Our China Visit as Ecumenical Pilgrimage

Friday, December 4th
by Gail Allan

Gail Allan offered these reflections on the ecumenical dimensions of the delegation’s visit during the closing session of the consultation at Nanjing Union Theological Seminary, December 3-4, 2015:

It has been a blessing to be part of this delegation, and in particular to participate in this consultation hosted by Nanjing Union Theological Seminary. We have learned much about the work of the China Christian Council and Three Self Patriotic Movement; even more, we have gained a deeper awareness of how the church in China is weaving together worship, social service and theological reflection as you claim a mission and ministry that is both deeply rooted in the Chinese context, and vitally connected to the global Christian community. We have heard a vision and practice of unity in diversity that is inspiring and challenging as we in Canada continue to reflect on what it means to be an intercultural, justice-seeking and justice-living church.

In The United Church of Canada we have long been committed to an ecumenical vision that begins with our heritage as a united and uniting church, but does not end there. As I noted yesterday, in 1997 our General Council adopted a report called Mending the World: An Ecumenical Vision for Healing and Reconciliation. Mending the World introduced the concept of “whole world ecumenism” as a way of speaking of our conviction that we are called to work with all people of good will, whether they are people of faith or not, for the creation of a world that is just, participatory and sustainable. This includes people of different religions and ideologies with whom we share a desire for compassion, peace and justice. So the goal of both our traditional ecumenical, church to church relationships and our interfaith relationships is to work together for the mending of the world. To be here in China, engaged in these conversations with you, is one way to live out this vision of whole world ecumenism. We have shared honest and deep reflections on the gifts and the challenges in our churches. These reflections give us insight into new ways that we might support each other in ministry and mission in God’s world.

Being together here is also a reminder that we are indeed part of a global church – each part with unique gifts and perspectives, but all connected as the body of Christ. Some of us will meet again in other ecumenical spaces, such as the World Council of Churches. As members of the World Council of Churches, all of us have been invited over the next few years to be engaged in an ecumenical pilgrimage of justice and peace. This pilgrimage is taking many forms. In part it is an image to help us think about what it means to be people of faith in the world today. But the pilgrimage can also be a very real and concrete journey that opens us to new possibilities for learning and working together.

For the United Church of Canada, the journey we 22 people have made to this place, and the time we have spent with you this week, is a very real pilgrimage. It has brought us spiritual insight, wisdom, practical knowledge, and, most important, companions on the journey – sisters and brothers in the China Christian Council willing to travel together into the future where God is calling us to go. The pilgrimage did not begin with us – we are here because of ancestors in faith who encountered each other on their journeys. We honour, and we reflect critically on their heritage, as we seek to be faithful for our day. And the pilgrimage will not end here. To be faithful to this time we have been given together, we must find ways to continue the journey – to learn, to work, to worship, to create together new paths toward unity, justice and peace. Thank you to each of you who has accompanied us in this part of the pilgrimage, and God’s blessings until our paths meet once again.

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