Faith and Order Plenary Commission meeting 2009

The Faith and Order Plenary Commission meeting, which took place in Kolympari, Crete, 7-13 October 2009, has come to an end. Participants noted an emerging coherence between the three current studies on Nature and Mission of the Church, Sources of Authority and Moral Discernment in the Churches. A tendency to give more space to an "ecclesiology from below" based on the concrete experience of "being church in a particular context", rather than describing the church theoretically "from above", was encouraged.

Reporting from their group work, commissioners reaffirmed the central importance of The Nature and Mission of the Church, the attempt to formulate an understanding of the church that may be widely accepted by the churches. This 2005 document has been distributed to all the commission's member churches, and Faith and Order is still gathering responses. For most of the commissioners, more work is needed before this document can become a "convergence document".

Among the comments that received most attention was Metropolitan Geevarghese Coorilos's suggestion to look at the reality of the church not only "from above", but also "from below", taking into account the daily experience of "being church" in particular contexts, citing the example of his Dalit church in Kerala, India.

As deliberations moved forward, the connection between this reflection on "the church" and the other studies became clearer. When it comes to making decisions, particularly in the area of Moral Discernment, the church is informed by its Sources of Authority.

Among these sources, Faith and Order concentrated its attention on how "Fathers and Mothers of the Church" can be perceived ecumenically. The study Sources of Authority: Tradition and traditions will open new perspectives both for churches familiar with patristic studies and for churches that are now rediscovering the teaching of our predecessors in faith.

By looking at case studies in the divisive area of Moral Discernment in the Churches, many group participants identified other sources of authority that churches were in fact also referring to, such as the sciences, as well as contextual understandings of the role that the church should play in society. Results from group work by the Plenary Commission will become part of this study, which is still in an early stage. It is hoped that a better understanding of how decisions are made will create an atmosphere in which dialogue is more likely than division.

The meeting was closed by prayer, during which the Rev. Dr Susan Durber invited the audience to look at Jesus as a guest, a stranger visiting us. "In some of our contexts, and in different ways, the church now seems more to be in the 'guest' than the 'host' position", she observed. "We are learning now how to be those who are dependent on the hospitality of others. Hospitality is not simply the generous gift of the wealthy and powerful, it is also the skill and grace of the weaker ones", she said.

A report and a message will be sent to churches and made available online within a few days.

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