Global Christian Forum confirms future vision and affirms positive relationship with Rome
By Kim Cain
High on the agenda at the recent committee meeting of the Global Christian Forum (GCF) Committee, held in Rome late January, were consultations with Vatican officials about the ongoing relationship with the Catholic Church, and consideration of future initiatives for the GCF as outlined by the second global gathering of the GCF in Indonesia last year. The Vatican discussions through the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity proved great stimulus with an assurance that there was a strong, common commitment to continue to journey together in the search for Christian unity.
The Rome meeting was the first of the GCF Committee following the successful GCF gathering at Manado, on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi in October, 2011.
In his initial GCF committee meeting since becoming secretary of the Forum on 1 January, the Rev Dr Larry Miller said the invitation to meet in Rome by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and subsequent conversations indicated “a consolidation of the shared commitment to build bridges between all churches.” Our relationship with the Catholic Church is of the highest order, and on our part reflects our desire to go further on our common journey with Jesus Christ,” Miller said.
The Rome GCF Committee meeting was also the first opportunity to consider in detail the two key documents to come out of the Manado gathering: the ‘Message from Manado’ and the accompanying document of ‘Guidelines’. Both set out future directions for the GCF.
In addition to the conversations with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the meeting agreed on a provisional outline of its future work for the next several years; this outline will now be tested with GCF participating bodies.
The plan includes:
- convening or facilitating global, regional, national, and local consultations — including thematic meetings — with all Christian churches and organisations;
- following through consultation processes already begun in Latin American and the Middle East;
- tending and growing relationships with GCF participants, including the World Council of Churches, the World Evangelical Alliance, the World Pentecostal Fellowship, the Catholic Church, and other Christian World Communions
- reflecting on and fleshing out the theological basis that underpins the work of the Global Christian Forum.
- Amplifying the effort to communicate the vision and insights of the GCF to all participating bodies and the wider world of global Christianity.
Miller underlined that the GCF committee had resolved to “articulate theologically the meaning” of the GCF’s journey with Christ.
During the Rome meeting, Pope Benedict XVI welcomed the GCF during the vespers service at St. Paul Outside the Walls basilica, marking the conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
Bishop Brian Farrell, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity told the GCF Committee that he appreciated the goodwill and the vision behind the Global Christian Forum, even if it was “not necessarily love at first sight.” But, he said, “I have been proven wrong.” Farrell said there was a clear sense of the GCF’s presence and progress, and that it was important to now articulate theologically and programmatically the work of the movement.
“The ecumenical task and the theological dialogue, while going on for so long, must continue to produce results. “The battle cries of the past were so intense – there are whole libraries written on them – but we cannot let that keep us down, despite this being such a major quest on such a large scale. At the end of the day it’s God’s work under the guidance of the Spirit,” Farrell said.
Connecting the contours of world
Christianity will go on – with the help of former Secretary
The Global Christian Forum will continue its focus on bringing the leaders of all Christian churches and organizations together and former GCF Secretary, Mr Hubert van Beek, will continue to be a part of the work.
van Beek has accepted a consultancy role with the GCF since retiring from his former position. The new Secretary, the Rev Dr Larry Miller, who previously served as Mennonite World Conference general secretary for 22 years, has welcomed van Beek’s continued involvement.
During the GCF’s formative years just over a decade ago, Mr van Beek initiated, or has been a part of, consultations when leaders from many traditions and denominations came together for the first time.
On many occasions those discussions had to overcome deep mistrust or ignorance between churches. In the early days some leaders had to participate secretly for fear of retribution.
Some more recent initiatives are still developing, including in Latin America, an area where van Beek will continue to carry responsibility for the next several years.
All hands to the wheel
Evangelical and Christian Presence in the Middle East
Hubert van Beek
The GCF was invited to participate in a Conference on Evangelical and Christian Presence in the Middle East, which took place in Beirut, Lebanon, on 12 – 15 February 2012.
The meeting, organized by the Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical Churches (FMEEC), was called to discern evangelical responses to the challenges the churches and Christians in the region are facing because of the changes taking place in the Arab world.
It was attended by over ninety participants, including some twenty representatives of international partner bodies.
The FMEEC, which is made up of the Anglican, Lutheran and Reformed churches in the Middle East and North Africa, had also invited sister Evangelical churches in the region which are not part of its membership; several leaders of Baptist, Church of God, Free Evangelical, Nazarene and Seventh-Day Adventist churches took part in the meeting.
Their presence was a remarkable sign of a spirit of unity that goes beyond the traditional fault line between ‘ecumenical’ and ‘evangelical’, and which is at the heart of the GCF.
Being a minority in a majority Muslim world, Christians in the Middle East have mixed feelings about the
‘Arab spring’, because they do not know what the future holds for them.
The conference was a unique opportunity for the Evangelical Christians, who are a minority within the minority, to hear from each other how their churches were responding to the turmoil, to share their concerns but also their hopes, and to reflect on their role and witness in society.
Some were positive, saying that fear had been broken and Christians could raise their voice and join in the movement for genuine and equal citizenship, others were more cautious.
The need for dialogue and cooperation with moderate Muslims was affirmed by all. There was a strong sense that Arab Evangelical Christians have their rightful place in the Arab world. As one participant put it: “between emigration (leaving the region) and death (disappearance as a minority) we will find the way forward, especially for our young people. We belong here.”
Relationships in the United States
Making contact with a variety of USA based churches and organizations was the aim of a series of meetings in February for GCF Secretary Larry Miller and GCF Committee member, Rev Nicta Lubaale (African Instituted Churches).
Memphis, Tennessee saw the annual meeting of Christian Churches Together (CCT). As invited guests Miller and Lubaale, together with CCT leader and GCF Committee member Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, had opportunity to connect and to make a short GCF presentation.
Several other relationship-building visits and contacts of potential significance for the Forum followed. These included conversations with the Rev. Joel Hunter, pastor of a ‘mega church’ in Florida; with leaders of the United Methodist Church worldwide boards in New York City; with Clare Chapman, Interim General Secretary, National Council of Churches in the USA; with Dr Dale Irvin, President and Professor of World Christianity, New York Theological Seminary; with Father Drew Christiansen, Editor-in-Chief, America, a national Catholic weekly. Some of these folk, including Joel and Becky Hunter and several United Methodist leaders, had participated in the GCF global gathering in Indonesia.
The conversations manifested strong interest in and support for the Forum.
Further connections were made with Geoff Tunnicliffe, Secretary General, World Evangelical Alliance. This provided an opportunity for discussion about WEA leadership perspectives on the GCF provisional plan for the next three years.
It led to an invitation to the GCF leadership in further discussion by meeting the WEA International Council, April 24, in New York. That will precede Miller’s attendance an international Seventh Day Adventist gathering in the Dominican Republic.
This hectic schedule included Sunday worship and connection with Manado participant, Pastor Joshua Rodriguez (Executive Secretary, National Latino Evangelical Coalition, USA), at his bilingual church in New Jersey.
A big task before the GCF Committee is to upgrade the quality of our communications to the wider family of the Global Christian Forum. This is a vital but enormous task.
Through the work of Joy Lee, the GCF Committee is proceeding to establish an up to date and extensive data base platform that will serve us well into the future.
Our Communications Assistant, Rev Kim Cain, is working on upgrading and redesigning our overall communications tools, including the GCF website and exploring other communications options.
Baptist Today reports on GCF speech
The Rev Wes Granberg-Michaelson, GCF Committee member, delivered a speech which was reported on by Baptist Today. The speech outlines the ‘reversals and divides’ affecting global Christianity. To read his speech go to: