A new book, “Sharing and Learning: Bible, Mission, and Receptive Ecumenism” was released on 4 October by the World Council of Churches (WCC) in cooperation with the Christian Council of Sweden and the SMC – Faith in Development (Sweden).
Based on an experience of a mission pilgrimage in Sweden that took place in 2016-2017, the book reflects on mission and receptive ecumenism, with contributions from missiologists and theologians from various traditions and parts of the world. The book is meant for academics and practitioners interested in mission and unity, as well as in receptive ecumenism and in the practical consequences of committing themselves to foster the unity and mission of the church in the world.
Rev. Dr Olle Kristenson, retired theological advisor, Christian Council of Sweden, and one of the book’s three editors, described the beginning of the process of putting the book together,
“We listened to each other and we learned from each other, Kristenson said. “As we decided to deepen our dialogue the idea of what would soon be called a mission pilgrimage was born.”
Another co-editor of the book, Rev. Petter Jakobsson, advisor, SMC – Faith in Development (Sweden), said that in working for an ecumenical network with many different mission organizations and denominations as members, he very often encounters difficult ethical or theological issues.
“We do expect people to meet and to share insight and hopefully enrich each other,” he said. “There is enough polarization in the world—and there is enough polarization between Christians in the world.”
Rev. Dr Susan Durber, moderator, WCC Faith and Order Commission, expressed her excitement about the text but also spoke on the challenges churches face in speaking about mission and unity.
“I want to bear witness to the fascination of reading the text as an outsider to the process,” she said. “All of the churches in the UK right now are concentrating on themselves because numbers in churches are declining,” she said. “There is a strong sense that we need to concentrate on unity, not mission.”
This reflects some disappointment in how slow we are to make progress, said Durber. “Even the strongest churches are feeing threatened and are not keen to reveal their vulnerabilities to anyone else,” she said. “Some of the most difficult conversations can be about mission.”
Prof. Paul D. Murray, University of Durham, United Kingdom, reflected on the authenticity of the lived witness and on the relationship between receiving and giving.
“Everything we have to give, we have first received,” he said. “That is the first thing we have to give to each other: the giving of attention.”
Rev. Dr Angelique Walker-Smith, senior associate for Pan African and Orthodox Church Engagement at Bread for the World (USA), moderated the discussion.
Rev. Dr Risto Jukko, the book’s third co-editor and director of the WCC Commission on World Mission and Evangelism, compared the publication’s three tenets to a tripod. “For me, it’s like a tripod: three feet or three legs—the Bible, mission and receptive ecumenism, or unity” he said. “You know what it’s like when one leg is taken off: the tripod will fall down. We need sharing and learning with these three in our Christian witness.”