The mission conference at Edinburgh happening right now is a celebration of the 100 years of the ecumenical missionary conference that happened in this same city. At that time, the 1910 Edinburgh Missionary Conference was the first sign of a joint effort of various Protestant churches uniting their faith and resources in an attempt to do mission together. For this 2010 conference, the scenario is, thankfully, very different. As ecumenical organisms worked together to organize this meeting, Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches have their delegates and this gathering shows revived understandings and practices of the mission work of the church of Christ is in this new century.
For this conference, 300 people from 60 countries are getting together to pray, worship and dialogue, setting new paths for the new work of the church. Prior to the meeting, different study groups develop 9 main themes that were to become the spine of the conference:
- Foundations for Mission
- Christian Mission among other faiths
- Mission and Postmodernities
- Mission and Power
- Forms of Missionary Engagement
- Theological Education and Formation
- Christian Communities in Contemporary Contexts
- Mission and Unity – Ecclesiology and Mission
- Mission Spirituality and Authentic Discipleship
These themes were developed by people from around the world with different methodologies and a wonderful collection of materials were created and collected. Case studies marked the approaches of the global understandings of these themes. Transformation, inclusivity, contextualization, new challenges, healing, reconciliation, commitment to love and justice and interfaith dialogue were some of the issues developed. Along with these main themes, 7 transversal topics were defined by the International Council in 2005-2006. These transversal topics were to “cross” every main study theme with people representing these issues at each main group discussion:
- Women and mission
- Youth and mission
- Healing and reconciliation
- Bible and mission – mission in the Bible
- Contextualization, inculturation and dialogue of worldviews
- Subaltern voices
- Ecological perspectives
These main themes/transversal topics show an enormous difference from the first conference 100 years ago and evidences how the church have changed, how it must continually rethink the doing and thinking of its mission and how Christian communities must be attentive to the new challenges posed to them. It is worth reading the final document of the conference and anyone interested in the witness of the church will gain an expanded vision of the Missio Dei in the world: “Edinburgh 2010. Mission Today and Tomorrow, Volume 1, 2 and 3.” (Available to order from Regnum website www.ocms.ac.uk/regnum)
However, as in many ecumenical gatherings, some issues were not dealt so that they wouldn’t create uncomfortable situations or harm feelings. Fundamental theological issues such as the Sacraments were not developed, and central and fundamental issues such as sexualities were not covered. Women was a “transversal” issue but did not worth a major study theme. If the “transversality” of these issues can raise important issues in each major study theme they still miss a more throughout and necessary analyzes.
Also, if in the printed material we can hear voices from the people at the margins, their voices are not present at the conference. Due to the internal problems within the leading council as well as economic crises, the conference had to downsize its first prospects and hopes and the participation of so many people from the South were cut. The general organization also suffered. The result is a conference with only 33% of women, only 13 Spanish speaking people, the majority of people coming from the North and the power control kept by “affluent” nations and white male speakers/religious authorities. We don’t see the people from the ground, those who make ecumenism actually happen. For instance, there are only 5 indigenous people from around the world. I wonder where are the marginalized people form the South? Where are their voices? They definitely don’t have money to pay their tickets to come to Edinburgh.
I am a direct result of missionary work I am all for missions! I do believe the church must announce the gospel of Jesus Christ everywhere! The same way other religions should also have the freedom to proclaim their beliefs and truths. The church has this powerful message that can turn the world upside down! This message can continue to empower people, heal individual and social wounds, educate people for freedom and engage them into the struggle against injustice, and liberate and transform people to become subject of their own histories, always in relation to the histories of their communities. Nonetheless, we need to continue to stop and evaluate our paths. There are…
So much to repent
So much to convert from and to
So much to re-think,
So much to remember
So much power to shift
So much to envision
So much to pray
So much to do
Yes, the conference is a wonderful sign of the wondrous and new movements of God in and around the world. It is fascinating to see some of it here. On the other hand, the conference still shows how much ahead of us we have to go, how much we still need to do and how much we still need to change. God have mercy! Come Holy Spirit!