The Global Christian Forum (GCF), which next year celebrates its 25th anniversary, is unique within the ecumenical movement for its vision, structure, and methodology.
History of GCF
At the time of its creation, there was no convening space representative of the full breadth of Christian denominational traditions. The World Council of Churches (WCC) was the largest “instrument” for ecumenical dialogue and had a relationship with the Roman Catholic Church, but it was clear that the latter would not hold membership with the WCC. The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), with a membership approximately the same size as the WCC, maintained a strong focus on evangelism and mission, yet had members who had reservations about certain aspects of the ecumenical movement. The Pentecostal World Fellowship did not find itself sitting comfortably within either the membership of the WEA or WCC. The challenge, then, was creating opportunities for encounter, in the spirit of Jesus’ call that all may be one, that did not bind churches to institutional structures or agendas held by any one sector of global Christianity. It is from this desire that the Global Christian Forum was born and is now its own entity, supported equally by four ‘pillars’: WCC, WEA, Roman Catholic Church, and Pentecostal World Fellowship.
The Forum is distinctive because of its basis for dialogue, namely sharing personal faith stories. Talking with others about one’s faith puts everyone on common ground and lays the foundation for substantive relationships between Christians and their varied traditions. During regional and global meetings participants discuss aspects of Christian contextual theology, how different churches respond to common issues, and listen for how the Spirit may be speaking and moving in the journey towards the unity of the church.
October 2022 meeting
The most recent GCF activity, a combined Asian regional event and annual international steering committee meeting, took place in Seoul from 14-17 October. Emerging from conversations between Asian theologians and the global group were some common questions and themes:
- Who is leading the ecumenical movement and where are the conversations happening? Is ecumenism exclusionary and too distant from contextual realities? Are those on the margins shaping the ecumenical space?
- Research recently released in the Open Generation study by Barna showed that teens today have high expectations for faith leaders, value authenticity and openness in people and institutions, and want to make positive change in the world yet lack confidence. What is the role of the ecumenical movement in responding to this current “open” generation? Does the methodology of faith sharing as practiced in the GCF offer a helpful way for teens to shape the future of ecumenism?
- What does it mean, in each of our contexts, to witness to Christ in a multi-faith context? How might we understand missio agape in this reality?
World Vision’s role
World Vision, one of CTE’s Bodies in Association (BiA), has been honoured for some years as the only development and humanitarian NGO represented on the international steering committee. As a Christian organisation, being present at this table is a reminder of our ecumenical commitments both in how we work with churches in our support offices (like the UK) and in our national offices, where we serve the world’s most vulnerable children. Like other BiAs, to be ecumenically minded is part of our core identity and the work we are called to do is enriched and nourished precisely because of a diversity of Christian traditions and contextual expressions amongst our staff and the partners with whom we work.
The next global GCF gathering is in 2024 in Ghana and World Vision will be looking for ways in which we can bring a child-focused lens to the broader conversations about unity, mission, and sharing our Christian identity just as we seek to do here in the UK. As we move towards that event, we hope we can share something of the relational gift the GCF brings to ecumenical endeavours with our fellow BiAs in discerning our unique and collective vocations to be instruments of God’s call to Christian unity.
Dr Natasha Klukach is an Ecumenical Theologian working for World Vision UK. She is an Associate Tutor at St Augustine’s College of Theology and a former staff member of the World Council of Churches.