1 November 2013 | by Paul Valentin
We’re now in the midst of it all: breakfast meetings, chance encounters, improvisation around language barriers, Bible study, plenary meetings, etc.
I am starting to really enjoy myself and my main worry is whether I'll be able to attend everything I want to attend, meet everyone I want to meet and still have time for meals and sleep!
For me, the Thursday programme began with an interactive Bible study around the theme of creation as represented in Genesis 2.
The discussion revolved around different interpretations: domination versus the idea of tending. We spoke about interconnectedness, refugees, climate change - it certainly set the scene for sessions that followed throughout the day.
The plenary session started with an address by the Korean Prime Minister, but the real excitement stemmed from a presentation by Michel Sidibe, the Executive Director of UNAIDS.
He reminded the churches of their ongoing responsibility to protect the vulnerable and to use their voice to challenge stigma and silence.
The former Anglican bishop of Colombo followed, with an astounding plea for the church to engage with 'theology of the victim'.
He didn't mince his words as he listed whom those victims might be, even if recognising them took us into uncomfortable places or forced us to engage with people upon whom the church may traditionally have turned its back: violated women, drug addicts, sex workers, dalits, Roma, GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) people.
If we ask God to lead us to justice and peace, we have to tackle our own discomfort - we cannot avoid the difficult and hidden places.
In the afternoon we started our 'ecumenical conversations' - a wide range of topics that will be explored by groups of participants over the next few days.
The conversations should result in clear action points contributing to the ongoing agenda of the ecumenical movement worldwide.
I signed up to the seminar entitled 'A call to ecological justice and peace in the face of climate change'.
The first topic we explored was the plight of the people of Tuvalu, who are expected to lose their homeland to rising sea levels as a consequence of climate change.
In between sessions and afterwards we usually converge at the ACT Alliance stand, which is fast becoming a meeting point.
Outside the protests continue, with varying degrees of intensity and hostility, but the noise hardly penetrates the venue. Inside, the atmosphere is mostly friendly and warm, even though the various confessional traditions share a history of division and discord.
Another thing that strikes me is the degree to which people with disabilities/different abilities are integrated into the life of this assembly. You notice because it still isn’t the norm to be in gatherings where barriers are few and inclusion is so apparent.
The disabled people's movement was apparently born of the frustrations at the Harare assembly in 1984, where people with disabilities were invisible. They have come a long way in the ecumenical movement of today but at home we still have a long way to go!
Friday's sessions provided more of the same (in a positive sense): a Bible study honoured by the 'presence' of the prophet Amos and the continuation of the ecumenical conversation with testimony from a female bishop from Greenland.
I sensed myself getting a bit impatient (we need to move towards shared agendas and action plans), but I may yet have to show forebearance - there are two iterations to follow next week.
The Friday evening ended on a fantastic high; a meeting of the Anglican Communion, attended by Archbishop Justin Welby. To celebrate the Eucharist with fellow Anglicans from at least 50 countries, hosted by one of the smaller member churches, was a moving and meaningful experience.
Tomorrow we are off on the ecumenical pilgrimage to Seoul and the Demilitarised Zone; we’re back on Sunday night........................................................................................................................................
Our staff are in Busan, South Korea attending the World Council of Churches assembly. The theme of the assembly, 'God of life, lead us to justice and peace', provides a focus for theological reflection, worship and meditation, as well as for planning programmatic activities before, during and after the assembly.