Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace – Reflecting on Mennonite contributions to the Global Ecumenical Movement
Mobility and flexibility are necessary in today’s world for many young people: university in another city, intercultural encounters during travels, broadening one’s own horizons. And somewhere between all of this there is this “Mennoniteness” that shapes part of who you are.
These experiences perfectly describe my reality. Coming from a small town, and an even smaller Mennonite church in Germany, I used every opportunity possible to see something from the world. This has brought me to several countries in Europe, Israel/Palestine, Syria, Jordan, and the USA. When I was asked to travel to South Korea I was totally thrilled, but what was the reason for the trip? It was for the 10th General Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) 30 October to 8 November 2013.
Through some research I learned I was going to be a delegate for the Mennonite church of Germany at a mega global Christian gathering, which happens every seven years, to discuss topical theological and secular issues. Challenge accepted!
In the preparation process I realized that it was more difficult than expected for me personally to figure out what exactly it was that I, as a young Mennonite from Germany, could contribute to the global ecumenical movement. I found that what had shaped my faith was a colourful set of influences, from a range of faith traditions and churches. At the WCC Assembly there was sensitivity for different confessions and denominations, their specialities and their traditions, which was a very new experience for me. In this context and together with other Mennonites, it became clearer to me that the theological commitment to non-violence and the actual consequences stemming from it is what defines us as a peace church.
Mennonites triggered the last large programmatic focus of WCC, which was the decade to overcome violence from 2001 until 2010. Some Mennonites, who have been involved in the ecumenical movement for a longer time, shared with me their experience of being consulted for their view on several issues by colleagues. I got the impression that while being very small in members, the Mennonite tradition is highly appreciated by WCC and individuals. The fact that peace and justice are now issues at the core of WCC shows that what historically have always been topics for Mennonites, are now (and have also been before!) at the heart of world Christianity. This was also demonstrated when they joined together and prayed the theme prayer of the Assembly: “God of Life, lead us to justice and peace.”
One of the most impressive and moving moments for me, was when a young South Korean man joined one of our peace churches’ meetings (together with Quakers and Church of the Brethren participants). He was going to be a conscientious objector of military service in South Korea soon out of his belief in non-violence. What has become normal in Germany, to conscientiously object, is still being punished by jail sentence of 18 months and life-long discriminations in South Korea. Despite these consequences, this young Korean stood in our midst sharing about his life and commitment to live according to his conviction, asking for our prayers and support. Unfortunately, this young man was not heard by the whole gathering and certain churches, including those in Korea, do not see the necessity to change the status-quo. Still, we can pray for those suffering for their belief and thereby strive for peace and justice.
Now this mega-event seems far away already and those of you reading this might wonder how this involves you at all. The outcome of the WCC Assembly will be guiding the programmatic work of WCC for the next 8 years: We, the believers, are on a pilgrimage of justice and peace! This includes believers around the world, those who are a part of WCC, and those who are not. So, whatever brought you to read this blog, be encouraged to meet people in your context and discuss with them what your role in global Christian brother- and sisterhood is, and how you can contribute to a more just and peaceful world. When I first came to the WCC Assembly I was looking at it with the question in mind, “What can this WCC do for me?” Instead, I found out that it is not WCC doing something for me but each and every one of us, members of God’s family, who form the global church and who together have an impact. I am looking forward to travelling together with you on this pilgrimage route.
By Lydia Funck
* The views expressed in the Testimonies section express the faith convictions and experiences of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Mennonite World Conference.