Ecumenical formation is an essential component for responsiveness to God’s call for unity. It is a gift of God’s grace, calling all Christians to have faith in the mystery of God and the Church, according to the design of God who wishes to bring humanity to salvation and unity in Christ, through the Holy Spirit. The unity we seek in the ecumenical movement and its vehicle of ecumenical formation is to receive the fruit of hope and realization of Jesus’ prayer, “that they all may be one”. Often the opportunities and requirements of ecumenical activities do not present themselves in the same way within the Churches and among the Christian communities as the doctrinal and denominational identities and barriers imposed among the faithful are varied and emphasized differently without proper attention to ecumenical principles and values. It is often forgotten that ecumenism requires the involvement of the People of God within the ecclesial structures and the discipline appropriate to each level to embrace the grace of God which seeks unity in diversity of all God’s people and the entire creation in the household of God.
The ecumenical movement seeks to be obedient to the Word of God, and to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. It is also expected to ensure that the Church remains faithful to the Word of God and the gifts of the Spirit received. What is being sought is to equip the members of the Church to understand the mystery of God and the role of the Church in unity, although the Church is diverse in each context, the engagements of Church and its ministry cannot be done in isolation. This is the context that warrants ecumenical formation that will provide direction and advice on ecumenical values and actions through the service to the whole Church. The nature of the ecumenical activity undertaken in a particular context or region will always be influenced by the particular character of the local ecumenical context. As we affirm that the unity of all in Christ will be the result of a common growth and maturing of our way to ecumenism, a systematic approach needs to be developed at different levels in ecumenical formation and leadership development to lead and guide the members to a reasonable level of ecumenical maturity. Precisely for this reason all the faithful are called upon to make a commitment towards promoting increasing communion with other Christians and take part in God’s mission in this world in unity. It is always possible for a particular contribution that can be made by those members who are called to be engaged in ecumenical formation as well as those who will be assigned to be in the leadership of the churches and ecumenical structures that will strengthen the ecumenical movement. Ecumenism calls for renewal of attitudes and for flexibility of methods in the search for unity. Account must also be taken of the variety of persons, functions, situations and even of the specific character of the particular Churches, and the communities engaged with them, in the search for unity. In this search for developing ecumenical formation as well as leadership, all efforts require a pedagogy for ecumenical formation and leadership development for the ecumenical movement. The pedagogy that is essential for the ecumenical formation and leadership development needs to address concrete situations of the lives of persons and groups, and respect the need for continual renewal and of change in attitudes as well as taking account also of the ecumenical experience of the person concerned. The ecumenical formation should have such components as effective tools. The concern for ecumenism is fundamental to the understanding of the Church. The objective of ecumenical formation is that all Christians be animated by the ecumenical spirit, whatever their particular mission and task in the world and in society. In the life of the faithful members of the Church imbued with the Spirit of Christ, the gift prayed for by Christ before his passion, the “grace of unity”. This unity is first of all unity with Christ extending both towards the Father and towards the neighbor. Secondly, it is a profound and active communion of the individual faithful with the universal Church within the particular Church to which he or she belongs. And thirdly it is the fullness of visible unity which is sought with Christians of other Churches and different ecclesial Communities.
It is in this context that spirituality is important in ecumenical formation and leadership development in the ecumenical movement. In the ecumenical formation process, it is necessary to give priority to conversion of heart, spiritual life and its renewal. This change of heart and life, along with public and private prayer for the unity of Christians, should be regarded as the soul of the whole ecumenical movement and the qualities of its leadership at different levels. It can rightly be called spiritual ecumenism and spirituality in leadership development. Individual Christians, therefore, in so far as they live a genuine spiritual life with Christ the Savior as its center and the glory of God the Father as its goal, can always and everywhere share deeply in the ecumenical movement, witnessing to the Gospel of Christ with their lives. The role of the ecumenical movement is also to give value to spiritual life and give a common expression to such spiritual values and richness which are found in Churches. The advantage of the ecumenical movement is to take the spiritual resources from all Christian traditions and ecclesial Communities which belong to the one Church of Christ: Holy Scripture, the sacraments and other sacred actions, faith, hope, charity and other gifts of the Spirit. These goods have borne fruit for example in the mystical traditions of the Christian East and the spiritual treasures of the monastic life, in the worship and piety of protestant, evangelical and Pentecostal church traditions and other diverse forms of indigenous Christian spiritual traditions. Asian Christian traditions are enriched with all these various traditions and forms of Christian spirituality. However, the opportunities are not adequately explored or used in Asia. There should be genuine efforts to bring together such rich and diverse spiritual resources and develop an Asian ecumenical spirituality.
