Postcard from Jeju

By John Ellis

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Sea Wall at Jeju

I am typing this by my hotel bedroom window, looking out over a concrete sea wall to the vast blue expanse of the Pacific Ocean. A few small boats are visible and when dusk falls they will be joined by dozens more from the local fishing fleet. They will dodge around the huge cruise liners that call in to the harbour a short walk to the east. The tranquillity of the scene is interrupted every few minutes as another airliner flies in low on its approach to the airport behind me, with another load of international tourists coming here to Jeju island, off the coast of South Korea.

Slightly separated from the groups heading for the casinos are the Directors of the Council for World Mission. We each represent one of the 32 member churches of CWM, linked together by a common history of British missionary enterprise in previous generations. The representative from Papua New Guinea remembers David Grosch-Miller’s visit there last year. The representative from land-locked Zambia gazes endlessly at the moving sea. The representative from Zimbabwe gazes with less enthusiasm at meals of raw fish. The Very Revd Pamela, our Moderator from New Zealand, tries to get us to focus on business.

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CWM top table: Company Secretary Reynaldo; Moderator Pamela; General Secretary Collin

The business is not always easy to identify. Huge quantities of information are provided but with limited guidance about what the Directors should focus on. Ad hoc groups study different themes and try to find what the Council should be saying to its staff. These groups report to the full meeting but as no votes are taken, one can only guess what the silent majority are thinking. These discussions attempt no conclusions. Instead, on the penultimate evening a Resolutions Committee looks back over all the discussions of the previous three days and drafts for us 31 resolutions which they think capture what they believe the meeting might want to say. The last morning is spent working through all these resolutions to adopt or reject them.

This is the last meeting before the governance structures of CWM change. That may be one reason why the key strategic questions were not progressed significantly. CWM has substantial capital but is currently spending well above its income, buoyed up by surprising assurances that its investments will produce far more income in the future than they have in the recent past. Grants to member Churches have become a central part of what CWM is about but how to distribute them fairly amongst Churches of very different sizes, wealth and administrative capacities is a perennial issue.

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The seafront Ramada Plaza Hotel

With expenditure exceeding income, some Directors felt more than uneasy about holding our meeting, as is apparently typical, in a luxury five star hotel. I wondered if I was the only person who found some incongruity in listening to Bible Studies denouncing energetically the insidious corrupting influence of wealth while spending a week in such a venue. Or is wealth only corrupting when other people have it? A move to have the budgets for such gatherings reviewed was watered down to become an anodyne resolution without specific focus.

Whatever the policy questions, CWM successfully generates a family feeling. It is a privilege to live in an age when Church leaders from literally all round the globe can meet together in person, celebrate the things that unite us and share the burdens that some have to carry. Like the best of local churches, this is life-enhancing.

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