An inaugural meeting and celebratory service on 25th February marked the birth of a new ecumenical body for New Zealand after a long period of gestation.
Representatives of the Anglican, Methodist and Roman Catholic Churches gathered in Wellington to launch the National Dialogue for Christian Unity (NDCU).
They ratified the constitution, affirmed theological basis for the Dialogue and elected office holders. Anglican archbishop Philip Richardson will be the first president, Methodist Mission & Ecumenical director Rev Prince Devanandan secretary and former Methodist president Rev Rex Nathan treasurer. Rev Cornelia Grant will represent the Methodist Church on the executive and Mrs Pat Lythe and Rev Anne Mills will represent the Catholic and Anglican Churches respectively.
The Presbyterian Church and Salvation Army have opted for observer status at this stage. Rev John Roberts facilitated the meeting. John traced the reasons why some churches lost confidence in the Conference of Churches of Aotearoa NZ, which closed in 2005. John says lessons from that should not be forgotten.
The NDCU should be accountable to the member churches and avoid marginalising church leaders. It should avoid splitting the agenda between justice and peace and maintain a balance between the two, and keep the theological basis ‘Toward a Theology of Christian Unity’ to the fore.
After the business was done, people gathered in Sacred Heart Cathedral to give thanks for this historic moment and to pray for the future of the NDCU. Past general secretary of the NZ Presbyterian Church Rev Dr Kerry Enright preached the sermon. Kerry provided an image, a call and context for mission. He recalled William Temple’s image of bifocal spectacles where we see the church as it is and the church as it might be. The call is expressed in the form of a question, “What does our church need to learn from others?” Kerry reminded us of the global context of suffering but also of the growing church in China, which may have 90 million members.
Sister Elizabeth Delaney representing the National Council of Churches in Australia saw evidence of hope in this new beginning. She prayed, “May you know that along each step of your journey the Holy Spirit is your guide.” Rev Dr Mele’ana Puloka represented the World Council of Churches and brought greetings from general secretary Rev Dr Olav Fyske Tveit. She reflected on Luke 1: 78-79 and prayed that the Spirit would “guide our feet in the way of peace”.
Her challenge was that “we seek to stay together in a way that embraces all creation, taking actions that demonstrate that justice and peace can never be separated from the unity that we seek. The pilgrimage needs to be here and it needs your prayer.”
Church leaders also brought greetings. Philip Richardson spoke about his own experience of ecumenism, and Cardinal John Dew spoke of the Catholic Church’s commitment to the unity of the church. Methodist president Rev Tovia Aumua was represented by past president John Roberts. John spoke of how encouraged the Methodist Church was at the establishment of the NDCU. He affirmed that ‘to be Methodist is to be ecumenical’ and recalled prominent Methodists, JJ Lewis, Ashleigh Petch, Phyllis Guthardt and Rua Rakena, who all made major contributions to the ecumenical encounter in New Zealand.
John Dew thanked the Methodist Church for initiating the dialogue in 2007. He acknowledged the work of Methodist Mission & Ecumenical directors John Roberts and Prince, who had guided the process to the birth of NDCU. Each helped sustain the momentum and kept the vision alive.
Through the NDCU the churches recognise that they need each other. They pledge to pray and walk and talk together to serve God’s mission.
Conversation on the nature of the Church will be a primary focus of the NDCU. Ecumenism is a priority for the churches. The unity of the church confirms the authenticity of God’s reconciling love in Christ. Unity is God’s gift and calling, and it will hold together a rich diversity of traditions. The unity of the church will serve the unity of creation.