By Michael N. Jagessar
“Long Haul” is an appropriate term to both describe my visit (and journey) to the Hong Kong Council of the Church of Christ in China (HKCCCC) and the 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches (Busan) as well as our Christian pilgrimage in challenging times.
A Church with a Mission – HKCCCC
David Tatem and I represented the URC at the annual gathering of the HKCCCC, a partner Church through the Council for World Mission (CWM) and the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC). Our relationship with the HKCCCC, however, goes back further to the work of the London Missionary Society and the Presbyterian church. The history of the Church of Christ in China can be traced to 1918 when a group of church leaders in China thought it necessary for the churches to become united and to form an indigenous church. The Hong Kong Council used to be under the jurisdiction of the 6th District Association of Guangdong Synod. It was re-named the Hong Kong Council of the Church of Christ in China in 1953. The council became a self-supporting organization in 1974 and proclaimed as a “Three-Self” church (self-support, self-governance, self-propagation) in 1980.
Our well-thought out and appropriately timed programme included attendance and participation at the Opening Service of thanksgiving and the Annual General of the HKCCCC, a series of very helpful conversations with the leadership of the HKCCCC on “missional challenges before the Church in Hong Kong and the UK”, visits to the Hong Kong Christian Council and the Divinity School of Chung Chi College, and worship at the Man Lam Christian Church. Our hosts, the Revd Eric SO (General Secretary), the Revd Bettsy NG (Deputy GS), the Revd Kam Cheong PO, and the Revd Dr Lung-Kwong LO, among many other wonderful colleagues, were exceptionally generous. At the opening service I brought greetings from the United Reformed Church and together with David Tatem shared in a presentation/open discussion on some of the “missional challenges” before Churches in the UK.
We learnt that the HKCCCC is a growing church with over 80,000 adult members and 86 congregations. They are actively involved in the Social Services and Education (schools) sectors, often in partnership with the government. They also do much work in Counselling, given the very high rate of suicide among younger people. Among the things that struck me about the mission and ministry of the HKCCCC are: their brilliant stewardship programme; a combination of theological and entrepreneurial flavour to mission and ministry; the holding of their equivalent to our General Assembly in just one day; the very creative use of space everywhere we visited; and some of the areas in which we can mutually share resources and expertise (stewardship, church growth, ongoing ministerial training etc). Perhaps the long haul of wrestling with dependence, independence and inter-dependence in the history of the HKCCCC’s has provided our partners with a sustaining spirituality as they seek to be worthy and authentic witnesses of Christ in changing contexts.
Ecumenical Vessel at Sea – 10th Assembly of the WCC
It was certainly a feeling of Pentecost at the WCC Assembly, with so many churches from every “corner” of the world present – not to mention the “tongues”, the colours and the “wear”. The spirit of diversity was certainly around in the business sessions, worship, plenaries, workshops, exhibition hall (madang), in the corridor conversations, around the restaurant dining tables, at bible studies and in our ecumenical conversations. There were moments, though, when the tendencies of reverting to Babel threatened to de-rail the “spirit of ecumenical hospitality and diversity”. If only some of our conversations could have taken a leaf out of the extravagant hospitality of our Korean hosts!
What energised me at this “too large a gathering”, were worship, bible studies in small groups, ecumenical conversations around theological education, workshops, the stories of some of the plenary speakers, and meeting familiar and new colleagues. The business sessions (especially the elections) were not energising and at times the jargons, “catch phrases” and “expressions” came across as nice “sound-bites” and overused “rhetoric”. I often felt that much of the discourse seemed to be on all that is wrong, with little contribution to what we can do to bring about transformation. Then there was the vexed matter of the Assembly’s inability to consider creating spaces for the concerns of all marginalised groups (especially for LGBT concerns), though the theme was on justice and peace. And, while the centre of gravity around Christianity may have shifted to the global South, as seen in the well-represented make-up of those attending the Assembly and new Central Committee, the reality is that Churches with money and economic means (still in West) are the ones largely dictating policies and direction.
I left Busan with the feeling that the WCC, as a creaking ecumenical ship (no longer a boat as the logo indicates), is “at sea” in some very strong and tricky currents, struggling to “birth” new life and rediscover energising directions. For some, the WCC seems unable to engage in costly prophetic engagement (as in the 70’s and 80’s). While for others it may have given up on costly unity because of both the hard work of achieving consensus in a very diverse body and the complexity of current issues and allegiances. There are, however, some significant papers and documents that we may wish to study.
Rediscovering what it means to be a “movement” (as in ecumenical movement) remains an urgent challenge. So, for the long haul ahead, we may wish to pray that the God of life will stir up a mighty refreshing pentecostal wind to bring renewal, even if it may mean throwing some of the excess baggage overboard or that the ship may eventually need to run aground! (cf Acts 27).