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FAITH AND ORDER COMMISSION PONDERS ITS ROLE IN REORGANIZED WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES
The Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches (WCC) began nine days of meetings in Toronto last week by discussing how the Commission will function in the newly reorganized WCC.
Commission members, who represent nearly all Christian traditions from more than 20 nations, also exchanged impressions of the WCC's Eighth Assembly, held last December in Harare, Zimbabwe, and listened to Council officers and staff describe the new WCC structure.
The main change is that Faith and Order is now a part of the new cluster on Issues and Themes where it relates more closely to the Council's "life and work programmes", including mission, justice, peace and creation.
Cluster director Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia assured the Commission that Faith and Order, and Peace and Justice should be congenial partners in the new structure.
The partnership "enables an engagement between an understanding of the content of faith as given and that of the content of faith as worked out or learned through experience of life," said Kobia, a clergyman in the Methodist Church in Kenya. Commission moderator Rev Dr. David K. Yemba of the United Methodist Church in Zimbabwe noted that Kobia had signaled his commitment to Faith and Order by choosing to attend the meeting despite an invitation to attend the inauguration in Pretoria, South Africa, of his friend President Thabo Mbeki.
Faith and Order's presence in the cluster "encourages educators to be theologians and theologians to be educators," Kobia said. He predicted that Faith and Order would provide essential support for the cluster's work for justice, peace and the overcoming of violence. There is still much injustice and violenc
"I would like Faith and Order to make a journey into Africa," which has been "used and abused" and exploited, Kobia said. "I would like Faith and Order to make a journey with the young... I would like Faith and Order to move into parts and places you have never dreamed of. For it is there we will find some of the dynamics which will determine the heartbeat of the 21st century... This is not a message peculiar to Faith and Order. It is the challenge to all parts of our ecumenical family. To sail into uncharted waters, to guide the ecumenical boat with a confidence that Jesus himself will remain our guiding light."
Dr Marion Best of the United Church of Canada, vice moderator of the WCC's Central Committee, expressed hope that the Council's new streamlined structure "will lead to greater coherence of the activities of the whole Council. There are exciting possibilities before us if there is a will for collaboration." But Best also cautioned that the continuing reduction of member churches' donations to the Council and a smaller staff has put the WCC "in a very vulnerable position."
The Rev. Fr Jean Tillard, O.P., a Roman Catholic priest from Canada, questioned whether the new structure will offer as many opportunities as the former one. "Without the old structure of Faith and Order, it would have been impossible to write Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (one of the Council's best-known studies of the practices and ecclesiologies of its member churches) and other major documents," Tillard said.
"There has to be room for specificity and in-depth quality work" in the new structure, Kobia replied. "It is my hope," said Moderator Yemba, "that in our study projects and plannings, this board will continue to focus its attention on the quest for visible unity as the raison d'etre of Faith and Order."
The Commission's discussion of the Eighth Assembly in Harare included both expressions of cautious praise and candid disappointment.
Metropolitan Gennadios of Sassima (Limouris), Ecumenical Patriarchate, said Orthodox participants were disappointed that there was not more theological discussion at the Assembly. "Orthodox are asking, if the Assembly and the Central Committee are not places for theological discussion, where are they?"
Prof. Dr Turid Karlsen Seim of the Church of Norway said: "I came to Harare with great apprehension and anxiety and went home thinking it was not all that bad. The Council didn't break up, people were willing to stay together despite differences, despite problems, and the willingness to seek a way forward was there."
The Rev Dr. Alan D. Falconer of the Church of Scotland, director of the Faith and Order team, said the task of the Commission in Toronto "is to clarify the specific issues to be addressed by Faith and Order in the coming years. These, we suspect, will be... Ecclesiology, Ethnic Identity, National Identity and the Search for Unity, Worship, the Ecumenical Prayer Cycle, Hermeneutics and Ecumenical Spirituality. We need also to identify other issues which are most appropriately addressed by us."
Issues to be discussed at the meeting this week include a new study on the ordination of women, the proposal that Christians in the Eastern and Western traditions come to celebrate Easter on the same date, and reviews of recent publications, "The Nature and Purpose of the Church", "A Treasure in Earthen Vessels", "Ethnic Identity, National Identity and the Unity of the Church", and "Baptism in Relation to Christian Unity".
The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 336, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.