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Arusha conference to consider, ‘The Church: Towards a common vision’

Arusha conference to consider, ‘The Church: Towards a common vision’

Dr Susan Durber, moderator of the WCC’s Faith and Order Commission. Photo: Albin Hillert/WCC

12 March 2018

A document published in Swahili language titled, ‘The Church: Towards a common vision’ was launched at the Conference on World Mission and Evangelism in Arusha, Tanzania on 12 March. The document is now translated into 15 languages.

Dr Susan Durber, moderator of the WCC’s Faith and Order Commission explained that the original document is the fruit of three decades of international ecumenical conversation about what it means to be the Church.

“The document contains things that may surprise us,” she said; “surprises about how much we can all, from our different traditions, say together about the Church, and surprises about what other traditions can say about the Church that we ourselves have forgotten.”

Durber, of the United Reformed Church in the United Kingdom, said “The Church: Towards a common vision” reminds people that their mission as Church “is not just about activity; it comes from our understanding of what God is like and what God has created us to be.”

The Faith and Order moderator addressed one of the plenaries on Mission, Unity and Diversity at Arusha and during the conference the group’s study group on ecclesiology held a workshop on ministerial structures of African-instituted churches.

Listening on African voices

During the World Mission and Evangelism Conference the Commission's study group on ecclesiology held a workshop discussing African perspectives on ecclesiology versus “traditional” ecumenical ecclesiology on ordained ministry and discipleship.  The dialogue included African theologians like Nicta Lubaale Makiika, His Holiness Most Rev. Dr Rufus Ositelu, Dr Jerry Pillay, Rev. Christian Tsekpoe, the moderator of the Faith and Order Commission Rev. Dr Susan Durber, as well as Faith and Order Commissioners Rev. Dr Stephanie Dietrich, Rev. Dr Liz Vuadi Vibila, Dr Krzysztof Mielcarek, and Rev. Sotiris Boukis.

During the World Mission and Evangelism Conference's Women Pre-Conference in Arusha on the theme: “Women in Mission on the move of the Spirit: Mentorship for Transformation”, the Faith and Order Commission’s member Rev. Prof. Dr Stephanie Dietrich and the executive secretary Dr Ani Ghazaryan Drissi contributed to a session on “Women in Mission and their vision of the Church and its Ministry”.

The document is produced by theologians from the widest range of Christian traditions and cultures and it addresses first the Church’s mission, unity, and its being in the Trinitarian life of God. A book launch at the Arusha conference will mark the publication of the translation in Swahili of The Church: Towards a Common Vision.

Durber notes that “Church is both a human and divine reality. It is created by God and is in God’s hands. It is God’s gift to the world and that gift does not depend upon us.

“The unity God has given to us is like Communion – an organic relationship between those who are living and moving, like the union at the heart of the Holy Trinity. That unity is what we have to offer to a broken world.”

‘Open to change’

“We must remain open to change, she urged, while staying radically faithful to the apostles; we must explore how to be true to our conviction without breaking unity.

Durber invited delegates in Arusha to read the convergence document, to consider how different traditions speak the same unity in different words, and to learn from others who uphold things that they have forgotten.

She also called on participants to reflect on the ecumenical significance of the mystical, corporate nature of the Church of the Triune God as new ways of being church emerge constantly throughout the world. She said Christians are challenged by secularist and religious ideologies of material, individualist prosperity.

Ongoing analyses

The Commission’s study group on ecclesiology completed in January, in a meeting held at the Ecumenical Institute of Bossey, near Geneva,  the individual analysis and discussion of almost seventy responses to the text The Church: Towards a Common Vision.

“We have read and discussed each response allowed for a better shared perception of the thematic areas that concentrate important remaining questions”, said Dr Angela Berlis, co-moderator of the Study Group and representing the Old Catholic Church.

Berlis said also that members of the group are preparing papers on those thematic areas. The papers in preparation will be the basis for a future report on the last phase of the Study on Ecclesiology and be published in 2020.

Document The Church: Towards a common vision

Document The Church: Towards a common vision in Swahili (pdf)

WCC Commission on Faith and Order

Conference on World Mission and Evangelism

Download free photos from the CWME and accompanying events (password: WCC)

Photos from the Faith and Order workshop