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Mainstream Christians, evangelicals mix in Kenya

The Nairobi Girls Chorale sings to open the Global Christian Forum in Limuru, Kenya.
A UMNS photo by Juan Michel, World Council of Churches.

A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*

Nov. 15, 2007

When Christians from more than 70 countries gathered recently in Kenya, it was a remarkable moment, according to one United Methodist participant.

A significant number of the 240 church leaders attending were Pentecostals and Evangelicals — groups that don’t normally interact with the mainstream ecumenical movement, said the Rev. W. Douglas Mills, an executive with the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns.

The Rev. W. Douglas Mills

"It’s a huge step for them to be involved," Mills said.

One result of the Global Christian Forum, which met Nov. 6-9 in Limuru, near Nairobi, was a "Message from the Global Christian Forum to Brothers and Sisters in Christ Throughout the World." The official statement of the forum encourages development of "a new awareness and understanding of one another" to God's glory.

Mutual respect

Although the forum was initiated by the World Council of Churches, the council considered itself on the same level as all participating faith groups. The stated purpose of the event — first proposed in the mid-1990s by the Rev. Konrad Raiser, then the WCC’s chief executive — was to create a new space where all streams of Christianity could meet in a setting of mutual respect to explore and address common challenges.

Considered a process rather than an organization or network, the forum is based on participation rather than membership. It is led by a 12-member committee.

Attending the meeting were representatives of Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox and Pentecostal churches, as well as the broader Evangelical movement and other Christian churches, communities and interchurch organizations. Representing The United Methodist Church with Mills was retired Bishop Emilio de Carvalho of Angola.

The Rev. Sam Kobia, a Methodist from Kenya who serves as the WCC’s chief executive, pointed to the "unprecedented breadth" of the gathering and told participants to take risks.

The Rev. Mvume Dandala, a South African Methodist and chief executive of the All Africa Conference of Churches, noted that "to show signs of unity in diversity is essential if Christians are to contribute to healing the fractures of the African continent."'

'Getting to know one another'

Much of the forum was spent in prayer and Bible study. "It was really about getting to know one another,” said Mills. He added that United Methodists have been involved in the ecumenical movement for so long, "we almost forget how powerful that (prayerful interaction) is for others."

Such contact had an impact on the participants' preconceived notions about each other. "We heard from Pentecostals and Evangelicals that (the forum) was changing a number of their misconceptions as well," Mills said.

The official message from the Global Christian Forum stated that the process "has encouraged us to develop a new awareness and understanding of one another and to recognize that God is working graciously among us.

"We have been invited into a common journey of faith with confidence in the guidance of Christ’s life-giving Spirit. We have been encouraged to move out of the familiar ground on which we normally stand, to meet each other on a common ground where mutual trust might flourish and where we might be empowered to celebrate, enter into dialogue and act together to the glory of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit."

The process is expected to continue. "We will pray for one another and work to convene local and regional events, as well as other global encounters, in order to deepen this journey toward the goal of reconciliation," the message stated.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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Global Christian Forum

United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns

World Council of Churches

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