World Council of Churches

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Response by Elizabeth Tapia

The Vocation of the Laity in Church and World: Towards an Inclusive Community on Different Levels" - a response by by Elizabeth Tapia to the paper "Formation of the Laos".

10 May 1997

Le Cénacle, Geneva, 7-10 May 1997

Response by Elizabeth Tapia to the paper "Formation of the Laos"

I am very happy to be here among you in this Laos Consultation. I look forward to our mutual learning-sharing even beyond this meeting. I want to thank Rev. Godlind Bigalke for her thought-provoking paper. What follows is my response from the standpoint of an Asian Christian woman.

What I like in this paper:

  • Formation is defined as both a process and product of being formed which enables one or a group "to deal with the world around and to develop conscious relations with himself/herself and the world." Further, you describe formation as both a mental and a spiritual process. And the form or shape Christians are to be transformed into is the image of Christ. To me, this implies that a primary aim of Christian formation is for people to become Christlike in all relationships.

  • I agree with your thought that formation as a transformational process affects both the individual and the group. I agree that they are inter-related.

  • Thesis: "The new people of God, transformed into the shape of Christ got its strongest formation, expression and image in the pauline formulation "body of Christ".

  • It was good that you emphasized the need for laos formation. You mentioned the body of Christ as a metaphor for church. Its unity does not mean uniformity. You said a church must take care of its forms and structures "to avoid paying mere lip service." People are given gifts (charismata) by God. Formation of the laos nurtures people’s God-given gifts and sharpens their talents and abilities as they live out their faith.

  • When you mentioned the global situation characterized by modernization, globalisation, quest for identity, and the rise of fundamentalism, I realized that these modern developments pose a great challenge to theology and to the formation of the laos. It is not only the church who is seriously affected by the modern (so-called) developments, but the whole humanity and the cosmos.

  • I like your ideas on trust building and community building. Just as an infant must learn to trust, so the people of God must learn how to trust God, trust themselves and trust others.
  • Your thought-provoking critique of the institutional church reminds me of how a group of Asian women theologians (both lay and clergy) views the institutional church:
    The institutional church is not only patriarchal, hierarchical and clerical but also colonialistic, capitalistic, feudal and fundamentalist at its core. It produces a ministry that is dualistic, power-oriented, ritual-centred and discriminatory to women. There is a need for a new ekklesia, an oikos of God, an inclusive community which encompasses all beings. (Sr Mary John Mananzan, "Feminist Theology in Asia, A Ten Year’s Overview". Pintig-Diwa SSC Faculty Journal, 95-96 p.45).

Questions and Points for Clarification:

  • How can laos formation contribute to the living issues (politically, economically, environmentally, spiritually) people face today?

  • What kind of formation (ministerial? Moral? Social? Educational, etc.) That will help in the process and end result of achieving a mature laos? What constitutes a mature laos? What are the signs that the people of God have become mature?

  • You said "the churches have to scrutinize their dealing with the laity and to rethink and review both the ministerial formation and the formation of the laity to become a body, a formation consisting of a mature laos." It seems to me that in this segment of your paper, you distinguish the churches from the laity. Please clarify this. Don’t the laity, in fact, compose the church? Or are you talking of a need for the church’s self-criticism?

  • You mentioned about the gap between the clergy and the laity. We need to recover and practice the priesthood of all believers and the interdependence of one another.

  • If in Germany the ministers are the well-paid professionals, in the Philippines, the pastors are the least paid. In fact, the majority of our pastors live below the poverty line. Even so some clergy dominate the laity in terms of leadership power; also the laity tend to put the clergy on a pedestal. Sometimes, however, there does seem to be a sense of equality between lay and clergy, but still clergy elitism survives.

  • You said the whole ministry belongs to the church or congregation as a whole. And that the priests or ministers are not to do everything in the parish by themselves. It is a good reminder for me! (even if I do not work in a parish now.)

Points of Agreement:

  • I agree with your statement that the laos has a common call and claim for transformation of church and society.

  • You ask: "Is the church able to respond to people’s search for soul values?" The existing gap between the hard realities of life of the poor and the institutionalized church is quite alarming.

  • You suggested and I fully agree: "the church has to learn how the people find their situation in church and society; the church has to listen carefully to those concerned about developments in politics and economics, those involved in the forces of social transformation and of protecting nature."

  • The problem is dualism: politics is of this world, ethics is for heaven; economics is neither theological nor spiritual, it is a worldly concern. So there continues a segregation of church people, politicians, economists, environmentalists, social scientists, healers, etc.

    That is why in the Philippines, we do not have an illusion that it is the church who will lead the revolution because many times the church lags behind in the social movements. While there are outstanding laos (lay and clergy) who are very much involved in the social movements, such as human rights, women’s peace, indigenous people’s concerns and the ecological movement, the church as a whole is still found wanting.

  • You mentioned the need for dialogue. I agree. Yet, I am not convinced that the church can effectively contribute to the process of social transformation through dialogues alone. It will take more than dialogue. It will take repentance, a sense of openness and taking risks, humility, creativity, a prophetic stance and the political will to change. It will also take what you have proposed before as the aim of formation: "trust building" and "community building".

  • "The church as a listening centre, needs to have a spirituality expressed in daily life of worship..." So be it!

An appeal:

I respect your German Christian background and your insisting on Jesus Christ as the one word of God. I share with you a Christ-centred faith. But I also happen to believe that there are other theologies, other faith claims, other sacred texts and experiences due to differing cultures and interpretations. My appeal is for us to be open to listen to voices and theological sources outside Christian formation. So let the doors of our doing theology be open and let the windows of our formation be strong but flexible.

I come from Asia, the home of major religions in the world. Christians are a minority in Asia. In a future study, it would be helpful to explore inter-religious formation and laos participation.

I do not quite understand why you said that "if we don’t insist on the one word of God, Jesus Christ, doors and gates are wide open for non-Christian influences pretending to be as important as Jesus Christ, or even more." Isn’t this also a kyriarchal attitude? If our mission is to the whole world, why are we afraid of others who are different from us? Is this not an expression of a religious zenophobia? What have we to learn from the study of the gospel and cultures? Also, we need to remember that the formation of the gospels themselves included materials from Jewish, Christian, Hellenistic Greek, Roman and Palestinian cultures. The question for me is how can Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, indigenous spiritual leaders, Muslims, etc., be involved and transformed in "mutual service, trust building and community building" (to use your phrases) as well as justice - making for the healing of our communities and our planet?

Appreciation:

Your conclusions are well taken. I like your emphasis on new partnership of clergy and laity; laos as carriers of faith and hope. Thank you for your helpful paper.

In closing, may I offer some suggestions for our discussion in this meeting:

  • How can we relate laos formation with the burning issues like economic injustice, racism, wars and conflicts, environmental crises and globalization?

  • Identify and share educational models (formal and non-formal) of laos formation.

  • Identify and share encountering problems of formation. Analysis and reflections on problems and possibilities.

  • In laos formation, involve the children, youth, and women’s participation in all levels.

  • We need more reflection about a spirituality of laos formation. Perhaps together, seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can practice a spirituality that results in personal holiness, liberating theologies, social involvement, and a witness of love, justice and peace.

  • We need to continually do theology in ways which include the praxes of work, feeling, intellect and being in every personal, societal/cultural context. Wisdom, understanding, justice, power, mercy, righteousness, glory and mystery, work and play, humility and humour, ecology and theology, sensuality and spirituality, love and forgiveness - all need to be integrated into the formation of the coming reign of God through all the laos.

Thank you for your kind listening.

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