Pacific churches reaffirm vision of unity and prophetic voice
by Rebecca C. Asedillo
"Holy Spirit, weave us together in your peace." This theme was prayed, sung, danced, and preached about in the colorful and lively fashion of Pacific peoples at the Eighth General Assembly of the Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC).
Meeting on September 11-18, 2002 in Roratonga, Cook Islands, the conference amended the preamble of its Constitution to incorporate inclusive language, elected five women, including the General Secretary, and a youth representative to its executive committee, and empowered its leadership to speak on behalf of its member bodies on critical issues affecting the region.
The assembly elected the Rev. Valamotu Palu from Tonga as its general secretary, Bishop Philemon Riti of Solomon Islands as moderator and the Rev. Father Apimeleki Qilio of Fiji as deputy moderator for a term of five years. Palu had been serving as the organization's general secretary since 1997 when the Reverend Dick Avi resigned. Palu was formerly the Women's Desk secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches.
The visible presence and active participation of delegates from the Roman Catholic Church, who have been members of the PCC since 1976, made this event a unique ecumenical experience for guests and observers outside the region.
"We must be involved," said Archbishop Adrian Smith of the Catholic Church in the Solomon Islands, citing a document from the Vatican titled Ut Unum Sint which mandates participation in the ecumenical movement. Smith affirmed that the ecumenical movement has strengthened relations among the churches in the region, and has enabled them to work closely together in such areas as pursuing peace initiatives, relating with governments, and developing civil society.
The eight-day assembly included presentations and workshops on the partnership of women and men, church and state relations, ecumenical cooperation and development, partnership in ministry, and the vision and mission of the Pacific Conference of Churches.
A reorganization process initiated in 1997 has resulted in the streamlining of the secretariat and the phasing out of various program desks, including the women's desk. In response to concerns voiced by the women, the assembly passed a resolution to ensure that one of the program executives, known as ecumenical animators, be a woman.
For the Rev. Watelaite Ratuvili of the Methodist Church in Fiji, this was a positive move. Elected to the new executive committee to represent women's concerns, Ratuvili says she also hopes that the churches' prophetic voice will be strengthened in places experiencing political unrest, such as in the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, and Fiji. Ratuvili is the secretary of her denomination's Department of Methodist Women's Fellowship.
Various speakers at the assembly raised the challenge for churches in the Pacific to seriously address issues of land, identity, indigenous peoples, uprooted peoples, environmental degradation, violence and independence struggles. In response to the negative effects of economic globalization, the assembly agreed to support the Island of Hope program initiated by World Council of Churches Pacific Desk. This program highlights the life-centered values of the Pacific, emphasizing communal ownership of resource bases, high levels of intra-community interaction and solidarity, and celebration of life through traditional rituals, liturgies and theological reflections.
The assembly also encouraged member churches and national councils of churches "to work vigorously in the promotion of peace, forgiveness and reconciliation," and to link their efforts with the Decade to Overcome Violence campaign which it launched on September 13.
Hilda Lini, however, a delegate from the Church of Melanesia and director of Pacific Concerns Resource Centre, Inc., was quick to remind the assembly during a Bible study discussion that "Christianity brought to us divisions and disrespect to our own way of life. In our own Pacific way, we follow a process, and forgiveness comes in the end of that process." "Now we go to court," she said, "but that is foreign to us. There is no peace settlement, no proper reconciliation."
The dynamic interaction between the Christian gospel and the rich and diverse cultures of Pacific peoples was evident throughout the assembly: in the worship services where praises to God were sung by the whole congregation in traditional style, strong, reverberating, and often spontaneous, during meals which were customarily accompanied by singing, dancing and playing of traditional instruments, and in the welcoming of guests with garlands of flowers, and gifts.
In the end, the assembly came together in a most festive and elaborate display of unity as it formally installed its new officers, celebrated an ecumenical liturgy and sent the delegates home with the sound of drums and resonant voices, in essence praying, "Holy Spirit, weave us together in your peace."
Date posted: Sep 26, 2002