Interview: 'Indian Church called to be agent of hope post-Edinburgh 2010'
How has been your experience at the Edinburgh 2010 Conference, meeting with Christian leaders of different traditions, sharing and learning from them?
It truly has been very memorable and cherishing for me to be part of such an historic event. I felt privileged and honored to be invited as a resource person for the Study Theme “Mission and unity - ecclesiology and mission”. I presented two papers on ‘Youth & Mission’ and ‘Reconciliation & Healing’. To me, the diversity and plurality of the attendees was the unique part of the Edinburgh 2010 (ED 2010). In 1910 around 1,200 representatives mainly linked to the western missionary movement attended World Missionary Conference. This time the organizers took special care to include the representatives from the Orthodox Church, Catholic Church, Youth, Women, Global South especially from Asia and Africa, which was minimal or absent in the Edinburgh 1910.
In many ways we have matured from ED1910 and our understandings have cutting-edge concepts for ecumenism and mission after ED2010. Earlier we had the understanding of having a uniform church and worship, now we are respecting the plurality and diversity of denominations but focusing on to be united in many platforms like Global Christian Unity Week of Prayer, Global Christian Forums, and World Social Forums etc. We have also learned that mission is not from north to south alone. Today global north is realizing that they also need to learn from the wisdom of global south, therefore mission towards north is also an impending task which needs to be accomplished. We are also learning that evangelization is not making believers of Christian faith alone, rather it is also to extend our friendly hand towards the socially, economically, religiously and politically marginalized.
What was the most striking to you in the entire event? Any presentations that left a vivid impression?
The whole program of Edinburgh 2010 is still fresh in my mind, the Worship, Keynote address, Study Themes, Plenary, Scripture Sharing, Assembly Hall Worship etc. However two important presentations and reflections made by Dr Antonios Kireopoulos, Director for Faith & Order and Interfaith relations, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A and Rev. Dr Fidon R. Mwombeki, General Secretary of the United Evangelical Mission based in Wuppertal, Germany have made deep impacts on my reflection. Both were trying to give a focus and direction to the future of ecumenism and mission in this century.
Dr. Antonios was speaking about ‘Ecumenical Charity as Christian Witness’, where he was giving several real life examples on those who practiced faith but at the same time lend their friendly arm to the poor and needy. He says that being a Christian compels a believer, irrespective of their tradition or denomination, to seek peace and justice on behalf of the poor and oppressed. It may ‘win’ converts from other faiths; it ‘may not’, since God is the overseer of all hearts. And this is the attitude that leads to genuine proclamation, and if God ordains, to genuine conversion. A divided Christendom can only introduce to this world a ‘denominational Jesus’ instead of the ‘Universal Christ’. It leads to a diseased proclamation of the Gospel in place of the healing touch of the Good News.
Rev. Dr. Fidon spoke about the ‘Mission from Global South to North’, where he narrated the history of the journey of ‘poor countries’ turning to ‘mission fields’ and ‘mission fields’ later to become ‘churches’. The global south was considered to be the epicenter of mission to the world and it was never considered or even now thought to be a mission field. Since mission was considered only to be helping poor with money and since there is no poor in north, there was no need felt for doing mission. It has been very difficult to take the position of ‘takers’ from ‘givers’. He underlined the need of sharing from south to the north. He said that mission needs to be done in all six continents.
Speakers at the ED 2010 were several times quoting Indian bishop VS Azariah’s statements of Edinburgh 1910. Now, 100 years after, do you think Azariah's appeal for "friends" brought a significant change among churches and missionaries in their approach to evangelism?
The Chairperson of Edinburgh 2010 General Council, Rev. Andrew Anderson began the formal meeting quoting the words of Bishop VS Azariah, which I think makes him a ideal friend connecting 1910 and 2010. His famous appeal still holds to the ground, it has its deep impacts and importantly relevance even today, the best example was the recent National Ecumenical Youth Assembly 2010 organized by the NCCI gathering more than 700 young people to commit to the theme ‘Come, Lets be Friends’.
Surely these examples give us ample hope that world could be truly united or perhaps related in one of the most cherished relationship of Friendship. When whole world is looking towards and beyond ED 2010 for a powerful yet a simple relation for reaching and relating with the natives and aliens, I would say that Friendly relation can bind humanity together, heal the broken relationships and help communities of faith to live together in this fragmented world. I take the inspiration of friendship which builds friendly relations across cultures, religions, denominations and regions from Christ himself, because he has beckoned to the whole humanity to be bonded in friendship, he bonded not only humanity but the whole creation in friendship with God the Father (John15:15). Friendship should be seen and become the new model of relation to mission endeavors and interfaith relations for all those who want to witness Christ today.
The theme of ED 2010 was "Witnessing to Christ Today". The "Common Call" to Christians also challenged on witness and evangelism. How can we effectively witness when churches and mission agencies are seen to be in competition with each other?
