Anglicans attending the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh say that the June 2-6 gathering promises to be a pivotal moment for the global Christian community in discerning its future and exploring how different denominations can work together in partnership.
"I expect we will begin to see a Christian identity emerge out of this conference that will transcend what we've been before ... This is really building the relationships that will carry the worldwide church to a new level," said the Rt. Rev. Mark MacDonald, national indigenous bishop for the Anglican Church of Canada and one of nine official Anglican delegates attending the gathering.
The conference, dubbed Edinburgh 2010, "is going to give a real sense of the trajectory of God's work for the future of the church," he added.
MacDonald is among 300 delegates from more than 60 countries who have traveled to Edinburgh for the global summit that marks the centenary of the 1910 World Missionary Conference, an event that is widely regarded as a major milestone in the modern ecumenical movement.
That earlier conference was "very selective," the Rev. Vicentia Kgabe of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa told ENS. "Africa was not represented, young people were not represented, women were not represented. Here we come a century later looking at the good and not so good things that have happened, and here we are as a church different in its outlook and mission."
The 2010 conference has made a conscientious effort to be more representative denominationally, geographically and ethnically, said the Rev. John Kafwanka of the Anglican Communion Office's mission department, the delegation leader and a member of the general council that has overseen the organization of the conference.
"Each part of the Christian tradition has as much to give as to receive from the other," he said. "One of the things that excites me about the future life of the Christian family is the need to share and collaborate in our mission work."
Kgabe agreed. "It's dangerous when you start to operate in isolation because you think you have it all or you know it all," she told ENS. "As the Anglican church, we have relationships with many other churches. We are a church that is so diverse, so open, so exciting, so we bring the hopes of what we believe God is doing and will continue to do in the church … We are here to do our best in God's way and to make the Anglican church proud."
Luiz Coelho from the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil, speaking in Portuguese, noted that the 1910 conference included no representatives from South America. He told ENS that he hopes the 2010 conference will "cast the net for the church to grow in quantity, but mostly in quality."
Other members of the Anglican delegation are Caitlin Reilley Beck of Canada, the Rev. Kwok Keung Chan of Hong Kong, the Rev. Irene Akini Ayallo of Kenya, the Rev. Kapya John Kaoma of Zambia, and Janice Price of England. Of the nine delegates, six are young Anglican leaders "upon whom we have placed emphasis in terms of Anglican representation to this historical event," said Kafwanka.
The Anglican delegates participated in a pre-conference hospitality program May 28-June 2, when they had an opportunity to experience church life and various mission initiatives in different dioceses throughout the Scottish Episcopal Church.
Also attending the conference is Andy Thompson, a 30-year-old Episcopalian from West Hartford, Connecticut, and former Young Adult Service Corps volunteer, who was selected as the winner of the Edinburgh 2010 youth writing contest. His essay focused on the relevance of an early 20th century Anglican missionary in China, Roland Allen, and his contemporary concerns about mission. Thompson’s prize is a sponsored trip to the conference.
"It's particularly important for the Anglican Communion to be involved in events such as these because of the diversity geographically, denominationally and confessionally," Thompson, a third year doctoral student in religious ethics at Yale University, told ENS. "There's a famous mission quote -- 'It takes the whole world to know the whole Gospel' -- and I think this kind of event speaks to that. You can't get it all from any one perspective."
For Ayallo, it is important for the Anglican Communion to be involved in such events because "we don't exist in a vacuum. It's really important that we understand different traditions." Ayallo said she is looking forward to seeing how different traditions "dialogue together at a global level because most of the time we get that opportunity for dialogue just within our local context."
The conference, titled "Witnessing to Christ Today," is being hosted by New College, home to the University of Edinburgh's School of Divinity. The conference is funded by more than 30 international churches and mission organizations from the Anglican, Protestant, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Pentecostal and Evangelical Christian traditions.
Throughout the week, delegates will participate in workshops, seminars and worship services.
During the opening celebration June 3, the Rev. Olav Fyske Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, said the Christian churches "can be witnesses of hope in times of injustice, of financial crises, of violence and tensions between peoples of faith, and of environmental threats."
"Christian mission is called to offer reconciliation to humanity -- with God, with fellow human beings and with creation -- a life that has the quality of the eternal life," added Tveit, a Norwegian theologian whose Geneva-based WCC traces its roots to the 1910 conference in Edinburgh.
Dana L. Robert, co-director of the Center for Global Christianity and Mission at the Boston University School of Theology, delivered an opening address on June 3.
Archbishop of York John Sentamu will be the guest preacher at the closing celebratory service June 6 in the Church of Scotland General Assembly Hall on the Mound, the venue of the 1910 conference. Other Anglicans attending the gathering include Bishop Julio Murray of Panama and retired Bishop of Peshawar Mano Rumalshah.
Beck said it's a "really important part of Anglican identity to encourage ecumenical gatherings on various subjects. Obviously the British colonial history has meant the Anglican church has been involved in mission in a variety of ways and I think there's a lot of baggage there that needs to be explored and evaluated for the future of mission in the Anglican church."
The conference, Thompson said, "raises some important challenges for how we're going to approach mission. Everybody knows that the idea of mission and mission practices -- there's a troubled history there … Involving people from a lot of different communities with a lot of different perspectives that have been adversely affected by these things raises important questions and considerations that really need to be addressed."
Article from: ENS by Matthew Davies, editor and international correspondent of the Episcopal News Service.
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