EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first 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 most frequent question I was asked before flying to Manado, Indonesia was, "Why is the Global Christian Forum meeting there?"
When the GCF committee began planning this second world gathering, we knew it should happen in the Global South, where Christianity is so resurgent. Our first world gathering took place in Limuru, outside of Nairobi, Kenya in 2007. A major planning meeting followed in New Dehli in 2008. Large ecumenical meeting are planned for Korea, including the WCC's next Assembly in 2013. So we turned our attention to Indonesia.
Manado is the primary city in North Sulawesi, a province of Indonesia. In this town of about 450,000, nearly 80 percent of the inhabitants are Christian, which is an exception in the nation of Indonesia, home to the world's largest Muslim population. Our local hosting committee strongly urged us to gather here. Further, we knew that by being in Indonesia, we'd have the opportunity to reflect on Christian-Muslim relations, which are becoming vital in so many regions of the world.
The Global Christian Forum is the most exciting and promising ecumenical initiative I've participated in all my years of ministry. Its import can be summed up simply: This is the only place where the leadership of evangelical, Pentecostal, Catholic, historic Protestant and Orthodox churches -- which comprise all the major "families" of world Christianity -- are brought into sustained and intentional fellowship. In so doing, the Global Christian Forum is also responding to the dramatic shift of the center of Christianity from the North and West to the southern hemisphere.
Nearly 300 invited participants, from 81 nations and representing this full breadth of world Christianity, are expected. They been arriving Oct. 3. Several are friends I've gotten to know in my past years of work on the GCF's steering committee, and from attending several of our regional gatherings around the world. An intangible excitement is created simply when a Pentecostal leader from Ghana, a Catholic bishop from Los Angeles, and a Lutheran woman pastor from Finland encounter one another over coffee, or in the registration line.
Our time began with an evening reception hosted by the Governor of North Sulawesi. Billboards on the highway by the Novotel Hotel where our meetings are taking place also proclaim their welcome to us.
I took the one suit I had brought out of my suitcase when I arrived on Saturday. It was, of course, badly wrinkled, and nearly unwearable. I hung it up in my closet. But it's so humid here that by the next morning it looked like it had been freshly pressed. Our program began in earnest with morning worship facilitated by a woman Anglican priest from South Africa and a brother from Taize, in a Reformed church across the street from the hotel.
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."