Rev. Carlos Malavé is executive director of Christian Churches Together in the U.S.
What is the ministry like in your context right now?
We have had all our norms disrupted. The ministry of ecumenism is built on relationships, and built on getting together to exchange and share stories. It is through sharing our human experiences that we grow in unity. All travel has stopped since late February.
Under normal circumstances most of the critical work of CCT is done by personal interactions during visits to the leaders. The foundational work of connecting people has continued, but it is limited to what we can do through emails, phone/video calls. The work of task groups has continued since most of the work is done through emails and conference calls.
But even in technology, the presence of God is there. And for this we give thanks.
We have more focus now — on particular projects or issues. Because we don’t have the luxury of being together for a day or two days, then we are forced to use our one or two hours to be very focused on an outcome while we have people gathered online.
What relationships or partnerships are being formed across denominations or faith groups?
The nurturing of relationships between denominations is very limited. We have been able to nurture some of those relationships in unique ways, and there’s been growth in those during COVID.
The one group that has strengthened because of the present situation is the CCT Latino Network. This group has done more than seven video calls during the last three months. Before the pandemic they met occasionally.
The group has broadened during this time. Especially exciting is that we have been able to include more evangelical and Pentecostal leaders, even in Latin America, during this time, which has really helped expand the conversations and inclusion of our network, and strengthened and broadened our conversations in the U.S.
The Global Mission Network that we have, too, is interesting. It hasn’t had a conference call, but has continued its conversation through emails. They’ve been very active in seeking ideas and advice from other leaders about how to approach the challenges they’re facing.
What are the lessons you have learned about faith and your people that will outlast this pandemic?
I have seen an increased interest in breaking the walls that divide us, this is true particularly with the Latino community. There is a greater openness from Evangelicals/Pentecostals to be in relationship with mainline leaders. Regrettably, in our context, progress in the relationships between Catholics and other Christians is slower.
“We often limit our capacity to dream.” We are not as positive as we should be in terms of the things that we can achieve together. We are timid. This pandemic has challenged us to be creative. To not fear. To be ready to go new places with God. To seek new things. There’s a greater openness to seek the other.
In the church, we are seeing how God is opening doors for deeper relationships, broader relationships.
ON the other hand, especially in the U.S. there are challenges. The situation with racial justice, and the presence of racism, is a challenge. We know how the church, in many ways, has been timid in its response against racism. WE know that, historically, the church has been complicit in racism.
But even when there is an urgency to tackle that issue, and the church must react in a more genuine and proactive way, we know that there are African American Christians who see the conservative side of the church and feel frustrated; and they are right. At the same time, we have seen a lot of progress in terms of a stronger commitment from Evangelical and Pentecostal leaders to address racism and pursue racial justice. But there are many African American leaders who don’t feel that this is enough. So, we should name and honor the way that those conservative groups are progressing. At the same time that we must recognize that there is still so much we must do to end racism.
What has the COVID-19 pandemic revealed about global realities, particularly for the most vulnerable populations?
In the USA we have seen an inward emphasis. This is not necessarily in the church, but our political leaders.
There’s a huge issue in the U.S. when it comes to hunger and poverty. We were previously on the right track towards slowly eliminating hunger in the world, through the U.N. 2030 goals. But COVID-19 has hampered this progress. There are people, children in particular, who are falling into deeper poverty because of the pandemic, and the impact of this will be felt for years.
A group that I’m a part of, the Circle of Protection (a loose network of denominations and organizations that are advocating in Congress on behalf of those who are poor and hungry), is today sending a letter to Congress. Among the four requests we are forwarding to Congress is to include international assistance in the next bill. This is something that is out of the radar screen of most legislators. Around the world, there is still acute need, which is worse during this pandemic.
How can we shape the post-pandemic future to look more like God’s kingdom for those people?
We are all grappling with a question: what is the future of the church? Here in the U.S., many are concerned with the church’s survival. How is the church reaching out to the new generations? They are, in many ways, giving up on the church. So we are challenged to look anew at the question of how we will witness to the Gospel in this moment.
And now, because of COVID, these concerns are greater.
We must be humble. We must humble ourselves before God and realize that we cannot be the church by behaving as a corporation, or thinking that technology will save us. The growth of the church is by any time or circumstance, including the lack of financial resources. The church is God’s action in the midst of community, through believers.
God’s promise is not just that we will survive, it is that we will thrive. The Holy Spirit has called the church to be a witness of the resurrection in the world. It’s not about the survival of an institution.
The church must always be willing to sacrifice for the “least of these.” Right now, most churches are focused on how they will survive. It is time for the church to reflect on the challenges of the poor, not in institutional survival.