Towards Assembly 2024: Caribbean Regional Pre-Assembly empowers member churches to bring hope together

by Cheon Young Cheol

Fifth in a series of six regional pre-assemblies, the Caribbean Regional Pre-Assembly fostered unity, collaboration, and dialogue within its member churches – the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands and Guyana Congregational Union.

The three-day meeting, attended by 20 delegates from the member churches as well as ecumenical partners, was held in Kingston, Jamaica, 12-14 March. The Caribbean region is traditionally the home of liberation theology within the CWM family, and the pre-assembly reinforced this unique identity by maintaining and cultivating new communities where members are empowered to flourish, feel a sense of belonging, and bring hope through ecumenism.

“There is No Me Without You”

 The first day’s proceedings were opened with a worship session led by Rev. Dr Norbert Stephens and the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. They collectively extolled the church to never be silent to injustice, for to be silent, is to be complicit.

Furthering the worship message was a keynote address by Dr Oral Thomas, whose presentation drew parallels with the song “There is No Me without You,” by the American soul group The Manhattans, to exemplify the essence of life in relation to others.

Speaking about life under empires, Thomas’ presentation focused on the Roman Empire as it is described in the New Testament, and how Jesus’ ministry of healing and liberation was part of God’s redemptive plan to restore a sense of empowerment and wellbeing to marginalized groups.

He referred to the regional realities that the Caribbean peoples face such as the legacies of slavery, racism, and persistent poverty. The injustices suffered now do not invalidate the Christian belief of God’s promise of a fullness of life. Rather, he assured, the fullness of life has already begun in Jesus and will be experienced in the fullness of the reign of God. Life in a relationship with Christ, according to Thomas, is experienced before and after death.

Thomas advocated for a life lived for the benefit of others, while firmly condemning all forms of injustice and discrimination, and promoting the value of ecological diversity and the protection of resources for the wellbeing of all.

“In sum, God’s approach to creating life is communal and relational,” explained Thomas. “As an expression of God’s love, creatures are invited into being for others. In other words, ‘each individual’s humanity is ideally expressed in relationship with others,’ I am because you are [as described by the classic African concept of Ubuntu].”

Radical inclusivity, ecological responsibility

 Dr Anna Perkins, author, and researcher in the fields of ethics, theology, and scripture presented on the CWM Assembly sub-theme of Revisioning Mission.

Carrying out the mission of Christ lies at the heart of the Christian faith, she reflected, and it has become increasingly evident, while navigating the complexities of the modern world, that traditional paradigms of mission require re-examination.

“The Council for World Mission provides us with invaluable insights into this process of re-visioning, urging us to transcend conventional boundaries and embrace a holistic understanding of mission,” Perkins acknowledged.

Identifying three areas where there is a need for transcendent missional work, Perkins named the radical inclusivity of women gender minority communities; empowerment of local communities by equipping and supporting local leaders, so that they can “become agents of their own transformation, catalysing sustainable change from the ground up;” and for the church to cultivate a profound sense of ecological responsibility over God’s creation, to advocate for environmental justice and to develop sustainable practices that honour the sanctity of life.

Transforming power—and the power to transform

 Rev. Dr Stephen Jennings, a pastor of the Mona Baptist Church in Jamaica, explored how power was wielded by western imperialists to transform the very face of the Caribbean from its local population through genocides to even its ecosystem via enforced agricultural practices that led to land inequality.

Defining inequality as the dearth of options, opportunities, and outcomes for the local Caribbean people as a result of the legacies of colonialism, enslavement, racism, and classicism, Jennings called on the church to strive for economic, gender, racial, and climate justice, and to call upon and work with the powers that be to do the same.

He opined that while power can be used to transform people, people can also use power to transform their circumstances.

Jennings also encouraged the Caribbean church to embrace an ideology of planetary humanism, where the church pursues an interconnected relationship between all humans and the rest of the planet.

However, Jennings also urged that two caveats must apply: that the Caribbean church maintains a preferential option for the poor, and that the ideology must remain Christ-centred.

“We have argued the most pressing issue is economic inequality which has resulted in many ills, including violent crimes, forced migration, and societal fragmentation,” said Jennings, who added that the whole church must transform itself to be better able to transform the prevailing society and systems.

“This will occur when the church examines, changes, and makes more relevant and potent, its ideologies and institutions, even as it seeks to engage the present issues,” concluded Jennings.


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