Shared witness in a global communion
Photo thanks to the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma on Facebook
One key feature of the identity of the Uniting Church in Australia is a desire for shared witness, faith, and life with others.
Being born of ecumenical engagement between three distinct traditions, the UCA’s foundational document, the Basis of Union, makes it clear that union was not an end in itself but rather one stage in an open-ended process – as evidenced by the name ‘Uniting’.
The Basis of Union reminds us that as Christians in Australia, we are “called to bear witness to a unity of faith and life in Christ which transcends cultural and economic, national and racial boundaries, and to this end the Uniting Church commits itself to seek special relationships with Churches in Asia and the Pacific.’ (Paragraph 2)
This commitment can be seen in a history of intentional connection with churches and communities overseas as well as within Australia. The Uniting Church has formal partnership agreements with 32 churches in Asia and the Pacific, which are relationships of shared action, collaboration and mutual respect.
The biennial meeting of the Methodist Consultative Council of the Pacific (MCCP) took place from 18-20 May with Church leaders from Methodist and Methodist related denominations across the Pacific Region gathering to share aspects of life and mission. This meeting is connected into the World Methodist Council, which meets every five years.
The leaders ordinarily would meet face to face with a different church hosting each time, however due to COVID-19 safety measures, they met online.
Uniting Church President Dr Deidre Palmer and General Secretary Colleen Geyer hosted delegates from Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. The World Methodist Council was represented by the Chair of their Ecumenical Relations Committee of the WMC, Rev Tony Franklin-Ross. Uniting World was represented by National Director Dr Sureka Goringe.
The MCCP’s purpose is to build relationships between participating churches, foster sharing about life and mission in each context, and to discuss common issues of mission and ministry to determine practical actions that may be implemented.
“The Methodist Consultative Council of the Pacific is a wonderful opportunity for our Pacific churches to be in communion, even though we are physically apart,” said Dr Palmer.
“We join in worship, expressing our praise and thanks to God, share stories of hope and struggle and we offer support and give voice on issues of justice and human rights as an expression of our solidarity with each other.”
A focus of the meeting was exploring common themes emerging in each context, and reflecting on the potential for collaboration and shared advocacy. The common themes will become part of a report to the World Methodist Council, highlighting the life and mission of churches in the Pacific.
The most prominent of these is climate justice, with vulnerable Pacific islands already experiencing the devastating impacts of climate change including rising sea levels threatening existence and causing displacement. Pacific churches are engaged in both education of communities and national political advocacy on this issue.
Care for creation more broadly is also a focus, with Pacific communities occupied with environmental issues such as seabed mining, over-fishing, the preservation of marine life and environments, logging, and the adverse human impacts of environment destruction.
Other shared themes included the elimination of gender-based violence, the ongoing effects of the fallout from nuclear testing in the Pacific, the engagement of youth and young adults in shaping the present and future of churches, alleviating poverty, and evangelism.
“Our shared life as part of a global communion of churches is a wonderful gift of the Spirit, and source of encouragement, as we seek to faithfully embody the love and compassion of Christ,” said Dr Palmer.
“I invite you as members of the Uniting Church to pray for our partners, and to take action that gives expression to our common vision of God’s justice and peace being realised."
Our partnership and solidarity with the global Church is also particularly important for the UCA as a culturally diverse church, with many of our members maintaining strong links with their home countries.
“The Uniting Church is a multicultural church with members who come from various ethnic groups all over the world,” said Rev Dr Apwee Ting, Assembly National Consultant. “When various situations of crisis, natural disaster or conflict are taking place in their home countries, they are often strongly felt and impact on the diaspora communities living here in Australia.”
“At the same time, many of us are very concerned about injustice, poverty, social inequality, domestic violence, and climate change both in Australia and in various parts of the world. This solidarity with others is an expression of our faith and is part of the identity that unifies the diverse congregations in the Uniting Church.”
“For example, recently we have been praying with the church in South Sudan so that the political situation will improve. We also pray for the people of India who are facing COVID-19. We are also committed to work together with the people in the Pacific in addressing the causes and impacts of climate change.”
The work of unity is not only an institutional reality but a theological affirmation.
The mission of God in the world to bring reconciliation and healing to all things not only enables Christian unity but makes unity inevitable.