The CCA will therefore focus on developing human resources committed to the renewal of Christianity in Asia, living together in the household of God; on providing ecumenical space for sharing the theological life and concerns among the member churches and national councils in Asia; and assisting the ecumenical formation of a new generation of leadership in Churches and the ecumenical councils in in Asia. The activities identified to achieve these objectives are as follows:
CCA will be organizing Asian Ecumenical Courses (AEC) through its Asian Ecumenical Institute, with an aim to provide ecumenical formation for participants selected from CCA member churches and councils. The contents and methodologies of the course are designed to make it more relevant in a contemporary context. The intensive training course is based on the premise that, even though an ecumenical dimension should permeate all theological formation courses and training by all denominations, it is of particular importance that a course in ecumenism be given in an appropriate ecumenical platform through a month-long living in experience of learning, reflecting, participating in spiritual life and understanding the emerging realities and identifying the ways of developing ecumenical responses contextually. Various topics related to ecumenism and the ecumenical movement will be the focus of the AEI which will aim at nurturing ecumenical formation of younger generation at the national, regional as well as at the grassroots level.
The total duration of the program will be for a period of one month. The course has four components namely: (a) analysis of Asian realities, (b) ecumenical vision based on biblical and theological reflections, (c) community building, and (d) leadership training. These four components intertwine to provide the atmosphere and direction for the participants of the AEI to plant the seeds of wider ecumenical vision in their ministries and to empower them as ecumenical leaders in Asia. Through interaction with one another in a setting of common worship, bible study, social analysis and theological reflection, ecumenical leadership in the Asian churches can be renewed and strengthened with greater clarity and commitment to a common ecumenical vision and the role of the Christian community in the service of that vision in Asia.
The course outline of AEI also will include the “institutional” aspect and the contemporary ecumenism and ecumenical movement, responses of various Christian Communities, doctrinal tendencies and hindrances of ecumenism, the real causes of separations, nurturing ecumenical spirituality and learning from different forms of worship and liturgical traditions the role of the laity and in particular of women in the Church and ecumenical movement as change makers in ecumenical movement. The AEI will also have a strong emphasis of lay leadership development.
Towards this direction, the AEI will aim to develop the ecumenical formation of a pool of young church and prospective ecumenical leaders in Asia, especially from among men and women, laity, youth, clergy and seminary students who are committed to the ecumenical values; facilitating the potentials of church leaders with ecumenical theological insights with a wider ecumenical vision, living in community experiences, tools of analysis of Asian reality and leadership skills. In order to enhance their capacity to respond effectively to contemporary ecumenical challenges. The AEI will be organized annually at different countries jointly with the ACISCA member institutions. Spiritual emphasis of ecumenism, especially the significance of prayer for unity and other forms of tending towards the unity will be the specific part of the AEI.
CCA will initiate an Asian Ecumenical Fellow (AEF) residential program based at the CCA headquarters in Chiang Mai. The objective of this program is to provide opportunities for Asian and global church and ecumenical representatives to leverage facilities and resources at CCA headquarters in Chiang Mai while working on their specific projects. This program is designed for research scholars, ecumenists, activists and practitioners from church and ecumenical organizations and institutions from a wide range of disciplines and sectors.
Every year, 3-4 fellowship grants will be awarded and the selected Asian Ecumenical Fellow of CCA will be an Ecumenical Fellow in Residence and will be part of the CCA team at the headquarters in Chiang Mai for up to 2 months. During this time, the AEF will be able to use the resources at the CCA library and archives to complete their projects or research assignments on Ecumenism in Asia as well as benefitting from interactions with the ecumenical community visiting CCA and working in CCA. The opportunities to use the CCA resources and theoretical and practical experiences for discussions and feedback will be an added value of this program.
