CWM Directors, member church delegates, guests and mission secretaries gathered for the Annual Members’ Meeting 2022 in London from 13-15 June, where they met in person for the first time after two years of virtual meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic. The hybrid meeting saw the effective participation of member church representatives and their input during the plenary sessions.
The first day (13 June) of the AMM received the several reports of the Board of Directors from Moderator, Treasurer and General Secretary including the keynote from Rev. Dr Fidon Mwombeki, All African Conference of Churches (AACC) General Secretary.
The members were edified by an insightful devotion by the CWM Moderator, who spoke about how pain is a universal human experience which can stem from nature, be inflicted by other people, or even be self-inflicted.
Reflecting on how we are wounded, cracked vessels through which Christ is working, Rev. Neshangwe emphasized the necessity of our own healing before we can be equipped to help and minister to others. This is especially since we need transformation for our own wounds, because “if we are not transforming our pain, we are transmitting it”. Quoting from Isaiah 53:4 where Jesus came to take up our pain and bear our suffering, she said that the first step to letting go of our pain is to face and admit it, followed by handing it over to Christ in humility.
The AMM delegates engaged in robust, constructive table discussions and plenary discussions both virtually and physically after receiving the report of the Directors from the CWM Moderator, Treasurer and General Secretary. CWM Moderator Rev. Lydia Neshangwe spoke about COVID-19 revealing widening gaps among the haves and have-nots, and pandemic disruptions affecting the life and work of churches, with MSPs (Mission Support Programme) being cancelled, redirected or postponed, especially since religious activities were considered “non-essential service” in various contexts. Yet despite these difficulties, CWM continued to run with renewed vision and hope, with dedicated board members, creative management and staff, and resilient member churches, said Rev. Neshangwe.
Rev. Dr Jooseop Keum, in his CWM General Secretary’s report, spoke about the vision engaging with member churches through the new programmatic structure, mission as digital networking, and the new thematic direction of the AMM moving forward, among others. Dr Keum stressed the new thematic focus of AMM which has already been implemented in this meeting, aimed at facilitating more profound missiological reflections and dialogue among member church representatives on their respective cultural contexts, unique to each region.
Responding to the reports, Rev. Sydney Sichilima, Bishop of the United Church of Zambia said, “All presentations from the Devotions led by the Moderator, the keynote address, the GS report and afternoon sessions have been stimulating to the heart”, while Rev. Kudzani Ndebele, a CWM Director from United Congregational Church of Southern Africa (UCCSA) thanked the CWM General Secretary for “a powerful, all-encompassing message” which had challenged them to “rethink the mission paradigm in response to the context we are located as a church”.
Natalie Lin of Presbyterian Church in Taiwan lauded the CWM General Secretary’s “very inspiring” new vision for God’s mission, despite numerous challenges for this ministry of discipleship, a comment echoed by Rev. Dr Vimal Sukumar, a delegate from the Church of South India (CSI).
Prior to the reports, Rev. Dr Fidon Mwombeki, All African Conference of Churches (AACC) General Secretary, delivered his keynote address titled “Rising to Life: Transforming Discipleship in a Wounded World”. As discipleship is both a gift and a calling to be active collaborators with God for the transforming of the world, this journey of discipleship leads us to share and live out God’s love by seeking justice and peace in ways different from that of the world.
Our calling to transforming discipleship is encapsulated in Romans 12:1-2, where the Apostle Paul exhorts us to “not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of our minds”. This transformation of our minds establishes our passion, focus, priorities, plans and view of the future. It leads us to see the world from God’s perspective and the image of God in every human being. Moved by the Holy Spirit to turn our focus outwards to those who are suffering, we know that God has chosen to work through and with us to bring transformation to this wounded world.
Rev. Dr Mwombeki delineated five areas of the wounded world which directly influence the lives of witnesses of Christ today – rampant slavery and racism in communities around the world; individual and family wounds; environmental degradation caused by human activity; economic injustice, and militarization and conflict.
Pointing to successful public figures who suffered depression and suicidal ideations, he highlighted that societal pressure leaves many souls wounded. As such, the church must rethink its approach to mental health, and resist misleading theologies which promise quick spiritual fixes. He raised examples of breakdown of families in rural Africa, evidenced by high rates of child pregnancies during COVID-19 lockdowns, increasing levels of gender-based violence (GBV) even in economically developed countries, and femicide.
Apart from wounded individuals and communities, God’s earth is also facing environmental destruction through human greed and negligence. “From the grassroots movement to the global COP conferences, we must play an increasing role to restore, and preserve the health of our already wounded world,” Rev. Dr Mwombeki stated.
In addition, Christ’s disciples are called to advocate for economic justice at various levels, arduous as it may be. The pandemic further exposed existing injustices in the world, such as vaccine injustices, and countries with the economic ability to implement lockdowns, as compared to countries with daily wage labourers or those whose livelihoods would otherwise be wiped out. A striking example of flagrant injustice was that of poor shopkeepers in some countries who face jail for not issuing a sales receipt which taxes small sums of money, compared to some of the wealthiest people in the world who can get away with not paying taxes.
Finally, transforming discipleship compels us to seek and pursue peace in a world wounded by militarization and conflict, be it in Ethiopia, Mozambique, DRC, or more recently, Ukraine, as well as growing tensions in the South China Sea. Anti-war sentiments and pacifism have waned, giving way to rising fears of invasion, escalating militarization and the race to develop increasingly devastating weapons that make obliteration of the world a real possibility. Raising the issue of interreligious animosity especially between Christians and Muslims, he denounced Christian fundamentalism, and Christians who advocate for or turn a blind eye to violence perpetuated in the name of religion.
He concluded by encouraging those present to not be overwhelmed by the enormity of unfulfilled needs and tasks, but to be steadfast and abound in the work of the Lord, knowing that our labour is not in vain (1 Cor 15:8).
Throughout the day, members involved in stimulating conversations among member church representatives who discussed both virtually and in-person on wide-ranging issues such as transformative discipleship being actuated in ecumenical engagement; new opportunities for online ministry to youth and diaspora communities in the new normal; decolonising our mindsets and rethinking our theological approach, the digital divide, and more.
After these beneficial, informative deliberations among participants, contemplative evening prayers and worship was led by Rev. Julie Sim, Mission Secretary of CWM East and South Asia regions.
Report by Hui Jun Chia, Inputs by Rev. Dileep Kumar Kandula