Living in Tents
A Message of the 9th Consultation of United and Uniting Churches, Chennai, 25 November - 2 December 2015
There were over forty participants from 17 of the 41 United and Uniting Churches (UUC) present in Chennai, India for the 9th consultation called by the World Council of Churches (WCC) Faith and Order Commission (FAO), and hosted by the Church of South India (CSI), Church of North India (CNI) and the Mar Thoma Church which are the Communion of Churches in India. The theme for the assembly was “Living in Tents: the Pilgrimage of the United and Uniting churches” (Hebrews 11:9), adapted from the WCC theme: pilgrimage of justice and peace.
Participants included WCC General Secretary, Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit who provided his reflections and shared in discussion with the representatives about the future and role of UUC in the ecumenical movement, and within the WCC. Rev. Christopher Ferguson, General Secretary of the World Communion of Reformed Churches, ecumenical staff, the academy, and clergy and staff from the host churches were active participants providing input into the common future of the UUC. Regrets were received from some member churches and the Chair of FAO, Rev. Dr. Susan Durber who sent written greetings. Representatives of two churches experienced visa challenges resulting in their absence.
During the days of meeting, the group visited CSI and Mar Thoma congregations, engaged the realities of the Indian context through Bible study and heard presentations on the life, concerns, and ministry of the member churches present. The wisdom shared in the ministry and program of the churches was well received and a major resource to the consultation. The sub-themes of pilgrimage, unity, justice, peace, and witness provided the framework for the reports from the churches and for the daily keynote presentations. The representatives affirmed the necessity to continue hearing and learning from each other as UUC with the common call to engage in organic union and to embrace the intentional movement to unity.
Unity and Diversity
The UUC has a special place in the ecumenical movement. One of the primary characteristics is the ability to live with differences which are inherent in the union of different denominations. In pursuing organic unity, UUC join with other churches in the light of Christ’s kenosis as they realize that ecclesial identities are fluid realities where the hospitality of Christ’s love can be manifested in unity. UUC are but the occasions ready for further prehension in the uniting process. This inviting and inclusive attitude makes UUC open to the Spirit’s further guidance and ready to embark on new pilgrimage toward the goal of visible unity.
In the uniting deliberations, UUC accumulated experiences of creating space for others in bilateral or multilateral dialogues. These are vital contributions and learnings for the ecumenical community. While continuously encountering diversities and being challenged by these diversities, UUC are deepening their understandings of unity, even as they learn that each uniting process and union is different.
By trying to be one and the many at the same time, UUC seek to reflect the perichoretic relationship of the Trinity. Therefore, to maintain and strengthen the organic unity in diversity is one of the gifts that UUCs can share with the Church which is encouraged to be open, inviting and self-giving. Unity is sometimes challenged by the social and cultural diversity unique to the countries where UUC are located.
Mission and Solidarity
United and uniting churches are ambassadors of reconciliation and peace. Knowing we are pilgrims living in tents, we are eager to remind ourselves that unity in solidarity is an ongoing process to be open for reforms in our churches and to work for a life in a church of reconciled diversity. As UUC, we are willing and are seeing the need to reflect on the contextual situations where we are located. In relation to God´s mission we want to be open for diverse discussions and dialogues respecting other opinions and approaches towards a solution for any problematic situations that arise. There is a role for the UUC to support each other on issues where we have solidarity.
The WCC Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace is important to the life of the UUC, as unity is an ongoing process, a pilgrimage, where we invite others to journey with us. As united and uniting churches, we are called and committed to be on the pilgrimage of justice and peace in solidarity not only to the inner-community of our churches but also to the margins wherever they are. We want to walk hand in hand and to support those suffering most and the poorest among us. Our action in solidarity with the margins is a part of our work in the world. We are eager to live in solidarity with all churches, eager to help and to support each other in the questions/tasks/ threats which challenge us in our contexts.
The Way Forward
Participants in the consultation affirmed the need for the Continuation Committee and its role in convening the UUCs and for enhancing communication with the ecumenical community. A new Continuation Committee was named to carry forward the work of the UUC until the next consultation.
The UUCs are a network that is not focused on institutionalization. The churches have a role and purpose in gathering beyond the work and mandate of the Faith and Order commission. The work of our churches can be shared and enhanced through this network.
The UUC witness visible unity. The intention and need for a variety of communication mechanisms as well as maintaining levels of relationships across the ecumenical movement was identified as a priority. The use of social media will comment the churches, and could help to keep the churches informed about the ministries and mission in which we are engaged.
There is a unique role and relationship between the UUC and F&O. This relationship must continue to be nurtured and maintained, with further conversation to clarify the relationship between the UUC and the F&O Commission. The hope is that the Continuation Committee will include a F&O representative.
As we move forward as a network, we do so with the intention of finding ways to engage each other not only at the institutional level, but also within our congregations.
- Karen Georgia A. Thompson, United Church of Christ (Chair)
- Susanne Erlecke, Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland
- Charity Majiza, Uniting Church in Australia
- Christopher Mason, United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands
- Leepo Modise, Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa
- Rathnakara Sadananda, Church of South India (Communion of Churches in India)
- Faith and Order Representative
- China Christian Council
- Church of Bangladesh
- Church of North India (Communion of Churches in India)
- Church of South India (Communion of Churches in India)
- Eglise Protestante Unie de France
- Evangelische Kirche in Baden
- Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland
- Evangelische Kirche in Hessen und Nassau
- Hong Kong Council of the Church of Christ in China
- Mar Thoma Church, India (Communion of Churches in India)
- Protestant Church in the Netherlands
- United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands
- United Church of Canada
- United Church of Christ
- United Reformed Church (UK)
- Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa
- Uniting Church in Australia