The traditional or the classical models of mission had the mandate of service, sacrifice and martyrdom. In today’s context however the suffering that comes through working for justice has disappeared from the mission perspectives. Today many ‘poor’ countries have become battle fields of missionary agencies and donors which is now causing strife among churches with the interventions of heavy monetary supports. Suffering and persecution has become something alien to many and it is now replaced with luxury and comfort. The challenge of the modern mission is therefore to rediscover the diminishing ethos of sacrifice, justice and life-giving mission. All the teachings, life, work, signs, parables, miracles of Christ taught us of sacrifice and importantly Christ as a life-giver. However the ultimate paradox is that life-giving is through the cross which he taught through the parable of grain of wheat – to fall to the ground and die to live. The core and essence of the Christ's teaching was administering justice, showing compassion and life-giving mission for humanity. So Christ became a threat to the Jews and Romans who were both proponents of colonialism. So in order to witness effectively and capture the vision of ED 2010, we need to rediscover the lost and forgotten legacy of justice, compassion and sacrifice.
What is your reflection on the “Common Call” statement that was addressed to Christians of this era?
You may note that Common Call was the outcome of the 9 Study Themes. Each theme was approached in a unique way, utilizing different resource persons representing transversals and regional and confessional studies. The aim of the Study Process itself was to discuss, debate and refine key issues and priorities by hearing diverse perspectives and working in small groups. The Common call had tried to a great extent to put together the perspectives and capture the spirit of the ED 2010. My suggestion is to adopt this Common Call and implement in all our Churches, Ecumenical Movements, and Missionary Organizations. Let this be an “Ecumenical Mission Charter” of this century for the Global Church.
Sri Lankan Christian leader Vinoth Ramachandra sure gave an impressive speech during the Conference. In his reflection, he very candidly had criticized the composition of ED 2010 which he said had failed to include more members of the laity, women, youth and representatives from the southern hemisphere. Like he asked, do you think the gathering was truly representative of the global church?
Around 300 fellow pilgrims from across the world were in Edinburgh from 2 to 6 June 2010. About 100 delegates have been appointed by the Edinburgh 2010 Study Process Monitoring Group and 200 delegates have been chosen by the stakeholders of ED 2010. It was planned that 60% delegates should be from the global south, 50% women, and 20% youth. By promoting this policy the General Council has endeavored and tried their best in keeping the Global Church represented. Edinburgh 2010 was thus a gathering of Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, Reformed, Methodist, Baptist, Seventh Day Adventist, Roman Catholic, Evangelical, Pentecostal and Independent traditions. Though the organizers tried their best to keep up the ratio of balance for representations from the above categories, however there was still an element of fewer representations from global south, women and youth.
His criticism on the "virtual absence of youths" in ED 2010 is something to be noted. In fact, the Common Call statement declared the need for young people actively participating in mission. Don’t you agree that youths are very vital for the growth of mission?
I remember my visit to Galashiels an important place of Scotland (about 30 miles away from Edinburgh) on 6 June 2010, for the Sunday Morning worship, apart from the main afternoon common worship in the Assembly Hall. Christian of Galashiels organizes common worship with the Catholics, Presbyterians and Anglicans by coming together once in a year to have a common prayer, to show their ecumenical spirit and common witnessing. I really appreciated this gesture as true and visible sign of ecumenical journey or at least a starting point for our unity. I could notice the visible presence of elderly couples but the absence of teens and youth in the gathering was bit disturbing for me.
I got several lukewarm responses when I raised this concern during my interactions with the congregation members and the Pastors. This is a symbol of our church of future. This fewer representations is not the problem of Edinburgh 2010 delegation or few Churches, but a Global Problem and Global Phenomena. It shows and points to the fact of lack of encouragement received from the leadership in the local Churches for youth participation.
Youth and women participation and even leadership has become a ‘Tokenism’. This also shows the impending danger of the future of the Church, where there will be less or we will come to a stage when there will be no youth in the church. We are forgetting that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are distributed equally and widely in the Church. Therefore it is quite essential that the spiritual experience and expertise of every member must be recognized and drawn into the common spirituality of the local congregations. Thus the concerns of the Church must be broad-based and inclusive by involving the potentials and talents of youth, women, and children.
With the culmination of ED 2010, what can the Indian Church now expect? How will the outcome of the Conference and deliberations help the development of Church here?
As the Edinburgh 2010 culminates Indian Church is expected to march ahead in ‘hope’. Indian Church is called to be an agent of hope. In this world there is lot of hopelessness, the church must take up the ED 2010 message of hope to the world, which was manifested in the resurrection of Christ. If the Indian Church wants to grow, then it must go through the process and message of ED 2010 with triple mission, i.e. of inter-culturation, liberative mission and multi-faith friendship.
Edinburgh 2010 envisions the Indian Church evolving and developing into an indigenous Church in friendship with friends of multi-faith with a liberative mission struggle for a just-society.
Added: Monday, 14 June 2010, 22:54 (IST)
The absence of youths in sucha gathering indeed is very sad. Youths are the future of ministry and mission all over the world. Church must encourage and raise them as leaders.
Rajan Pillai, Kerala, India
Added: Tuesday, 15 June 2010, 14:45 (IST)
Since 1910 so much has changed, I doubt if the Indian church again will ever find another Azariah who had so much of passion and love for mission. We need many Azariahs to revive
Jijo, Gulbarga, Karnataka
Added: Tuesday, 15 June 2010, 23:34 (IST)
Thank you for this sharing Rev Vineeth.
Fr John, India
Added: Friday, 25 June 2010, 18:50 (IST)
Thank you for this sharing
Fr.Philipose Venattu, India