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A present vocation in mission and service: the challenge to united and uniting churches.

I accepted the invitation to present this paper on the understanding that it would not be an academic treatise but soundings from one who is concerned about the mission and service of united and uniting churches. This presentation explores some issues that are giving shape to the present vocation in mission and service of some united and uniting churches. The word "vocation" is meant to convey a special urge and commitment to a particular calling. It presupposes that those who embrace the calling of a vocation do so intentionally; that they are prepared to pay the cost and take the risks to achieve their goal.

The title suggested for this presentation implies that the vocation of united and uniting churches is to be found in their practice of mission and service. Rooted in this understanding are two assumptions about their self-understanding:

1. They have a very special contribution to offer to the witness of the church throughout the world.

2. There is a need to rethink their mission and service priorities because of the sociopolitical, economic and religious realities shaping today's world agenda.

In order to explore the issues that are giving shape to the present vocation in mission and service of united and uniting churches, I will draw on my experiences with some of these churches at three different levels. Three signposts will be identified as constituting relevant pointers.

The first experience is shaped through my Christian nurturing in the ministry of the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, the church to which I later responded by becoming a part of its ordained ministry. The union saw the coming together of the Presbyterian and Congregational churches. However, the new body remained a mainstream church having to face issues of survival, diminishing members, money, influence and importance within a culture that is increasingly resistant to the gospel. Two contrasting developmental features dominate its expression of ministry and mission. One is a perennial struggle to come to terms with its inherited missionary model and pattern of ministry, and the other is the contemporary thrust of the church to restructure and equip itself to become more responsive to the mission challenges of the local context. The ultimate challenge for this church is whether it can renew, restructure and re-equip itself for effective engagement in mission and service.

The second pointer emerges from sharing in the ministry of two local united churches in the cities of Birmingham and London in the United Kingdom. Both congregations are struggling creatively to give genuine expression to the impact of migration within their local communities. Migration constitutes a potent issue that is challenging the ministry and mission of churches within inner cities. The presence of united churches within multicultural communities experiencing intense social and economic pressures represents a direct challenge to their understanding of their vocation. Will the hallmark of their mission and service emerge as one that values the celebration of diversity of gifts and the building of inclusive communities?

The third pointer relates to my experiences with the involvement of united churches within the Council for World Mission (CWM). This is a community of thirty churches which seek to challenge and equip each other and share resources for world mission. Although most of the CWM member churches have a common heritage in the Reformed tradition, there are nine united churches which include other ecclesial traditions.(1) These united churches are playing a crucial leading role in determining the mission priorities of the Council and the use of financial resources to support them. Vital to this CWM fellowship of churches is their commitment to supporting mission and unity efforts beyond themselves. Together they pledge 5 percent of their common resources to wider ecumenical work.

In addition to the presence of intraconfessional and transconfessional united churches, there are within CWM a large number of Congregational and Presbyterian churches. Although a few of these churches have a very narrow ecumenical outlook and show very little commitment to mission and unity, the vast majority are rooted in a heritage that places great value on unity in mission. Those that emerged from the London Missionary Society (LMS) tradition are shaped by an ecclesial commitment to a central principle that states:

As the union of Christians of various denominations, in carrying on this great work, is a most desirable object: so to prevent, if possible, any cause of future dissension, it is declared to be a fundamental principle of the Missionary Society, that its design is not to send Presbyterianism, Independency, Episcopacy, or any other form of church order and government... but the glorious gospel of the blessed God, to the "heathen"; and that it shall be left (as it ought to be left) to the minds of the persons whom God may call into the fellowship of his Son from among them to assume for themselves such form of church government as to them shall appear most agreeable to the word of God.(2)

While CWM has to acknowledge that its former identity included attitudes that identified people of other cultures as "heathens", its present ethos is one that gives priority to the LMS's vision of unity in mission. The presence of united churches within the CWM fellowship helps to ensure that concrete expressions are given to this vision for the sake of the world.

Are you the one... or should we look for another?

The coming together of so many representatives from united and uniting churches for this sixth international consultation constitutes proof that the advocates of organic unity and the wider concerns of mission and unity are not a passing phenomenon. Rather, this gathering is an affirmation of the oneness of the body of Christ and a potent reminder and challenge to the continuing disunity of churches which refuse to move beyond their walls of denominational self-preservation. Our presence should send a clear and simple message that, in spite of the risks and pitfalls of pledging commitment to the oneness of the body of Christ, such a commitment constitutes a more authentic witness to the gospel than the preservation of separate denominational identities.

Later in this consultation we will hear reports on current union negotiations and general movements towards unity. The evidence will confirm that there has been a great slowing down of union negotiations over the past twenty years. No more is organic union regarded as an achievable goal for many churches in the ecumenical movement. The 20th-century ecumenical movement and the post-second word war anti-colonialism movements that positively influenced the formation of united and uniting churches are no longer potent factors.(3) This reality should influence both churches that have made the costly journey into organic union and those that have refused to do so to ask serious questions about how the quality of their witness in the world has contributed to this state of affairs.

In a report to the 1994 assembly of a particular united church a very important comment was expressed about their quest for wider church unity. While they affirmed that the call to unity remains integral to mission, they queried whether the world is really worried by the witness of a divided church. Therefore, for them the more appropriate concern was: "Has not a diverse church, that nonetheless lives in harmony, a powerful and effective message for a diverse world that currently lives in disharmony?" This perspective attempts to downplay the effects of church disunity in their society. How can this be justified in the context of Northern Ireland, Bosnia, India and other nations with sectarian and interfaith troubles? They seem to be suggesting that since disunity of the church is an acceptable reality for the word, those of us in the church should not become too concerned. Does this position not run counter to the vocation to be a united church?

Could it be that some united and uniting churches got on the "unity bus" without prior knowledge of where it was going or how costly the journey would be? In some countries united churches spend so much time, energy and resources displaying publicly their internal divisions that they have no time to address the wider divisions within their communities. However, other churches that make no claim to unity in mission seize on the institutional malaise of these united churches to present an alternative witness. It may be necessary for united and uniting churches to rediscover the unity that Jesus prayed for his disciples to experience: "Father... may they be one, so that the world may believe that you sent me" (John 17:21).

The invitation to unity is for the sake of engaging, through the sharing of the good news, with the world. The world will care about the mission and service of the church if its work constitutes a blessing to the nations. Therefore united and uniting churches need to make clear to the world what essentially is the good news that they embody and practise, and which is more difficult for those who have not made the necessary journey into union to achieve.

The question that John sent to ask Jesus while he was imprisoned by Herod is very appropriate for exploring the vocation, ministry and mission of united and uniting churches in today's world: "Are you the one who was to come or should we look for another?" (Luke 7:20b). This question brings to light the deep concerns that John had about the ministry of Jesus. He had announced to his world that in the coming of Jesus, God was at work inaugurating a new order. However, John found himself languishing in prison for a long time with no deliverance in sight. The ministry of Jesus had not developed in the way John expected. His question implies that he was disappointed and was pleading for Jesus to press on with further action. The concern was his need for reassurance.

Jesus' response to John pointed to observable acts of life-restoring healings and miracles: "Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard" (Luke 7:22). The signs of God being at work in his ministry were not left to promises but were shown by clearly observable evidence. So, too, in the mission and service of united and uniting churches, the time has long passed for advocates to defend their existence and vocation with various sentimental arguments.

By their fruits you shall know them

United and uniting churches claim that their journey into union has been motivated by their understanding of God's purpose for the world and the calling of the church. In their basis of union documents they boldly confess that their vision and commitment to unity is undergirded by a reading and understanding of scripture. They claim that their call to mission and unity is to be believed in and practised as that which Christ intends for every one of his followers. They are called to be a sign, sacrament and instrument of God's plans. Therefore, in their self-understanding they exist for the world rather than for the sake of the church. The 1973 Salamanca consultation on the nature of the unity we are seeking confirmed that the unity of the church "stands in relation to God's promise and the promise of the world..."(4)

Journeying into unity is therefore not an escape route for mission-dysfunctional churches. Once a church crosses the Rubicon into union there is no going back; there is no way to "unscramble the egg". The expectations and demands of genuine church unity are tough and relentless.

The number of united and uniting churches formed since the 1947 birth of the Church of South India, and the number of Christians that identify themselves as being united, have now shifted the debate about church unity. There are now more than sufficient united and uniting churches on the ground to demonstrate through their mission and service whether the world is experiencing sweet or bitter fruits from their witness.(5) However, the gap between what united and uniting churches claim they stand for and what they are in reality offers grave cause for concern. Ecumenical explorations on the models and concepts of unity have produced numerous theological justifications for church unity that united and uniting churches have generally embraced. However, their theological self-understandings are different from their actual witness to unity. The socio-economic realities of their contexts and inner ecclesial needs have heavily influenced their expressions of unity in mission.

It is what people see and hear that informs them about the vocation of united and uniting churches. Therefore, it is necessary for these churches to rediscover their calling and vocation. What people want from united and uniting churches are not more theological statements about models of unity, but concrete evidence that their mission and service constitute an indispensable blessing for the world.

Renewing and equipping the church for ministry and mission

I have identified the challenge of renewing and equipping the church as the first signpost in exploring the present vocation in mission and service of united and uniting churches. I would like to use the missional development of the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands as an example from which some lessons can be drawn, especially for those churches in the South. This is a church that demonstrates that being changed into a united church is not the same thing as being renewed for mission engagement. The journey into renewal for mission action involves a more painful, but necessary, step if the church is to fulfil that which it is called to be and to do.

The developmental roots of the church are to be found in the 19th-century missionary enterprise that bequeathed a particular model and pattern of ministry. Three dominant features characterized the development of the churches that became united, and affected their capacity to function as effective missional instruments:

1) preoccupation with intra-ecclesial concerns rather than contextual engagement in mission;

2) perpetuation of Eurocentric religious hermeneutics and experience and devaluing those that evolved from indigenous roots;

3) perpetuation of a theology of ministry that hinders interculturation of the gospel.

As a result, the quest for unity by the former Presbyterian Church of Jamaica and the Congregational Union of Jamaica emerged as a result of their need for economic stability for their dysfunctional ministries, rather than as a response to the quest of people for wholesome communities. The missionary heritage had bequeathed churches that failed to develop into viable instruments providing for their own financial and personnel needs. Inherent dependency therefore plagued the churches. They could not become what they wanted to be. In spite of the evidence that they needed to rethink and renew their ministries, there was an absence of vision and viable strategy to deal with the perennial problems affecting their central administrations, ordained ministries and ill-equipped congregations.

The first twenty years of union found a church that continued to experience membership decline, conservative bureaucracies, culturally confused congregations, uncontextualized theology and weak spirituality. It was in the area of the church's worship and witness that serious concerns arose about its contextual relevance. A new church had been formed but the same British hymnaries continued to support a Eurocentric worship model. The test for this church was whether its congregations could develop into life-giving organisms. What had emerged were congregations with a worship life that bore witness to a past era and which were unable to respond meaningfully to the contemporary needs of the local culture.

The church's experience of union up to 1985 confirmed a basic missiological assumption that unity for its own sake does not result in mission. The ecclesial seeds of the self-perpetuation of its prior model and pattern of ministry were more powerful than the seeds that were sown for change and renewal. Of crucial significance during this period was that the residential university model of theological education was used to prepare its clergy. This continued as if a united church had not been formed, and the Christian education programme used to prepare the laity failed to equip the local congregations in mission and unity. According to missiologist David Bosch, in a church with an inadequate foundation for mission, ambiguous missionary motives and aims are bound to lead to unsatisfactory missionary practice.(6) The missional experience of the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands up to 1985 gives credence to this perspective.

In spite of these encumbrances, the experience of union did result in some positive developments. First, the impact of union helped to lower the strong denominationalism which had been inherited, and union produced a stronger evangelical and ecumenical orientation. It catapulted the church into playing a leading role in promoting ecumenical cooperation. The church provided leadership in the work of the Jamaica Council of Churches and the Caribbean Conference of Churches, and continued the quest for wider church union with the Disciples of Christ in Jamaica. Second, the experience of union has transformed the church's ethos and encouraged it to accommodate a wider plurality of Christian faith expression. Third, although its ministry experienced serious reversals, the church was energized into addressing national issues and developing new models of social service. The development work of the Mel Nathan Institute among the deprived within the inner city of Kingston stands out as a notable example. Fourth, its involvement in the global partnership in mission of CWM helped it to develop a corporate life that reaches out in mission and service beyond its national boundaries to the wider world.

