The Common Good

Report from the Global Christian Forum in Indonesia: Day Five, Heading Home

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the fifth and final installment in a week-long series of reports from the Global Christian Forum in Manado, Indonesia filed by Wes Granberg-Michaelson, the former General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America.

The procession for the closing worship, held in a Catholic church, included two strong men dressed in the traditional clothing of the indigenous people of Indonesia -- red warrior's garb with small skulls hanging from their necks, and helmets with green leaves bursting from the top. One man carried the large, Pascal candle, and the other carried a Bible.

A group of musicians played instruments that resembled mirimbas -- five or six of them sounding an enchanting harmony. Meanwhile, from the balcony, the blasts from bamboo horns also reinforced the tune. A choir of young adults in brilliant green dresses and shirts sang and danced down the aisle, joining in the procession behind the priest and the cross. They sang a Minahasan song of praise, "God the Highest."

The scene demonstrated again the incredible and unique ability of Christian faith to find contextual expression through local culture. We believe that the Word became flesh, and that central truth allows the gospel to take creative shape and form in the language and practices of the thousands of diverse people groups throughout the world.

The worship service also had dimensions that echoed the diverse traditions of the delegates who had gathered for the Global Christian Forum. A brother from Taize led the congregation in some of that tradition's refrains that have such simple and quiet power, including "O Lord Hear my Prayer."

The "sermon" consisted of reflections by five participants from different regions and traditions who were attending the Global Christian Forum for the first time. They each spoke of the joy, and often the surprise, in what they discovered here -- some of them interacting with delegates from Christian traditions they barely knew even existed.

The unity of heart and Spirit they experienced at the forum had a profound effect, they said. Emily Obwaka of Kenya, a staff member from the Association of Evangelicals in Africa, whom I met on the bus the first day of the forum, was one of those who shared. She said the forum felt like "a preamble to heaven." Such sentiments might seem excessive but they were not uncommon among the 287 forum participants from 65 countries. Joy and affirmation were among the greatest takeaways from the five-day gathering.

Gatherings such as this yearn to express something together, to speak with one, unified voice. And as seems to happen all too often at these ecumenical meetings, I was placed on the "drafting group," and in this case, asked to coordinate it.

The drafting group was an august and marvelously diverse group. We found ourselves pouring over written comments from about 20 groups as we tried to figure out what we could say together about the meaning of our time together and the future of the Global Christian Forum. This led to the lengthy process of testing drafts and finding consensus. But it went smoothly in plenary discussions on this last day, due largely to the positive feelings of trust and support of the participants.

If you're interested, you can find our statement online at www.globalchristianforum.org. The last paragraph of the "message" gives the flavor of what we shared:

The space created by the Global Christian Forum is God's gift. In a fragmented world and church, this unique expression of unity, embracing the breadth of world Christianity, is a source of inspiration and hope. We believe it is a helpful model for building authentic Christian relationships in every place. We know that God's Spirit draws the body of Christ into unity for the sake of God's mission in the world. So we commit ourselves to nurture the Global Christian Forum, as the Spirit leads, as a witness to God's saving and transforming love.

Having successfully created this space we call the Global Christian Forum, the challenge now will be to discern what we do withit . Naturally there are many issues that need attention.

We still don't represent adequately the full and growing diversity of world Christianity. And we'll have to determine how to engage critical issues and challenges even as we deepen the trust that has so evidently grown among us. But there's no doubt that a new thing has been created and prepared for purposes we can only begin to imagine.

Before leaving for the airport, I sat at breakfast with the Rev. Phillip Thomas of the Syrian Orthodox Church in Malaysia. Although involved for years in various regional ecumenical groups, this had been his first time attending the Global Christian Forum. I asked him what he thought.

"I've been going various meetings for two or three decades," he said, "but I've never experienced anything like this. We must find ways to grow this at the national and local levels."

Part of our task ahead will be to figure out just how that will be done.

Wes Granberg-Michaelson is former General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America and author of the book Unexpected Destinations, which includes a chapter about Global Christian Forum titled, "The Heartland and the Frontier."

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