Saturday, 10 November 2007

News from Nairobi of a new ecumenism

The Global Christian Forum has been meeting near Nairobi this week. My colleague Theodore Gill has been posting reflections from the meeting giving much food for thought for those of us involved in the current ecumenical institutions and also from the churches in the North. The paper by Cheryl Bridges-Johns sounds really interesting. Theo quotes her as basing her remarks on three concepts:
“The old mainstream ecumenical paradigm is dying”,
“Christianity as a whole is thriving, especially in the majority world”,
“The gifts present in the global Christian movement, when kept in the hands of Christ, are adequate for the task of reconciling the world to Christ”.
Theo then goes on himself to reflect
"For many in the old-line churches, particularly in the western half of the northern hemisphere, it is natural to be overwhelmed by beloved but dying institutions that have been accustomed to gauge their strength in terms of numbers, status and authority within their cultures. For these Christians, it is easy to lose sight of the unprecedented expansion of Christianity in the “majority world” of the global south and parts of the east."

I've been wondering for a while if those of us from the North are best placed to reflect on the future of ecumenism. What we say comes very much out of the context of dying institutions and decline, yet doing contextual theology remains a challenge. It means honestly naming what is happening to our churches in terms of the death of the living stones. I can see this is happening to the United Reformed Church yet I would argue that it isn't happening to the Eglise Réformée de France, maybe I'm not honest enough about the church I'm more involved in and part of at the moment. Finding an ecumenical paradigm that can deal with so many different contexts within countries and churches, and around the world is going to be quite a challenge.
Another colleague Juan Michel has written about Wonsuk Ma's contribution to the meeting which I find rather more comforting than Cheryl Bridges-Johns analysis. Ma seems to suggest that the different parts of Christianity are complementary and we need one another. He also likens ecumenism to riding a bike - I'm not sure that this means the greening of the ecumenical paradigm but at least it's an image that speaks to people. Anyway I'm looking forwards to talking with colleagues when they return from meeting in Nairobi, perhaps understanding of new paradigms will emerge over our morning coffee.