LIMURU, Kenya — After four days of meetings, some 240 leaders of a broad range of churches, confessions and interchurch organizations from more than 70 countries agreed to carry forward what they call “the Global Christian Forum process,” an open platform for encounter and dialogue whose goal is to “foster mutual respect, explore and address common challenges.”
Participants broke into a spontaneous doxology when the final draft of a “Message from the Global Christian Forum to Brothers and Sisters in Christ Throughout the World” was approved at the last session of the meeting, which took place Nov. 6-9 in Limuru, near Nairobi, Kenya.
The message, one of the few tangible results of the forum, says the event was an “historic breakthrough” as participants were able to gather “globally as never before.” Representatives of the historic Protestant churches, the Catholic Church, the Orthodox churches, the Pentecostal churches, the broader evangelical movement and other Christian churches, communities and interchurch organizations, attended the meeting.
“We are extremely pleased by the development and outcome of this meeting,” said the Rev. Walter Altmann, moderator of the World Council of Churches (WCC) central committee. “What one decade ago was born within the WCC as an idea that seemed fragile and almost impossible to achieve has led to a milestone in the ecumenical journey.”
For the Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, general secretary of the Reformed Church in America and a member of the forum’s continuation committee on behalf of the WCC, the event is a “watershed in modern Christian history. … God’s Holy Spirit has begun erasing the excuses that have kept Christians apart from one another and judging one another.”
The message affirms the participants’ commitment to promote “ever greater understanding and cooperation among Christians.” That is to be done by building “on the basis of many ecumenical, inter-confessional and other historic initiatives to overcome divisions in the Christian family. We do not seek to replace these efforts.”
The way ahead
In a separate “Proposals for the Future” document, participants made several precise recommendations as to the next steps. The forum’s focus will continue to be “relationships” and “conversations,” while “any resulting joint actions will be outworked through the participating churches and organizations.”
In addition, the process will continue to be based on “committed participation” rather than becoming a “membership organization.” The “circle of participation” will be “broadened and deepened,” with “particular attention to under-represented groups, including women, youth, indigenous peoples, and the physically challenged.”
A “small secretariat” — so far staffed with one person working half time — will ensure the follow up, and in order to fund it “participating church bodies” will be requested to “assume financial responsibility.” The forum’s committee will undertake to “establish a broad and sustainable financial basis” for its work. “The WCC, in cooperation with other partners, is committed to supporting the secretariat of the forum as has been the case up to now,” Altmann said. The idea of the forum was first proposed several years ago by then WCC General Secretary Konrad Raiser.
A moving moment in the final session came when participants joined in a standing ovation for Hubert van Beek, the secretary of the forum’s continuation committee, in recognition of his unparalleled contribution toward making the whole process possible. “There have been others before us and there will be others who will take over from us,” he said in thanking the group for its acclamation, “because our goal does not depend on individual persons, but rather is in God’s hands.”