It was in 1986 that the church seriously questioned whether its ministry and mission were meeting the real needs of the people. This marked the coming of age of a church that had finally crossed the Rubicon and begun demonstrating a missional maturity that was absent from its earlier development. What emerged was a comprehensive attempt to develop and implement, in a systematic way, a strategy for renewing its understanding and practice of ministry and mission. A fourfold plan of action emerged that defined the church's priorities in mission. The elements were outlined as:

1) equipping the church for ministry and mission;

2) examining the central administration of the church;

3) funding the church's ministry and mission priorities;

4) developing a vision and strategy for spiritual and numerical church growth.

A new mission statement was worked out from which a radical shift in the church's self-understanding emerged. The new emphasis was on being a church that exists for others:

To help those who are outside of its existing community of believers to become aware of what God has done for the world, accept this for themselves and by accepting it become part of the community of believers...; to help those who already belong to the company of believers to increase and become more deeply committed to the realization of the kingdom of God within their own lives, their family, the local community and the wider world.(7)

The church began a journey to put in place changes that would help it realize its missional potential. It included:

1) a redefinition of the ethos of the church through a re-examination of those issues that gave it its unique character;

2) renewed emphasis on its social services ministry;

3) effective stewardship of all its resources;

4) introducing an "integrated personnel development programme" for equipping the laity and some of its clergy for ministry and mission.

Of major significance was the establishment of an institute for theological and leadership development which carries out a community-based model of ministerial formation for mission. Through this strategy a new generation is receiving training to facilitate the equipping: of local congregations in mission. So far this renewal and equipping strategy has transformed the church from being a "union for structural survival" to being "united for ministry and mission". The experience confirms that unity is not a fixed reality but a continuous journey of "learning by doing".

For united and uniting churches to serve as viable missional instruments they must continue to search for more effective ways of exercising their mission and service. This is because "only a church fully aware of how people in the world live and feel can adequately fulfil mediatory mission".(8)

The missional development of local congregations continues to be the most important challenge facing the united church. For the church to mediate life to others, it is vital for the congregations to give concrete expression to diakonia, mission and unity. The important lesson to be learned from the experience of the United Church of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands is that the church will find a welcome among people only if there is in-depth renewal which equips the church to become more fully integrated into their lifeways, and a force for authentic development.(9) For this to be achieved, united and uniting churches must renew their vocation and embrace the costly implications that are vividly described in John 12:24: "Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains a single seed. But if it dies it produces many seeds."

The future of united and uniting churches will therefore be determined by their capacity to renew themselves for a vocation that is exuberant, energetic, with a willingness to take risks and to be vulnerable for the sake of being a partner with God in God's mission.(10)

Being a church with others: building inclusive communities

The second issue shaping the united and uniting churches' vocation to mission and service is the impact of migration on communities in urban areas. This is happening at a time when our world is being swept by a deadly xenophobic fever. In many communities ethnic minorities have become scapegoats for the narrow nationalism of extremists. Although the beginning of this decade saw an end to the cold war with the demise of the Soviet Union, this has not led to a more peaceful world. More low-intensity wars are raging now around the world than ever before. The plight of refugees, most of whom have been dislocated by wars and famine, constitutes a major human tragedy. In our so-called "one world", which is now controlled by market forces, it has become very unfashionable to speak about unity in human relationships. This value system of market forces calls for an approach to human development which destroys the unity of the people.

In the cities of Birmingham and London migration constitutes a major challenge for the mission of united churches which claim to be working with God in gathering all people together. Most of the local communities are increasingly plural, but many churches are not equipped to respond positively to this challenge. The heart of the matter is whether united churches, because of their emphasis on and commitment to unity, are better equipped to welcome strangers as part of the Christian family. Are they better able to practise what Paul challenged the church in Rome to be? "Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God" (Rom. 15:7).

This is not an easy question, but it embodies the necessary change that united and uniting churches need to make if they are to break through the barriers that separate people from each other and from God. According to Jurgen Moltmann:

It is relatively easy to accept each other when the others are just like us and want what we want. But it is a different matter to accept others when they are different from us and want something other than we do.(11)

The evidence would seem to suggest that there is much to learn if united and uniting churches are to be noted for their welcome and acceptance of others. The challenge for united churches in such plural contexts is to counter the dominant forces of division that control the lives of people, and to demonstrate in their mission and service that diversity can be celebrated as a gift. No worship service should therefore be "ordinary" in united churches. Through the ministry of the sacraments, preaching, prayer and worship, united churches must be able to demonstrate that they can offer a more authentic witness to counter the alienation and divisions within the church, the community and the world.

