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Observations on Edinburgh 2010

by Bishop Heinrich Bolleter

United Methodist Bishop Heinrich Bolleter, Geneva Secretary of the World Methodist Council, offers his observations on Edinburgh 2010, the ecumenical world mission conference held in Edinburgh, Scotland, on June 2-6. The event marked the one hundredth anniversary of a landmark missionary conference in 1910. Bishop Bolleter, who is retired from the Southern and Century Europe Central Conference, represented the World Methodist Council on a committee of "stakeholders" that assisted in planning the 2010 conference, which had the theme "Witnessing to Christ Today."

Invoking the Memory and Shaping the Future

The 1910 Missionary Conference had a very small number of nonwestern delegates, and the spectrum of denominations and Christian missionary organizations was very limited. It was predominantly Protestant. Neither the RCC nor the Orthodox Family was present.

Looking back, it is also a reality that the Pentecostals and other holiness movements, which were at times going through a great awakening, were not present. Only 16 percent were women.

The very few delegates from the global South and from Asia had the imagination to advocate much greater unity among the various strands of Christian witness. So Edinburgh 1910 has been widely recognized as the birthplace of several modern movements leading to the Lausanne Movement and the World Council of Churches.

It has to be remembered also, that the 1910 Conference was not only about unity in mission, but also the forbearer of a conviction that they stood at a kairos moment in history. It was sense of urgency about Christian witness worldwide and its emphasis on churches doing mission together, with the 'realistic' possibility to fulfill Jesus' command to proclaim the Good News to all the nations.

The world's religious demography has been transformed since. The center of gravity of global Christianity moved from the North to the South. Consequently, the representation of the global South is larger by 60 percent of the delegates, and the centenary celebrations are no longer centered around Edinburgh only. In all the world regions, there have been or there will be organized activities of remembrance in formats of a study of conferences or of celebrations. The processes leading to Edinburgh 2010 are polycentric: from everywhere to everyone, and no longer "from the West to the rest". Not to mention the continuing disappearance of Christianity in certain parts of the world, as in the Middle East.

The preparation of the centenary has been undertaken by a very broad representation of world Christianity, the Roman Catholics, the Orthodox and the Pentecostal Churches included. The worldwide web allowed also the participation of thousands around the world who wanted to share in this historical event. The call from Edinburgh to the churches does not reflect only new mission paradigms for the 21st century. More likely the conference had to realize that the mission has become multifaceted and can no longer be controlled by a convergence in mission theology and practice. One of the Church leaders among the participants said: Mission in the 21st century is more "messy but glorious". So the opening prayer was a motivation in the right direction:

Gracious and eternal God. We praise you because we are here. We look and listen and know that we are part of your church, multi-colored, multi-cultured, multi-lingual, and all by your design. We are privileged to be present. We praise you.

If we have come with our minds full of rehearsed speeches, if we are keener to hear our own voice than those of our neighbors, help us to lay our personal agendas aside, so that we can be open to you and to each other.

Help us to enjoy being together. Help us to believe that you have great things in store--new insights, new discoveries, new energy, closer solidarity. Help us to find hope for your church and to cherish it. O Lord, Hear our prayer.

(From morning worship, Thursday, June 3, 2010, "Witnessing to Christ Today")

Between Experience and Academic Study

Participants had the impression that the sharing of experiences was a very helpful possibility to bring together the various strands of Christian witness. The academic track of the conference was based on an international study process. There is a lot of material still to be digested, material, which was sent out. In addition, the presentations in the plenary under the headings "Mission in a long perspective," "Mission worldwide," and "Towards a common call," as well as the continuing input in sessions about the nine study themes. The big cloud of information could hardly be considered in total on the path to a setting of priorities at the end of the conference.

Spiritual Experience

Gratitude, Repentance, Humility, and Hope

The opening celebration was a very moving invitation to walk with God and God's people.
The Gospel stories of the blind man at the pool of Siloam, the women at the well and Zaccheus were told in a way, that we were getting aware of the reactions, these "conversions" provoked. And walking out of the hall, participants were invited to share answers about: which of the three people Jesus met, would we most like to meet and what would we like to ask the person. This walking into the life of the conference led us right into the center of our understanding of mission. 'Conversion' remains a hot spot in this disputation.

During the opening worship, reflections were offered by the leaders of two international sponsors of the conference: the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA).

The Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the WCC, affirmed, that "mission and unity belong together. To be one in Christ is to witness together to Christ. If there is to be a witness to Christ, there must be a mission movement of the cross. This means that if there is a will to be one in Christ, there must be an ecumenical movement of the cross. Nobody needs triumphalistic movements. It is important to keep a healthy dialectic and creative tension between the many dimensions of our calling. To witness to Christ is both evangelism and the prophetic stand for Christ's will for justice, peace and care of creation."

The Rev. Dr Geoff Tunnicliffe, international director of the WEA, pointed out that despite advances of the past century "there is no corner of the world where the mission of the church is complete. God's calling to the whole church is to take the whole gospel to the whole world, and that call comes anew to us in every generation." Noting the promise of theological conversations among Evangelicals, Orthodox, Catholics and member churches of the WCC, Tunnicliffe admitted, that "there have been many things that have divided the different streams of the church. We would be foolish to think in these few days all those often deeply-held and painfully fought-over differences could be resolved. But I hope that we can listen to one another with love and respect, build bridges rather than create chasms, pray together, learn together, discover new friendships."

The Common Prayers on Friday and Saturday morning were following the themes of "Gratitude" and "Repentance." The Children of St. Mary's Roman Catholic Primary School were helping the delegates to express their joy and gratitude as the assembly was giving credit to all the blessings in mission over the last 100 years.

Singing the Kyrie eleison from different parts of the world and following the short homily by Sister Elizabeth Moran (Columban Sisters), the conference could also look into the shortcomings, wrong turnings, and missed opportunities in the church's mission in the last century.

Forgive us, gracious God, if--as your people--we have tried to make heaven in the image of our church, rather than making our churches resemble heaven. Forgive us if we have looked with suspicion on churches not of our tradition, and especially if we have been unwilling to share the gifts which your Holy Spirit brought to birth in other cultures.

(From morning worship, Saturday, June 5, 2010, "Witnessing to Christ Today")

Commitment: Witnessing to Christ Today!

The closing celebration took place in the Assembly Hall of the 1910 conference with 900 guests joining the 300 delegates of the conference. The celebration was a wonderful picture of the diversity and had the theme of "commitment" and was leading to an act of dedication. John Sentamu, the Anglican archbishop of York who is a Christian coming from Ghana, appealed on behalf of "the crucial importance of Christian witness."

Encouragement to exercise loving hospitality towards others and humility in Christian outreach formed the refrains of Edinburgh 2010's closing celebration. Toward the end of three hours of performance, witness, and singing, the meeting closed with a Common Call to renewed commitment, affirmed at the climax of the closing celebration.

Read the full text of Edinburgh 2010: Common Call.

Live transmission of the closing celebration allowed thousands of people around the world to participate in this centennial celebration. A recorded version will be posted on this website within days. Whoever missed the live transmission, should not hesitate to visit this webpage again.

See videos of the event at http://www.youtube.com/2010Edinburgh.

Academic Study

Into the Future with Humility and Hope

The sense of urgency about Christian witness worldwide has changed from a rush into mission towards a commitment based on experiences of gratitude and repentance. In 1910 the delegates found their motivation in the fact that only 30 percent of humanity was reached by the Gospel. And they heard the call to reach all the nations till AD 2000.

In 2010 the churches realize that still only one-third of the world's growing population is reached by Christian witness. And they understand that they have different views about the task, which is before them. But a commitment to be in mission together and to go on this path with love, in unity, and in a prophetic spirit is very much alive.

In 2005-2006 the following nine main study themes were identified. Since then, the research has been done by a core group for each theme, and this work was mainly compiled in the study book for all the participants.

1. Foundations for mission
2. Christian mission among other faiths
3. Mission and post-modernities
4. Mission and power
5. Forms of missionary engagement
6. Theological education and formation
7. Christian communities in contemporary contexts
8. Mission and unity--ecclesiology and mission
9. Mission spirituality and authentic discipleship

It was also recognized that a number of "transversals" are needed, i.e., important themes, which will run like a thread across all the main study themes. The following "transversals" have been identified.

1. Women and mission
2. Youth and mission
3. Healing and reconciliation
4. Bible and mission--mission in the Bible
5. Contextualization, enculturation, and dialogue of worldviews
6. Subaltern voices
7. Ecological perspectives on mission

A great deal of the materials, including study papers, on these themes and concerns are available online at the Edinburgh 2010 website. Not forgetting to mention the "Handbook of Theological Education in World Christianity" (Theological Perspectives, Ecumenical Trends, and Regional Surveys), edited by members of the core group for "theological education and formation" of Edinburgh 2010. Regnum Studies in Global Christianity first published at the Edinburgh 2010 Conference. Methodist contributors are Bishop Dr. Patrick Streiff, Switzerland; Bishop Hwa Yung, Malaysia; Robert Kohler GBHEM, USA; Bishop Robert Salomon, Singapore.

