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The other as a gift, not a threat

29 July 2004

The Christian concept of pilgrimage was chosen as the main image to convey the meaning of the work of the Faith and Order commission by its former director Rev. Dr Alan Falconer in his report to the plenary commission meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, from 28 July to 6 August, 2004.

"The ecumenical movement and Faith and Order are in the middle of a pilgrimage of Christians from all confessional traditions to manifest visible unity," states the director's report, which was read by Faith and Order standing commission member Rev. Dr Peter Donald of the Church of Scotland.

Having "committed themselves to a journey whose end is only vaguely perceived," the churches are "engaged in a common enterprise of respectful listening, of challenge, of the exchange of gifts and of the fact that pilgrims are themselves changed by the experience and the encounters". Through this life-changing experience "the 'other' becomes a gift, not a threat", the reports says.

Other central ideas that form the backbone of work done by the Faith and Order commission according to the report are: baptism as the entrance into a community which "transcends the boundaries of specific churches"; the character both "local and universal, one and diverse" of the church, and an understanding of Christian hospitality which reaches the stage of "kenosis" - the attitude of humble self-emptying.

The preparation of this report, which describes the work of Faith and Order since its last meeting in Moshi, Tanzania in 1996, was the last act of Falconer as director of the Faith and Order secretariat. He left the WCC last May to take up the position of minister of the Cathedral Church of St Machar in Aberdeen and has been replaced by Rev. Dr Thomas Best as acting director.