Sunday, October 6, 2013

Unity: Cooperation instead of Competition

Last Wednesday, I was one of the 25 witnesses to revival of the Fiji Council of Churches. The Fiji Council of Churches members include the Anglican Diocese of Polynesia, Fiji Baptist Convention, Congregational Christian Church, Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma, Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Suva, the Salvation Army, St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church and Fiji Community Churches of Christ. The Annual General Meeting that was 6 years in the making was a sign of the desire by many of the churches in Fiji to put aside the issues that had caused division in the past and start afresh.

The significant and challenging task of the churches’ service in “different sections” of God’s “one and same vineyard and collectively,” was highlighted by the Council’s Interim President, Rev. Tuikilakila Waqairatu.  Speaking to Church leaders and representatives, Rev. Waqairatu said that “it was not easy to sail our ecumenical boat, ”during the past years. Reflecting on how the churches handled this ecumenical journey from a denominational perspective over the last six years, he said “I believe that we had a lot to share,” both individually and collectively, especially, “our deep theological insights and interpretation” of events since 2006. “How did we read those events? What were the messages God wrote on the walls of our Nation Building?” asked Rev. Waqairatu.

Looking at the present context, the Interim President reminded those present that the context in which churches serve is “in a state of flux.” “Change in this context is inevitable.” Highlighted as the results of the winds of change blowing locally, nationally, regionally and globally were neo-colonialism and neo-liberalism; the erosion of socio-cultural identity and values; sexual abuse and abuse of human rights; ecological catastrophe; substance abuse; HIV and AIDS; corruption at all levels of society; poverty; links between religion, capitalism, politics, militarism and humanistic religion; globalisation; cults and the new world order.  These “cutting-edge” issues were used by Rev. Waqairatu to illustrate the “enormous and challenging tasks” facing the ecumenical boat of the Fiji Council of Churches as it sails in “21st century waters”.

In suggesting a new course-charting for this “ecumenical boat”, Rev. Waqairatu offered the following for consideration:
*Revisiting and restricting of the mission of the Fiji Council of Churches;
*Conducting more retreat and consultations as a means of spiritual strengthening and mission orientation;
*Explore the possibility of a joint consultation with the Assembly of Christian Churches in Fiji in a commitment to the prayer of Jesus, “that they may be one, as we are one.” (John 17:22); and
*Focusing on the mission to the fragmented, abused and wounded Fiji in the light of the words of Jesus (quoting the prophet Isaiah), “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” (Luke 4:18-19).

Fiji Council of Churches was urged to remain Kingdom of God oriented and holistic in approach, and service.  “Our churches are under the rule of the Kingdom of God; a rule that must penetrate all culture, institutions, traditions, values and human structures – converting and transforming them to become agents and instruments for the extension of its values and rule in our society. Characterised by justice, love, forgiveness, reconciliation, peace, progress and prosperity for human society as well as all creation, this rule “must be individually and collectively witnessed by us Christians in both words and actions,” concluded Rev. Waqairatu.

To help sail the boat, Rev. Waqairatu called for the contribution of “auxiliary hands” to be accepted from the fields of psychology, sociology, economics, law, politics, development expertise, information technology, environmental and marine science, and administration and management.

The tireless work of Rev. Isireli Kacimaiwai who had been tirelessly holding the fort as interim General Secretary during the last six years was recognised by the Council.  Rev. Kacimaiwai agreed to continue to serve until a new General Secretary was appointed.  The Council also remembered those members and supporters of the ecumenical movement who had died during the Council’s six-year hiatus. After a moment’s silence, a special prayer of thanks for these departed brothers and sisters was offered by the Archbishop Dr. Peter Loy Chong of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Suva.

A sign of the commitment of the churches to work together was the election for the positions of President and Vice President of the Council. By consensus it was agreed that Mr. Manu Tuinanumea of St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church become the new president of the Fiji Council of Churches and that Mrs. Mere Fong of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Suva become the new Vice President.  Mr. Tuinanumea, a retired school-teacher who had previously  served as Vice-President said that he was humbled by the confidence of the church leaders and pledged to serve as best he could in this “fresh start” that the Council had made. Mrs. Fong, who was overwhelmed by her election gracefully accepted the call to serve the churches in the same spirit that “another Mary agreed to bring the Saviour into the world”

Reflecting on the AGM and the Fiji Council of Churches’ themes of “Journeying together into the New Millennium,” and “Cooperation For Unity, Rather Than Competition for Visibility”, I remembered my late father, a former General Secretary of the FCC, the late Archbishop Jabez Bryce and Father Jone Teana of the Anglican Diocese of Polynesia and other supporters of churches working together in fellowship rather than competition. There is much work to be done by the FCC as it comes out of hibernation. However, as the “ecumenical boat” finds itself in new waters with strong and dangerous currents and people crying out to be carried to the island of hope, the fact that those onboard are willing to work together and sail in the same direction is a sign that the churches are willing to not just talk about unity, but walk the talk as well. It is a unity, which while not meaning uniformity, means walking and working together.

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”

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