Methodist Participation in the Process and at the Conference

Dr. Dana Robert, a United Methodist professor of world Christianity and history of mission at Boston University School of Theology, was one of the keynote speakers. An event on women and mission was organized on Friday night, June 4, at a Methodist Church in Edinburgh by the Women's Division of The United Methodist Church. The Women's Division also contributed to the Ecumenical Pilgrimage. One of the stations was a Methodist witness about Kim Seji, a Bible woman in Korea who helped building the Korean Methodist Church in 1865-1955.

The eight persons delegated through the World Methodist Council were:

  • Bishop John F. White of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Florida
  • Bishop Hope Morgan Ward of Mississippi
  • Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño of Phoenix
  • the Rev. Mande Muyombo of the North Katanga Annual Conference in the Democratic Republic of Congo (who could not travel because of visa problems)
  • the Rev. Dr. Martin Atkins, general secretary of the Methodist Church in Britain
  • retired United Methodist Bishop Robert E. Fannin, chair of the Division of World Evangelism of the World Methodist Council
  • Dr. Eddie Fox, director of World Evangelism/World Methodist Council
  • Bishop Heinrich Bolleter, Geneva Secretary of the World Methodist Council
  • Dr. Glory Dharmaraj, Women's Division UMC.

By invitation of the WCC, Bishop Ivan Abrahams of the Methodist Church in South Africa was also a participant. Harriett Olsen, General Secretary of the Women's Division, New York, and several faculty members of different Methodist Theological Schools were present because of their contributions to the study process or the program.

Dr. Daryl Balia, the Director for Edinburgh 2010 and employed by the University of Edinburgh, is also a Methodist from South Africa. He has contributed a lot to the study process and the start of the all the preparations. But as he was at the time of the Conference under a process of grievance and investigation by the University, he was not able to participate at the Conference on the campus of the University.

Mission in Humility and Hope--the Way into the 21st Century

Here are quotations for inclusion in the "lexicon of mission and unity":

Missionary power--"When I look back on modern Pentecostal history, I cannot but acknowledge the criticism against the Pentecostals' spirit of triumphalism. However, the truth is that all missionary work is the work of the Holy Spirit and it has been done only through the grace of God. Thus, one should humble oneself and approach ministries with the spirit of humility." --Rev. Dr Young-Hoon Lee, pastor of the Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, South Korea.

Concern and affection of one church for another--"A kind of relationship that is characterized by respect between the churches. These kinds of relations reveal an appreciation for the gifts of other churches involved, and a willingness to share their respective burdens. In the presence of such relations, genuine evangelization and authentic conversion can take place." --Dr Antonios Kireopoulos, director for faith & order and interfaith relations, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.

Mission from the South--"is settling in Europe through a variety of independent missionaries who are founding churches in Europe. It is a great phenomenon…. These churches from the South are coming independent of the structures of the churches in the North and are establishing churches. They do start with the people from their own countries who are migrants, but they are slowly getting a footing in Europe with not a few European members and interested people. The European official churches have not yet known how to deal with this phenomenon."--Rev. Dr. Fidon R. Mwombeki, general secretary of the United Evangelical Mission based in Wuppertal, Germany.

Mission must be seen as an exchange among equals, an encounter of one human being with another--"Christian 'mission' must never again be understood as 'what the rich do to the poor, what men do to women, what people from the North do to people of the South: this model has become obsolete'. Africa benefited from mission and missionary institutions, but Africa also is to some extent 'a victim of mission' and must learn to 'undo' the assumptions of dominance and superiority remaining in churches." --Tinyiko Sam Maluleke, a theologian from the University of South Africa and president of the South African Council of Churches.

Commitment to unity of purpose in Christian mission, evangelism and dialogue--"We must not allow difficult theological, socio-cultural and political issues, or disagreements over theologies of religion, to discourage us from sharing God's love and salvation through Jesus Christ with all the world." --Dr. Dana L. Robert, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

Mission and unity--"Mission is a commandment, and unity is a prayer." --Bishop Brian Farrell of the Roman Catholic Church.

Globalized missionary project--"All in all, in this new fast-changing world, youth mission is highly involved in this globalized missionary project. We should make ourselves available when God wants to move us for mission." --Fofo Lerefolo, originally from South Africa, Methodist and active member of youth organizations in the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. She is currently working as an intern with the World Council of Churches in the Mission and Evangelism program.

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Date posted: Jun 10, 2010