As you reflect on the theme, “We saw the star in the East, and we came to worship him,” what personally resonates for you?
Rev. Dr Durber: Sometimes I hear Christianity described as a ‘Western religion’, but my experience of the world church has taught me that it is not. Missionaries in the early Church first went East and some of the earliest churches are very far from the Western world. And in the heart of the infancy stories we have this tale of those who saw the star ‘in the East’ and came to worship the Christ child. I have been formed in a culture that has tended to exoticise ’the East’, in what the Palestinian philosopher Edward Said famously called ‘orientalism’. This story and theme reminds me that ’the East’ is more than a source of spices and colours for my Western life, but denotes a wealth of culture and wisdom which is offering gifts to us all. I have met, through my WCC friends and colleagues, some of the wonders and treasures of the Church ‘of the East’ and have met Christ there. They have taught me, among other things, the value of worship - not only as a preparation for action, but as something to be entered into for the sake of the closeness to God that it brings. They have taught me not to rush ahead to what follows worship, but to take time to be in the presence of God and to encounter the mystery of praise. I discover a way of being Christian that may have been unfamiliar, but is part of the great Church, part of the family to which I belong. My encounters with those ‘of the East’ relativises my own culture, and invites me into a wider world, a fascinating, beguiling and holy world.
As the world continues to face grave challenges, has the concept of unity become more urgent for you?
Rev. Dr Durber: The people of the world, and theologians among them of course, have come to value the local, variety and diversity, difference and context. But the recent challenges of Covid19 have taught us that, beyond our local differences, we belong to one, highly interconnected, world. The spread of the virus has revealed to us how fast borders are crossed, how what happens in one place very quickly impacts on another. The climate crisis has, similarly, made plain how dependent we are on working together if we are to turn away from the brink of disaster. Only solutions that work for all of us will really help any of us. It has been good to learn the value of the local and of difference and to speak out against the hegemony of one people or nation or empire. But the hope-filled internationalism that gave rise to the WCC and so many other organisations had something good and holy at its heart and we need to find that again. The late, and wonderful, Desmond Tutu once said that ‘Apartheid is too strong for a divided Church’. We can say the same about Covid 19 and climate change. We need to be together in this and the Church has the potential to be a sign and servant of unity in a world that so needs it.
How will you celebrate the special week in your own congregation in the UK?
Rev. Dr Durber: I don’t know yet! I have recently joined a new congregation (not as its minister, but as a member of the congregation) and so I wait to see. But the church is named for St Peter and St Paul so there is every reason to mark the Week of Prayer. I shall certainly be using the prepared material in my own daily prayers and will so welcome the chance to pray with Christians around the world, and especially with Christians in the Middle East.