Emily Evans is one of the Seeking Common Ground Panel members.
She is also a member of the World Council of Churches Central and Executive Committees. We’ve asked her to share some of her experiences.
What were your first experiences of ecumenism?
One of my first experiences of ecumenism was at a local level when I was living in Western Australia. Many of the social justice campaigns and initiatives I was involved with were in partnerships with other churches and networks.
My first experience of ecumenism at a global level was when I attended the World Council of Churches (WCC) Assembly as a member of the Uniting Church in Australia’s delegation. This experience opened my eyes to the broader Christian family on an international scale and the great diversity that existed.
Describe some of your journey to becoming a member of the WCC Central and Executive?
During the WCC Assembly, I was nominated to be a member of the WCC Central Committee. Being a young, lay, woman from the Asian region, I was able to offer a different perspective on the Central Committee.
To date, I have attended three Central Committee meetings, two ECHOS Commission meetings (Commission on Youth), four Gender Advisory Working group meetings and a couple of conferences in the last five years. This year, I have begun my time on the Executive Committee. This committee meets every six months, with our next meeting being in Uppsala, Sweden in November.
Over the years my knowledge and influence within the WCC has developed and increased. I have deepened by relationships with other committee members and learnt more about the structure and culture of the WCC. I have been able to bring my experience of growing up in the Uniting Church in Australia.
What have been some of the highlights for you with the WCC?
In the lead up to my first WCC Central Committee meeting in Geneva in 2014 I met with the Secretary of the then Christian Unity Working Group of the Uniting Church Assembly. I was slightly apprehensive about my upcoming meeting and was seeking advice and insight as to what I needed to say, how I should say things and how to represent the Uniting Church in Australia well. I was not expecting the response that I got, ‘just be yourself’. He said that as a church we value the input, perspective and experience of young leaders, therefore all I needed to do was be myself. Until today, I still remember that exchange and am reminded that I have the full support of my church behind me.
One of the greatest highlights of my engagement with the WCC is the people I meet from all around the world. I have always been someone who enjoys meeting new people. When meeting people through the WCC, I’ve found that we already share a deep connection and a commitment to work together towards a greater understanding of what it means to be part of the ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic church’.
What does the Uniting Church bring to the ecumenical movement?
I see the Uniting Church as a living example of what it means to be a part of the ecumenical movement. We are the coming together of three different denominations, and we are on this continued journey of seeking common ground within ourselves, but also with our partners in Australia and overseas.
Tell us about your new role
Recently I have started as Project Officer with the National Council of Churches in Australia. My role is about developing a closer link between the work and programs of the WCC and our national context, further develop the initiatives from the Justice Network and Faith and Unity Commission and assist in the framing of NCCA’s National Forum.
What does global ecumenism look like today?
Vastly different to when the World Council of Churches was first established 70 years ago. For one, there is more women’s engagement at all levels of conversation. Today, we look to what involvement churches can play in conflict areas, response to disaster and the rise of fundamentalism. The rise of influence of churches from the ‘Global South’, with the slow decline in dominance of churches from the ‘Global North’ means that a new dynamic is emerging. Technology has also changed the way we communicate and connect with each other and with those outside the Church context.
Why you are passionate about Seeking Common Ground?
We live in a diverse community where our neighbour is not a mirror image of our self. We have differences but also things in common. Through my experience in the global ecumenism space, I have learnt that it’s important that we meet together, develop connection and dialogue.
It’s important to have a safe space where differences can be shared, and discussions can happen in a loving and caring way but knowing that, potentially, you’ll continue to disagree. However, unless there is that openness shared between different people you will never move forward. At the end of the day, we’re all human, and we have a shared humanity, which is important to constantly remember.