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11.05.05 07:42 Age: 7 yrs

Christians gather in Athens for mission and evangelism conference

The Rev. Larry Pickens

The Rev. Samuel Kobia

[A UMNS Report]

As the sun rose over the Aegean Sea, some 700 Christians gathered to discern the healing presence of the Holy Spirit.

That beginning of the 2005 Conference on World Mission and Evangelism, meeting May 9-16 in Athens, showed "the need for healing throughout the world," according to the Rev. Larry Pickens, chief executive of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns.

Convened by the World Council of Churches, the conference brings together representatives from its member churches as well as participants from Roman Catholic, Pentecostal and Evangelical churches and bodies. Of the 12 previous ecumenical mission conferences held since 1910, this is the first to take place in a predominantly Orthodox context.

A large wooden cross, made by a Jerusalem craftsman, arrived by boat as participants and local guests gathered on the beach at the start of the conference. According to the WCC, the cross was intended as a symbol of reconciliation and healing as well as a gesture of solidarity with Christians in the Middle East.

Pickens noted that His Beatitude Christodoulos, the Orthodox archbishop of Athens and all of Greece, cited the brokenness of the Christian family during the conference's opening session, "but in doing so he also affirmed the hope of our dialogue as an avenue for understanding and cooperation."

The Rev. Samuel Kobia, a Methodist from Kenya and the WCC's chief executive, welcomed participants and pointed out that the apostle Paul passed along the same Aegean coastline where they had gathered.

"The sails of the ship that bore him were filled with breezes like those we now feel, blowing over this same sea," he said. "May that knowledge inspire us as we continue the Christian journey and may the ecumenical ship be propelled by winds of the Spirit."

Kobia suggested that Christians need to experience a "three-fold conversion in our thinking and attitudes." The first part of the conversion is to acknowledge the steady shift of the demographic center of Christianity from the North to the South. The second part of conversion is "to recognize that this change in global dynamics is not merely geographical, but carries with it implications that are spiritual, moral, theological, missiological," he said. "Forms of expressing our faith that grew out of European culture are no longer normative; for example, Pentecostal and charismatic spirituality is now flourishing in both South and North."

The third part of conversion is to create a new sense of unity joining East and West even while overcoming tensions between North and South. "The World Council of Churches has begun to deepen its fellowship through a dialogue concerning the meaning of Orthodox participation in the WCC and we hope to continue this process of healing and reconciliation as we examine questions of mission in light of the renewal of our ecclesial relationships," Kobia added.

Among the other Methodists participating in the conference is the Rev. R. Randy Day, chief executive of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

Daily plenary sessions focus on the central elements of the theme and subtheme: reconciliation, healing, the Holy Spirit and the Christian community. To mark the mid-point of the WCC's Decade to Overcome Violence, one plenary session will explore the relationship between mission and violence.

For the first time, all conference plenaries will be broadcast live via the Internet. The schedule can be found at www.mission2005.org, the conference Web site.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.