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National ecumenical forum looks to deeper purpose


In its 30th anniversary year, the National Council of Churches in Australia (NCCA) held its 11th National Forum in Adelaide last weekend (June 21 to 24).

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The forum’s theme was ‘Messages of Hope in a complex world’ and a general aim of the gathering was to reflect on a statement of purpose and values to guide the ongoing life of the Council.

Bishop Michael McKenna with other Church leaders at the forum.

Attending the forum were the Board and staff of the Council, several national church leaders, delegates of most of the member churches from across Australia and Indigenous representatives. Bishop Michael McKenna, chair of the Bishops Commission for Christian Unity and Inter-religious Dialogue, and Bishop Greg Homeming OCD were among the Catholic Church representatives.

The Council in its current form was established in 1994. It connects with numerous international, national and local ecumenical councils and bodies that have emerged over the past 100 years or more. The initial impetus for this movement was the desire to see ‘separated Christians’ united for the sake of the evangelisation of the world.

Through them churches have engaged together in a process of mutual understanding, responded to disaster, and advocated for vulnerable people and sought justice and peace.

To commemorate the 30th year of the Council, an uplifting Anniversary Ecumenical Service was held at Pilgrim Uniting Church.

There are now 18 member churches in the Council and together they form a rich community of Australian Christian communities. There is much to celebrate. And yet this is a time when many familiar institutions are facing significant change and a future with greater uncertainty than in the past.

This is certainly true for the Australian Ecumenical Movement and for our churches and faith communities. Consequently, in his Welcome address Council president Rev John Gilmore expressed the desire for the forum to move past a focus on the institutional life of the Council and its member churches and into our deeper purpose, asking: What is the Christian message that we bear and will carry individually and collectively?

Highlights of the forum included the keynote address from Rev Dr Jerry Pillay, general secretary of the World Council of Churches and a challenging Bible study and reflection by Prof Anne Pattel-Gray, head of the School of Indigenous Studies at the University of Divinity.

Some of the Catholic delegates at the forum.

Listening to the Word of God and praying together, at the beginning and end of each day, in the style of the diverse traditions of member churches, was both a highlight and vital element of the program.

Group reflections and discussions are also an essential part of a gathering like this. This year they were conducted using the principles and practice of spiritual discernment, which surely helped to make them energising experiences for the participants. In between the formal sessions, and over meals and refreshment, the forum provided space for lively conversations with longstanding and new-found friends, who share so much. Our journey together continues.



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