I wish to recall a very important learning experience which happened to my family after I responded to a call to join the staff of CWM. Our relocation to London gave us the opportunity to find a new congregation where we could worship. There were a large variety of churches to choose from. However, it was not as easy as that. My family has been shaped by the ministry and mission of a united church. We appreciate the different faith traditions that different churches express. However, when the crunch came to choose a congregation we found a local united church where about ten different nationalities worship together. The real issue for me was that the witness of the united church has freed me from the narrow boundaries of denominational identity.

I once asked Lesslie Newbigin, who is also a member of that congregation, why he chose to become a member of the United Reformed Church (URC) after his many years as a bishop of the Church of South India. He too expressed a similar experience in a quotation from the Psalmist: "You... have set my feet in a spacious place" (Ps. 31:8).

We need to know why we have chosen to be partners in the mission of united and uniting churches. I agree with Lesslie Newbigin that the dominant note of united churches should be that they set people free in an all-embracing community of faith to develop and contribute their gifts and to challenge and equip each other for involvement in God's mission. If such churches exist as a visible sign of God drawing all his people and all of his creation unto himself, then their vocation should include the development of a viable theology. I am speaking about the emergence of a theology, not so much for the benefit of academic theologians, but for the equipping of local congregations in mission. It is a theology that addresses what it means to belong to a united and uniting church which gives a new hermeneutic to the biblical priorities of welcoming strangers, freeing prisoners, feeding the hungry, healing the sick and announcing the good news of the kingdom of God (Luke 4:18 and Matt. 25).

Within the context of a plural society the source of the church's life and unity becomes most visible. The symbol of a common meal that binds families and communities together comes alive in the enactment of the Lord's supper. The invitation to this table is given to all, without condition. Those who eat with him have their eyes opened as they come to recognize him as the risen Lord, and others as partners in Christ's mission. It is at the Lord's table that unity becomes a living experience among diverse people. This is realized koinonia! In the worship and fellowship life of the united church, people from different cultures and faith traditions learn to forge a new understanding that it is Christ, rather than the protection of their traditions, that unites them with others.

It is in this important area of responding to the challenges of people living in plural communities that united and uniting churches can best demonstrate the imperative of unity in mission. If people can experience "on the ground" the value of churches and communities living, working and worshipping in unity, then they will own the vision of church unity because it is a living experience in their lives.

Mission in unity: for the sake of the world

I mentioned at the beginning of this paper that a significant number of united churches are members of the Council for World Mission. Their participation in this mission enterprise has given such churches the freedom to move beyond themselves and the concerns of their local communities to embrace the wider concerns of the global family. Paradoxically, one of the reasons for the disunity among churches was the role played by the 19th-century missionary movement. Yet it is also from the influence of this movement that some churches became interested in the quest for unity. Most of the united churches in the CWM family are products of old mission relationships that existed between the churches of the North and the churches of the South. Persistent dependency and paternalistic relationships with each other continued to plague their missional development in spite of their journey into union. Recognizing that they had to deal with multiple mission partners, some united churches devised creative ways to attract maximum resources from them. Others found themselves burdened by the pressures of their multiple bilateral relationships.

Through CWM, these united churches from the South are growing in confidence in their ability to deal with those debilitating realities that restrict their effectiveness in world mission. Their practices of partnership in mission principles with other member churches have resulted in a deepening of their participation in world mission. I would like to identify, and briefly explore, four significant trends which are emerging as priority concerns for the world mission and service of these united churches.

1. Promoting the practice of partnership in mission. An example of this can be observed in the development of the Caribbean and North America Council for Mission (CANACOM). This body, promoting regional partnership in mission, was formed in 1985 to act as a mission catalyst for churches of the Reformed tradition in the Caribbean and North America. Financial dependency and paternalistic attitudes had plagued their bilateral relationships. The United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands played a strategic role in arguing that the churches in the region should learn from the partnership principles and experience of CWM, and move towards a more just and mutual relationship in mission. The work of CANACOM is still at an infancy stage in its missional development. The churches are learning that unity in mission is painful because they have to be answerable to one another and serve each other "beyond the call of duty", as the need arises.(12) However, it represents a more authentic and just way of being a partner with Christ in his mission.

