May 19, 2005
A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*
Methodists attending the Conference on World Mission and Evangelism
found the diversity of participation inspiring, but the need for healing
and reconciliation also was evident.
May 9-16 in Athens, Greece, the 13th such conference of the World
Council of Churches had a wider variety of participation than ever
before. Besides representatives from various WCC churches, a 42-member
Roman Catholic delegation attended as full members, along with others
from non-affiliated Pentecostal and evangelical churches.
the Rev. R. Randy Day, chief executive of the United Methodist Board of
Global Ministries, that diversity, along with the Athens setting and
its Orthodox context, contributed to the richness of the experience.
is my hope that the conscious emphasis on less confrontational
approaches among the participants will carry over into the general tones
and specific programs between Christians and the millions of people who
are in other faith groups,” he said.
Rev. Larry Pickens, chief executive of the United Methodist Commission
on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, noted that
reconciliation is obviously a priority, and he hopes the conference
“will challenge us to return to our places of ministry and allow the
Holy Spirit to heal and reconcile those with whom we are in ministry.”
participants recognized that divisions remain among Christians but also
pointed out that global changes present a challenge to Christian
mission and witness. A formal letter from the conference to the churches
was drafted and referred to the WCC’s Commission on World Mission and
Evangelism for completion.
spent a week living in close community and sharing stories from their
own particular backgrounds. Some of that sharing came through small
“home groups” that fostered bonding on an individual level.
morning, the groups gathered for Lectio Divina, or “sacred reading,” as
a spiritual preparation for the day ahead. The more informal evening
group meetings offered a chance to reflect on the day’s events.
Marshall, a United Methodist participant and former staff executive of
the Commission on Christian Unity, found an opportunity to form deeper
relationships through her home group. “It offered time for us to share
insights into daily Scriptures and views of spirituality from varied
perspectives,” she explained.
memories that we take away from this event will strengthen us as we
engage in our ministries at home. There will be reflection on this time
together whenever faced with disappointment, frustration and
discouragement. We are not alone in the ministry of healing and
The Rev. R. Randy Day
Day said his
conversations with others about mission included the need to address
poverty and development. “Ecumenical energy today is not limited to
important tasks of dialogue but flows forcefully into acts of justice,
peace and healing among the poorest of the poor in the global
community,” he added.
A plenary session on violence reminded participants that the church cannot remain silent on that issue, according to Pickens.
we admit that there is an ambivalent relationship between violence and
mission,” he said. “The gospel has not always been received as the
liberating Word of God. It has supported racism, oppression and even
torture. These failures must be confessed.”
the end of the conference, on the evening of May 15, participants
joined members of local churches on the Areopagus—sometimes translated
as “Mars Hill”—in downtown Athens. That historic setting is where, as
noted in Acts 17:18-34, the apostle Paul proclaimed the gospel of Jesus
and his resurrection to first-century Athenian philosophers.
Holy Spirit does indeed heal and reconcile,” Pickens said about that
worship experience. “But what we learned is that healing does not
necessarily mean a cure. It can mean equipping people to live into a new
reality despite the physical and mental challenges with which they are
of the healing in our world calls the church to respond to the
brokenness of violence that is waged against the weak and the
vulnerable. Our churches and communities are challenged by this
reality,” he continued.
HIV/AIDS crisis is also calling our churches structures to change as we
confront this silent killer,” he said. “United Methodists must take
seriously the impact of HIV/AIDS on the entire world and the role that
we should play in healing and reconciliation.”
with such issues is a spiritual challenge, according to Marshall. “One
critical question raised is how we coexist with our enemy when he or she
is our neighbor,” she said. “This was a question that was raised
particularly in relation to Rwanda.
some ways we deal with healing and reconciliation in the abstract
because we do not face the real life situations that are evident in
other settings,” Marshall said. “There is a need to forgive but to
always remember. As we heal the trauma, the memory serves as momentum
toward reconciliation that has no time limit.”
his sermon on the Areopagus, the Rev. Samuel Kobia, a Methodist from
Kenya and the WCC’s chief executive, noted that Paul went there “to
confront the clever and the wise with the truth of the gospel of
Christ.” That message, he added, “lived on to transform the lives of
the mission conference, he pointed out, the more than 600 participants
from 105 countries prayed the Lord’s Prayer in their own languages and
shared experiences from diverse contexts.
unity of the church, Kobia noted, “is based upon an understanding of
who and what God is and has done, is doing and will do in our lives, in
our churches, in our countries.”
He encouraged participants
to use the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to see the idols of today.
“At a time of economic globalization, money has been elevated to the
level of an idol—without it you are nothing, and for it, even human
beings are trafficked and sold.”
prayed that the Holy Spirit would “bless our young people with
understanding and make it possible for another world to emerge, another
possible world that is more just, more caring, more participatory, more
standing cross that was brought to the conference’s opening worship, a
gift of the Christian churches of Jerusalem, will be taken to Porto
Alegre, Brazil, for the WCC’s 9th Assembly next February. After the
assembly, the cross will be returned to Athens and preserved by the
churches in Greece.
said he was struck by the symbolism of the cross. “It was made from the
wood of olive trees which were unearthed to make room for the
construction of the wall that divides Israel from Palestine,” he
explained. “This symbolizes the broken world in which we live and the
call of the church to respond to brokenness with healing, compassion and
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.