Asian Ecumenical Fellows are also given the opportunities to share their expertise and experience with CCA staff community and students of theological institutions and in Thailand and also with CCA program participants.
The AEF is CCA’s effort to maximize its engagement in future ecumenical leadership development through wider ecumenical involvement and exposures even for members from the grass-roots level and nurture their ecumenical leadership. It is also envisaged that ecumenism will be promoted at all levels and AEF will be instrumental in promoting ecumenism in their congregations, churches and institutions; will help expand the networks of ecumenical fellowship in different countries being responsive to the issues in local and national contexts and provide a human resource pool who can be engaged in wider ecumenical involvement and activities and initiatives.
The Ecumenical Enablers’ Training in Asia is a program designed to develop ecumenical leadership at various levels. Through various programs as part of EETA, Asian churches and ecumenical councils in Asia will be able to train new ecumenical and church leaders and help them to enhance their leadership. The EETA will enable CCA to reach out to more people in their own contexts, thereby enabling more participants directly in local contexts.
The Ecumenical Enablers’ Training will introduce to participants the ecumenical vision and mission and ecumenical witness of promoting unity, not only among the churches but also among the people of Asia through the reconciling and healing ministries of the church. It will help train pastors and evangelists at the grass root levels and also young people to build a strong national network of churches for mission and evangelism; and share a sense of ownership of the vision and mission of ecumenism and ecumenical movement in Asia.
Every year, two – three EETAs will be conducted with the members of selected member churches to equip them with contextual biblical understanding, skills to develop their ministries and leadership with ecumenical perspectives.
Youth form an integral part of Asian churches and can play very important and positive roles in church and society. In the pluralistic and multi-religious context of Asia, it is also very important for Christian youth to reflect and relate their faith with Asia’s socio-economic and political realities. Ecumenical youth need to root their faith within the Asian context so that they can live better and act as God’s people in God’s world and be agents of transformation for building communities of just peace. Asian churches and ecumenical movements need to nurture a prophetic zeal among the youth as they are not merely leaders of the future but also are today’s leaders. However, youth of Asia today are faced with adverse challenges of limited resources, inaccessible and unaffordable education and health-care, lack of training in life skills, unemployment and poverty. In the current era of globalization the youth are the most vulnerable victims of economic injustice, consumerism, human trafficking and other forms of human rights abuse, religious conflicts and civil wars in several Asian countries. Many of the Asian youth are forced to migrate in search of jobs, making them vulnerable to racist intolerance and inhuman treatment in their new surroundings. Even though many young people have contributed in the past to shaping the modern ecumenical movement and regional and global ecumenical organizations, it is hard to find active youth members and leaders in the ecumenical movement these days. Although some young people are actively participating in their local congregations, their ecumenical involvement and participation beyond local levels is limited. It is in this context that CCA is focusing on programs for training and nurturing of youth leadership skills. While recognizing the contributions of young people, which are often ignored and unrecognized by church and society, this program aims to provide opportunities for wider exposure which might help them to become tomorrow’s ecumenical leaders.
Against this backdrop, CCA aims to provide an ecumenical platform for the youth in Asian churches for leadership development, for addressing their particular needs and ensuring their equal participation in CCA, through various initiatives such as the Asian Ecumenical Youth Assembly, Internships and exchange programs, in the coming 5 years. The leadership development program will nurture and empower the leadership of youth members and leaders enabling them to be more actively involved in the ecumenical movement. It will provide opportunities for wider exposure to the ecumenical movement and help them to be more meaningfully involved in advocating for issues of social justice across the borders through ecumenical youth networks.
From the local to the global level, women’s leadership and participation are limited or restricted. Women are underrepresented and denied leading positions, in all spheres of life. This occurs despite their proven abilities as leaders and agents of change and their right to equal participation. Women in church and society will have to overcome these obstacles for the benefit of society at large.
Even after several initiatives by the ecumenical movement for women’s empowerment and leadership development, the Churches in Asia are still slow to acknowledge and accept gender and women’s concerns as a critical issue within the church. Many churches are still faced with situations where women are not accepted as leaders and are often denied prominent roles in the church. The space that women occupy in the church is often perceived to be an extension of their home life instead of involvement in mainstream church activities and decision-making bodies.