2. Equipping local congregations in mission. In 1985, member churches of the CWM embarked on an education in mission programme that sought to equip the people of God for mission in the world today. Of the thirty member churches that agreed to the challenge, it was the united churches that followed through with in-depth programmes. The URC developed an equipping programme called "Mission Pursuit"; the Church of South India developed a programme called VELCOM (Vision for Equipping Local Congregations in Mission); the Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar developed its programme called "Ravinala", and the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa has a programme called the "Pastoral Plan for Transformation". The United Church of Zambia and the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands have also developed their own contextually-based mission education programmes for local congregations.

As churches focused on the training of local mission enablers they came to the realization that their structures are not mission-enabling, but tend to serve as powerful blocks to mission action. The URC and the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, in particular, have seriously restructured their administrations in order to make mission their central operating principle. The equipping process also revealed that the transformation of the local congregations would not be achieved without renewal of the ordained ministry. In most of these united churches a clergy-centred understanding of ministry dominates the understanding of theological education. Ordained ministers are expected to equip the local congregations in mission and service, yet their theological education does not place emphasis on ministerial formation for mission This issue should be a priority concern for the mission and service of united churches.

3. Sharing the missionary task together. When CWM came into existence, the URC was the only united church equipped with a mission department that recruited and sent missionaries to serve other churches. As a church in a northern, developed country, its Eurocentric ideology conveyed the view that the Western Enlightenment should be shared with other cultures and that there was very little that could be learned and received from those in the South. It was therefore much easier for the URC to receive personnel from other Northern churches than from those in the South. United churches from the South had a stronger heritage of receiving overseas personnel; preparing and sending their own representatives was not a priority. Membership in the CWM enterprise has forced the united churches to rethink their understanding and practice of missionary service. The starting point for them is their focus on developing missionary congregations that learn to cross mission frontiers, first of all in their home contexts. In partnership with other churches they also commit themselves to sending and receiving missionaries according to agreed guidelines. Through the pooling of financial resources to facilitate missionary service, no church can claim that it cannot send or receive missionaries because of its financial status.

For united churches in the South, missionary service constitutes a major challenge. It is still on the periphery of their mission agenda and is yet to be given a strategic role. However, their commitment to mission in unity implies that having partners in mission from other cultures and faith traditions, who can live and worship and share with local congregations and communities, should be central to their missionary ethos. Discovering and learning from the experience of Christ in other people should be considered a necessary feature of life in a united church. The prayers, songs, liturgies and worship should point beyond the parochial limits of their local communities. The sharing of missionaries with churches in the South is another interesting development among united churches in the South. The experiences of the United Church of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands and the Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar are demonstrating that South-to-South missionary service constitutes a major challenge for united churches in developing countries. Those who are critical and sceptical about united churches will want us to spell out the ways in which our experiences of preparing and sharing mission partners offer a more authentic representation of obedience to Christ's mission. In our world which is suspicious of the motives for missionary service, united churches must seek to offer a credible and viable alternative for sharing partners in mission.

4. Bearing one another's burdens. United churches are demonstrating increasing confidence in identifying and using their resources for global mission action. The financial contribution that the URC allocates for the world church and mission through CWM demonstrates the value that it places on unity in mission. It has learned to trust and work with other churches rather than opting for the more popular denominational "lone ranger" approach to world mission. Those churches that have to exercise their mission and service primarily within a context of weak economic systems are learning to focus their attention on their priorities in mission. In 1987 the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands challenged the CWM to help churches in the South redress some of the negative developmental factors affecting their mission and ministry because of the impact of the unjust global economic system on their local economies. It argued: "Chronically dependent churches cannot function effectively as partners if they are not able to move with integrity towards the optimum value of interdependent relationships."(13) The end result was that the Council established a Self-Support Development Fund to help churches that want to restructure themselves for financial self-reliance and effectiveness in ministry, and mission.

Other united churches from the South are calling for new ecclesial economics that also place priority on churches giving account not only of their financial health, but even more of their stewardship in faith and witness. They point to the experience of numerical and spiritual growth in their membership in spite of what appears to be their economically weak and dysfunctional bureaucracies.


