UK Delegates Call on WCC to Create Fresh Focus on Evangelism

As the Conference on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME) convened by the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Athens, Greece, closed on Monday 16th May, Christian leaders across all denominational lines have not stopped in their response of passionate calls for the churches to become "healing and reconciling communities of hope".

The British and Irish delegations at the historic gathering were deeply inspired by the Conference. A joint letter has been issued to the WCC’s mission commission, coordinated by the Churches’ Commission on Mission (CCOM) of the Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI)with calls to shift focus to evangelism.

CCOM links the work of the global mission departments and agencies of the churches in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales as part of the CTBI - the national official ecumenical body.

The letter pleads for "an ecumenical recovery of the central Christian vocation to announce the Good News of Jesus Christ" through a clearer focus on holistic evangelism, announced by the Secretary of CCOM Simon Barrow, who represented CCOM at the CWME.

"Holistic evangelism" is described as "the means through which the nature, identity and call of Jesus Christ - the one who breaks down the world’s dividing walls - is made known."

It combines word and deed, "renews the church, and grows its capacity for further witness and service."

The delegations welcome the attention of the WCC world mission conference to the work of the Holy Spirit and the vocation of the church as a healing and reconciling community, yet the next step for the ecumenical movement is to learn how to "talk the walk" better, according to the letter.

Currently, the letter has been signed by the Bishop of Maidstone, the Rt Rev Graham Cray, the General Secretary of the Church Mission Society, the Rev Canon Tim Dakin, Fr Philip Knights of the Catholic Agency to Support Evangelisation in England and Wales, the Rev Dr Jim Campbell of the Irish Council of Churches, Dr Kirsteen Kim, lecturer in mission at the University of Birmingham, and Mr Simon Barrow, Secretary of CCOM.

The list of signatories is growing, from among the 30 CWME participants from Britain and Ireland. They also highlighted the need to engage directly with new mission movements from the global South and with a "fresh expressions of church" in the North.

From the letter from the CWME to all Christians in the world adopted on 18th May, the WCC has recognised the changing mission geographic demography.

"While the centres of power are still predominantly in the global North, it is in the South and the East that the churches are growing most rapidly, as a result of faithful Christian mission and witness...the diversity has discovered opportunities for a deepening understanding of the Holy Spirit's creative, life-sustaining, healing and reconciling work," it stated.

"The ecumenical movement was birthed out of the Edinburgh 1910 world mission conference," CCOM Secretary Simon Barrow explained, "Since then the demographic of world Christianity has shifted dramatically to the South, as reflected in the rainbow composition of the Athens gathering. Christians across the theological spectrum are now seeing the urgent need to re-communicate the liberating message of the Gospel in a divided world."

Barrow continued, "This is not another fashionable criticism of the WCC, but an expression of deep partnership - one that lends fresh visibility to the prophetic and pastoral mission of healing and reconciliation for which the fellowship of the World Council of Churches is known."

Gathered under the theme "Come, Holy Spirit, Heal and Reconcile! Called in Christ to be Reconciling and Healing Communities" in Athens, Greece from 9th-16th May, over 600 participants from 300 churches, confessions and Christian bodies across 105 countries joined the CWME.

It was said to be one of the broadest gatherings of Christian churches and organisations in the early 21st century involving Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Evangelical and Pentecostal delegates from six continents.