight: Labo, from Uganda, and Leila, from Puerto Rica. It is time to decolonize ecumenism they told me. We had been hearing during the day of the call to expand the circle of those committed to ecumenism and it was pointed out that the membership of the World Council of Churches accounts for only 20% of world Christianity. Our small group was mulling over what it means to make room for others, and we were wrestling with the idea that even this language assumed that we have ownership of this thing called ecumenism, that we at the World Council get to make the room. The center of gravity of Christianity is shifting to the global south where Pentacostalism is growing at astounding rates. It is time to decolonize ecumenism, Labo said, to listen and look for the Spirit leading us in the needs and stories of those on the outside of the World Council. I confessed to the group my reluctance to do this because of the religious fundamentalism I associate with Pentacostalism. Leila joined the conversation, "What are you afraid of?" She said, "I was raised Pentacostal and now teach in a Lutheran Seminary. I have learned to be critical, but I am Pentacostal -- I learned in the community that raised me a spirituality that has held and shown me how to pray and how to know God."
What are we afraid of when we keep the outsider at arms length? Can we look for the Spirit's leading in those we have kept from power? Can we listen and respond out of our common humanity? We may be asked to let go of some long and deeply held assumptions as we embark on these encounters, but we are safe in the company of the One who won't let us go. And as we look for God's leading in the story and hopes of others, we, in fact, stand to gain the whole world.
God of life, grant us hope.....
Chuck Sigars is currently an elder at St. Andrew and a newspaper columnist and author.