Consultation Assesses State of the Communion
The Consultation on Communion, drawing together 50 church leaders from around the world in wintry West Michigan, produced the first draft of a report on the state of the communion that will be presented to the World Communion of Reformed Churches’ (WCRC) executive committee at its annual meeting in May.
Bridget Ben-Naimah summed up the consultation’s work in her message at the event’s closing worship service: “Sisters and brothers in Christ, halfway through the first phase of the life journey of the WCRC, we have gathered here in Grand Rapids trying to identify the various dimensions of our understanding of communion and assessing how we have faired on this journey both collectively and as individual churches.
“As we engaged in discussions together, quite a number of revelations were received,” she continued. “I believe that these findings are not to discourage us or to divide us; but rather to remind us that in spite of the fact that communion is a gift from God to us, we who are called to participate in the communion have a responsibility to work at it.”
Communion as a “gift from God” was a recurring theme throughout the consultation.
“The unity for which we yearn is always unity in Christ. And there is no stronger way in which we can be united. It is given to us as a gift, it is not a thing we can achieve for ourselves,” said Iain Torrance during open discussion.
“Christian unity is already given to us as a gift by God,” agreed Setri Nyomi, WCRC general secretary. “Ours is to make every effort to maintain it.”
How to maintain the communion, and how the communion should act both within and outside of itself, were other subjects discussed.
“The real task of the communion is to be a forum, a family, a body that holds together a variety of different perceptions and views—so that we can all talk together as members of the Reformed family,” said Jerry Pillay, WCRC president, in opening remarks.
“One of the consequences of being a communion is to speak out in the world we live: to speak truth to powers and to speak sometimes with a prophetic voice,” said Douwe Visser, WCRC executive secretary for theology and communion, in his presentation. “The gift of communion is the reason why we should be deeply committed to justice.”
Discussions also focused on how member churches can resolve to stay together in spite of difficult contemporary issues.
“Are we gracious enough to go this way around issues in which we have strong differences in views?” asked Kobus Gerber in a worship service message. “I think this is the calling of this community. God gives third ways. Are we gracious enough? Are we Christ-like gracious enough to embrace everyone in this community with every point of departure and every convergent theology that I may find?”
“When we’re in communion, we must trust each other. If I’m suspicious of another, then that will hinder my ability to be in communion. I must be able to trust you, and you must be able to trust me,” said Yvette Noble-Bloomfield, WCRC vice-president, in a presentation. “To be in communion, I must respect you, and you must also respect me. There must be a mutuality in the level of respect with one another.”
Nyomi emphasized that the “communion is more than the leadership and staff of the institution of the WCRC; it is you, the churches that are spread in the countries where we find ourselves. Our evaluation of how we are doing as a communion should include whether or not the action of churches in each context demonstrate our understanding that communion and justice go hand in hand.”
Pillay was satisfied with the consultation’s work, especially as a part of a larger process.
“What we have done here is absolutely good. We have looked at the state of the communion,” Pillay said. “We will process this further from here. The information that has emerged from here is vital. And we have mechanisms to take it further.”
Those “mechanisms” will include the WCRC’s Office of Theology and Communion, continued participation by those present at the consultation, and the executive committee of the WCRC, as well as the larger communion.