A Letter from Athens to the Christian Churches, Networks, and Communities
Come Holy Spirit, Heal and Reconcile--called in Christ to be reconciling and healing communities.
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Greetings from Athens, Greece. We write to you during the holy time between Easter and Pentecost, when the risen Christ prepared his followers for the gift of the Holy Spirit and called them to carry the Good News to "the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8), promising to be with them until "the end of the age" (Matt. 28:20). Here, on the shores of the Aegean Sea, 600 of us have gathered, from 105 countries, hosted by the Church of Greece and other churches in Greece, and called together by the World Council of Churches for the 13th International Conference on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME), meeting May 9-16, 2005. And as the sun rose on the conference, a small boat sailed out of the dawn, carrying a huge olive-wood cross: a gift from the churches in Jerusalem, a sign of both suffering and hope, made from the fragments of the trees uprooted during the building of the wall separating Palestinians from Palestinians and from Israelis. We pray that this cross become a sign of reconciliation.
For the first time, this CWME conference has taken place in a predominantly Orthodox context. Young people, though far fewer than planned, have played an important part. For the first time the meeting included a significant number of fully participating delegates from non-WCC member churches, that is, the Roman Catholic Church and some Pentecostal and evangelical churches and networks. "We," therefore, are a diverse group, from every corner of the world and many ethnic and cultural backgrounds, speaking many languages, and representing the major Christian traditions. Our theme is a prayer: "Come Holy Spirit, Heal and Reconcile."
This letter is an attempt to share with you some of the week's insights and challenges, as well as the experiences of joy and pain it has brought us. In these days, we have journeyed together, although we have not always agreed. We are in mission, all of us, because we participate in the mission of God, who has sent us into a fragmented and broken world. We are united in the belief that we are "called together in Christ to be reconciling and healing communities." We have prayed together. We have been particularly helped by readings of Scripture as we struggled, together, to discern where the reconciling, healing Spirit is leading us, in our own contexts, two thousand years after St. Paul arrived on these shores carrying the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We want to share that journey with you, and to invite you to make it your own.
We stand now at a particular moment in the history of mission. While the centers of power are still predominantly in the global North, it is in the South and the East that the churches are growing most rapidly, as a result of faithful Christian mission and witness. The missional character of the church is experienced in greater diversity than ever, as the Christian communities continue the search for distinctive responses to the Gospel. This diversity is challenging, and it can sometimes make us uneasy. Nevertheless, within it we have discovered opportunities for a deepening understanding of the Holy Spirit's creative, life-sustaining, healing, and reconciling work. For the power of the Holy Spirit touches us in many ways: in gentleness and truth, comfort and creativity, worship and action, wisdom and innocence, communion and sanctification, liberation and holy contemplation. But there are evil spirits too, active in the world and sadly even in many of our histories and communities. These are spirits of violence, oppression, exclusion, division, corruption, self-seeking, ignorance, failure to live up to our beliefs, and fearful silence in the face of injustice. In discerning the work of the Holy Spirit, we have experienced the need to return constantly to the roots of our faith, confessing the triune God, revealed to us in Jesus Christ, the Word-made-flesh. …