Athens: report from World Council of Churches conference

 More than 650 participants attending the World Council of Churches 13th Conference on World Mission and Evangelism have spent a week living out the Christian call to be in close community with one another, providing a working example of peace and tolerance. The sub-theme of the May 9-16 conference, "Called in Christ to be healing and reconciling communities," has been brought to life in a very real way. Daily workshops point to peace, trust, love, understanding, and unity as means of creating healing and reconciliation in today's world. Participants from over 100 countries and representing almost every Christian tradition considered what it means to live in community, and share stories from within their own particular backgrounds. Amidst the busyness of workshops and presentations, small "home groups" helped to strengthen the feeling of community. "It is important to have this kind of bonding on an individual level with other participants," said Paula Devejian, a delegate from the Holy See of Etchmiadzin (Armenian Apostolic Church). Each morning, groups have come together for Lectio Divina. These meditative Bible studies are a good way for delegates to prepare spiritually for the day ahead. Evening meetings have been less structured, and provided an opportunity to reflect and to share stories and experiences of the day's events. Gr Ron Wallace, associate secretary of international ministries for The Presbyterian Church in Canada, found there was a good balance of culture, gender and tradition within his group. He said: "In my group there are Catholics, Protestants and Coptic Orthodox from Europe, North America, and Africa. Everyone is very open-minded. By the second day, we were comfortable in accepting one another's diversity, and were able to discuss our wide variety of perceptions." Devejian added that the bringing together of diverse cultures and denominations through biblical discussion gives her important insight into the thought processes and belief systems of others in her group. Participants, who have seen their home groups evolve into small communities, can take their experience back to their own churches and apply it to small group meetings within their own contexts. Home group leader Fleur Dorrell, a Catholic working for the Church of England and a member of the Anglican Communion's lay organisation Mothers' Union, felt that home groups facilitate the act of listening to one another, ensuring that the unique voice of each person is both expressed and heard. "The church is like a prism," she said. "Each colour represents a different expression of faith. The beauty is in reflecting as many colours as possible." She goes on to say, "None of us understands God perfectly on our own. We need each other to help us understand and nourish our own faith." In just one week, conference participants have come together in community, creating a space where cultural, denominational, and spiritual differences unite rather than divide. They have provided an important model to churches world-wide, and confirmed that it is possible to live together as one people - a diverse family centred in the community of God's love. Heather Chappell is a writer from Toronto, Ontario. She works as programme assistant for The Presbyterian Church in Canada in the areas of stewardship and mission education. Source: World Council of Churches

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