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Theologians draft manifesto for church unity, justice

International panel will present paper to new Reformed grouping in June

March 11, 2010

GENEVA

An international panel of pastors and theologians is drafting a “manifesto” for a new global organization of Reformed churches calling for a clear commitment to church unity as the basis for joint action on economic and ecological justice concerns.

The text — to be presented in June to the Uniting General Council (UGC) of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) in Grand Rapids, Mich. — was approved at the conclusion March 8 of a four-day consultation in Cartigny, Switzerland, by a group representing churches in eight world regions.

“What we are preparing is in effect a theological manifesto,” says Ofelia Ortega  of the Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba who chaired the consultation. “Our intent is for UGC delegates to discuss and accept the theological foundations for joint church action in this new communion. This ‘manifesto’ will be a key element to those discussions.”

The UGC will mark the merger of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) and the Reformed Ecumenical Council (REC), two branches of the Reformed church family which have traditionally represented differing theological perspectives on the role of churches in society.

“It is clear that in order for churches to work together, they must understand and respect each other’s theology,” says Douwe Visser of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) which organized the consultation.

“At the same time, in order to act responsibly on justice concerns, we must have a solid understanding of theology,” Visser adds.

The Cartigny consultation focused on a review of the results of a series of regional consultations held with the support of the Swiss-based Fondation pour l’aide au protestantisme réformé (Foundation for Reformed Protestantism) which supports projects of Reformed churches worldwide.

Throughout 2009 and in early 2010, groups of theologians and pastors met in Europe, Asia, Africa, North America/Caribbean, Latin America, the acific and the Middle East to review the theological basis for unity among Presbyterian, Reformed, Waldensian, Congregational, Uniting and United churches.

“Each regional group identified a clear link between church union — or ‘communion’ as we call it — and action on issues such as gender equality, protection of the environment and a more just economic system,” says Visser. “We believe this understanding must be foundational to the WCRC.”

Visser, a former REC world president, says that despite the diversity of theological perspectives among participants in the regional consultations, it was clear how much the two branches of the Reformed church movement have in common. “This is a strong impulse for moving forward,” he says,

The new organization will have two principal objectives: a focus on continuing to develop the theological basis for interchurch cooperation (referred to in church circles as “building communion”) and a focus on encouraging joint church initiatives in support of the economic rights of vulnerable peoples and the sustainable use of natural resources.

Participants in the Cartigny consultation were Ofelia Ortega (Cuba), Clifton Kirkpatrick (a United States Presbyterian), Setri Nyomi (Switzerland), Serge Fornerod (Switzerland), Rimas Mikalauskas (Lithuania), Raffi Messerlian (Lebanon), Carola Trón (Uruguay), Mery Kolimon (Indonesia), Bridget Ben Naimah (Ghana), Yvette Noble-Bloomfield (Jamaica), Marie Ropeti (New Zealand) and Kim Kyung-In (Korea).

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