There could not be a better time for united and uniting churches to rediscover and recommit themselves to the challenge to which they have been called by God. To help heal the wounds of our suffering world, churches are needed that are open, accessible, vulnerable and able to move beyond themselves and beyond all barriers to reach out to those in need. United and united churches claim to offer such qualities and opportunities. However, these churches need to drink again and again from the well of salvation that comes from the self-offering of Jesus Christ on the cross.

These churches must rise to the challenge and take full responsibility for their own convictions. If they do not, then they will receive a prescribed identity as "anything goes" bodies which settle for the lowest common denominator. They need to recognize the implications of their missional identity. By becoming "united and uniting" they have opted to relinquish the security of being "just another denomination". Instead they have chosen to become a movement of Christians who celebrate and bear witness to God who draws and holds all things together in Christ.

The real test by which the "success" of united and uniting churches will be judged is whether they have experienced renewal in their ministry and mission. The touchstone will be whether, in their experience of unity, they have produced a more authentic way of bearing witness to the gospel of Christ which results in the transformation of lives and communities. People will not embrace united and uniting churches simply because of their nonconfessional name. On the contrary, people generally prefer the certainty that denominational identities offer.

Therefore united and uniting churches have no choice but to demonstrate their credibility through concrete mission action in their respective communities. If this is true, then their vocation will emerge as one that obediently seeks to incarnate the good news in the culture, customs, music and language of the people. In their mission and service among migrant and plural communities a golden opportunity is provided for them to prove the authenticity of their identity. Their practising of unity in mission should reflect:

A body that connects and includes and surprises through its meetings and acting and singing and praying, that throws up new symbols and is able to do so because it looks constantly to the one who holds all things together.(14)

Finally, the fundamental ethos of united and uniting churches is that they exist not for themselves but for others. They can only be truly effective if they are missionary, reaching out beyond themselves. The local mission action of these churches must therefore be matched by a commitment to solidarity with hurting peoples in communities beyond their home frontiers.

Are united and uniting churches sent by God with a special vocation in mission and service? What others have seen and heard suggest that these churches should:

1) give priority to continuous renewal and restructuring of their ministries so that they become mission-enabling;

2) focus on promoting ministry that breaks barriers that separate people from each other and from God; and

3) reach out beyond themselves, through partnership in mission, for the sake of mission with hurting people throughout the world.

Then they will always have a valid and urgent ministry to offer.


1 The nine united churches constitute eight transconfessional churches (the United Church in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, the United Reformed Church (UK), the Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar, the United Church of Zambia, the Church of Bangladesh, the Church of North India, the Church of South India, the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands), and one intraconfessional church (the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa).

2 C. Horne Silvester, The Story of the LMS, London, John Snow, 1894, p.16.

3 Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement, Geneva, WCC, 1991, p. 1033.

4 What Kind of Unity?, Geneva, WCC, 1974, p. 120.

5 Gunther Gassmann, ed., Documentary History of Faith and Order: 1963-1993, Faith and Order paper no. 139, Geneva, WCC, p.36.

6 David Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, Maryknoll, NY, Orbis, p.5.

7 Minutes of the Annual Synod. United Church of Jamaica and Grand Cayman, 10-13 March 1986, Kingston, Herald Printery, p.48.

8 Mission and Evangelism: An Ecumenical Affirmation, Geneva, WCC, 1983, para. 6.

9 Williams R. Burrows, New Ministries: The Global Context, Maryknoll, NY, Orbis, 1981, p.37.

10 John Bluck, Where Is the Church?, Wellington, Presbyterian Church of New Zealand, 1985, pp.26-32.

11 Jurgen Moltmann, The Open Church, London, SCM, 1978, p.27.

12 Raymond Fung, The Isaiah Vision, Risk book series, Geneva, WCC, 1992, p.35.

13 Letter from Smellie and Evans to CWM, 17 April 1987.

14 Bluck, op. cit., p.25.

Roderick R. Hewitt is secretary for education in mission of the Council for World Mission, London, UK.
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Title Annotation:Sixth International Consultation of United and Uniting Churches
Author:Hewitt, Roderick R.
Publication:The Ecumenical Review
Date:Oct 1, 1995
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