The struggle for inclusive communities in the household of God urges churches in Asia to come out of the state of cosmetic presentation of women but ensure full use of their abilities and equal participation at all decision-making levels. CCA will focus on women’s leadership development and encourage and accompany the Churches in Asia to overcome the barriers hindering the leadership of women in church and society; to provide women leaders opportunities for wider exposure to the ecumenical movement and involvement advocating for women’s issues; and revitalize the ecumenical women’s network in Asia.
Christians are recognizing anew that worship lies at the heart of their faith, and that it is foundational and central to the lives and witness of the churches, as well as to the ecumenical movement. It is very meaningful and important for the churches to find new vitality and depth in their own worship, rediscover common patterns, intentions and values in worship through the movement for liturgical renewal, and to widen their common understanding of the worship of other churches and Christian communities praying and praising God together.
As Asia is known for depth and plurality of spirituality, the use of Asian resources and elements for liturgical renewal, can be promoted to revitalize the worship life of Asian churches. In worship, we praise God with our songs, prayers, art and our whole beings. However, praise is not the only theme of worship. In praising God, we also acknowledge our weakness, failures, and sins. Together with God’s creation, we utter our pain and misery in the world. We hear the words of God, which strengthen our faith and guide our way in the pilgrimage of life. Ultimately, praising God in worship does not end with the last song we sing, but it continues on our daily lives. It inspires us to act according to God’s words. Our praises must not be empty words, but must come alive in our deeds in bringing justice and peace in the world because we believe that a broader understanding of worship within and among the churches will encourage us to reflect what united us, to deepen and revitalize worship in our common praise and prayer.
Recognizing the need to revitalize Asian worship and liturgical traditions, this program will focus on providing information on the understanding and practice of worship in a wide range of churches in Asia; promoting understanding among Asian Christians of their own, and each other’s worship lives; encourage the deepening and renewal of worship within and among the churches; and in developing ecumenical liturgical resources for the Christian communities to pray and praise God together. Activities will include workshops on worship and liturgical traditions in Asia with liturgists, theologians, church leaders and pastors, Serial publication of liturgical resource book and developing Liturgy and worship resource for “Asia Sunday.”
The ecumenical movement in Asia is now experiencing general decline in many ways. The decline may be due to factors such as leadership crisis, the proliferation of ecumenical organizations at national and regional levels, increasing denominationalism, lack of ecumenical formation in the younger generation in churches, lack of vision and theological thinking lacking coherence and coordination in our ecumenical work.
With increasing challenges CCA has to demonstrate its leadership in the context of wider ecumenism in Asia. Asian Churches really need the sincere effort toward ecumenical dialogue with all in the ecumenical fraternity especially among all Christian denominations and communities. Ecumenical dialogue should be a permanent and constant effort to overcome these difficulties. Asian experience shows that ecumenism in Asia needs a redefinition and contextualization of issues and trends. The current situation demands to renew our vision for nurturing ecumenism and assume new roles in facilitating and accompanying churches in Asia in order to be responsive to God’s call and to be prophetic witnesses in fragmented societies and communities in Asia. CCA’s aim is to realize this need and to respond systematically through wider ecumenical involvement especially through its members at the grassroots level itself. The need to revitalize the ecumenical vision of Asian churches should be the priority of all those who are concerned with the common witness and future of the ecumenical movement in Asia. Ecumenical bodies should demonstrate a genuine openness and willingness and develop meaningful relations with the churches outside the ecumenical table and bring them to the mainstream of the Asian ecumenical movement.
Against this background CCA will be focusing on giving a new impetus for reviving ecumenism at grassroots level through various programs organized at national and local levels through the active participation and coordination of CCA member churches and ecumenical councils. Activities in this area will include dissemination of ecumenical documents and materials to the local churches; ecumenical solidarity visitations to the member churches and ecumenical councils and provision of ecumenical scholarship to nurture the next generation of ecumenical leaders in Asia.
CCA believes that the overall effort through the programs and activities spelt out will enhance ecumenical leadership formation to carry forward the Ecumenical movement in the years to come, and develop an Asian Ecumenical spirituality that will uphold the best worship traditions of Asia.