By Maggie Breen
It's a Greek word (pronounced oy-koo-men-ay) and it's part of the vocabulary around here. This theological institute I get to be a part of is made up of 220 students and faculty from every continent and a myriad of denominations who have come together in the name of oikoumene. Oikoumene means the whole household of God and it brings with it a claim that we are one -- that we belong to each other because of who we are as God's own. On our first day of worship together our preacher told us that while oikoumene is a reality -- we belong to each other just because of who God is -- and while it is a given, a gift, it is also, however, a call. He reminded us that so much of what we do does not embody this unity that is a gift of God and that we are called to find ways to live as a people of diverse and rich gifts and also united. What caught me especially was his claim that oikoumene is impossible without friendship and personal relationship.
I'd love you to meet some friends I have met this week. This is my small group: Eui-Bae, a Presbyterian from Korea; Leila, ELCA from Puerto Rico; Laboo, Pentecostal from Botswana; Gabriel, Greek Orthodox from Romania; Prof. Po Ho, Presbyterian from Tiawan; Marjanna, Lutheran from Finland; Deanna, United Church of Christ from Canada; Vonnie, Baptist from Grenada; and Choo, Anglican from Myanmar. We have spent time these last three days eating and playing together (see pictures below of our day worshipping and sightseeing in Seoul on Sunday). We have also engaged in conversation so far around the Korean context and women's oppression and the churches role in these issues. In each conversation the group has listened carefully, and each time we meet we dig a little deeper into our stories and our hopes. The commitment we have made to each other to be friends, to engage and trust each other is holding us as we begin to wrestle with some of the complexities of our life together and some areas upon which our traditions don't agree.
The preacher on Friday made an important point. Oikoumene cannot be a subject for the scholar's desk alone (despite it's important sounding label) -- it is lived out and found in friendships and in our commitment to each other. Without deep listening, honor of the other and the stories they bring; without lightness, play and a sense of humor; without
revealing the things that really matter and that we hope and pray for, we cannot find the community that God intends for us.
We are heading to Busan early tomorrow morning to join the 4,000 delegates and participants who will come from all over the world to seek oikoumene. I will be asking how the big church might listen and honor the stories and needs of the local church and vice
versa. What a gift that I get to be here with brothers and sister from all over the world.
Chuck Sigars is currently an elder at St. Andrew and a newspaper columnist and author.