Athens: World Mission Conference begins

 Yesterday morning, a large wooden cross sent from Jerusalem, arrived by boat at the beach of the Adios Andreas recreational centre, on the outskirts of Athens, marking the beginning of the first Conference on World Mission and Evangelism to be held in the 21st century. Summoned by the sound of African talking drums, nearly 500 conference participants and over 100 local representatives, guests and stewards gathered on the beach to receive the cross and pray together. The four-metre-high cross was made of olive wood by a Jerusalem craftsman. It is intended as a symbol of reconciliation and healing as well as of churches standing in solidarity with Christians in the Middle East. World Council of Churches (WCC), have organised the conference on the theme: "Come, Holy Spirit, heal and reconcile" and the sub-theme "Called in Christ to be reconciling and healing communities." It ioffers a unique opportunity for Christians from all continents to exchange experiences and to reflect on the priorities for mission and the future of Christian witness. This is the first time Roman Catholics have attended as delegates, rather than just observers. Among those taking part is Sr Gemma Simmonds CJ. Rev Ruth Bottoms, a Baptist pastor from the UK who is moderating the conference said: "In our globalized and fragmented world, filled with much division and conflict, the gospel message of healing and reconciliation is vital." The multiple dimensions of this message is being addressed in daily plenary sessions that will focus on reconciliation, healing, the Holy Spirit and the Christian community. As the conference coincides with the mid-point of the WCC Decade to Overcome Violence (2001-2010), one of the plenary sessions will be dedicated to the complex relationship between mission and violence. Aside from the plenary sessions which, for the first time ever, will be broadcast live via the internet, about 70 workshops will offer participants opportunities to discuss many issues. These range from experiences of healing, to mission in war and conflict situations; from the role of women in mission to the relationship between healing, salvation and conversion; from the missionary challenge that people living with HIV/AIDS pose, to the way indigenous people approach reconciliation and healing. Each morning, participants, gathering in small ecumenical 'home groups', begin the day with a meditation on biblical texts in the Lectio Divina tradition. Later, a common prayer session open to everyone. The home groups meet again each evening to share their experiences and prepare for the next day. Five different healing services are planned. A chapel is available for individual or group prayer. A team of counsellors is on hand for pastoral care and spiritual direction. On the last day, participants will attend worship services in local congregations. This conference is the first of its kind to take place in a country where the majority of believers come from the Orthodox tradition. The invitation to hold the conference came from the Church of Greece, whose head, Archbishop Christodoulos, affirmed it as "an historic event both for the Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement and for the missionary movement". Among the first ecumenical fruits of the conference at the local level has been the creation of a host committee in which the Church of Greece is joined by four other churches: Roman Catholic, Evangelical Church of Greece, Armenian Evangelical and Armenian Apostolic Church. In the afternoon on Sunday, the cross will be carried at the head of a procession to the Areopagos, on Mars Hill - the place where the apostle Paul preached to the Athenians nearly two thousand years ago. For more information visit: Source: WCC

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