29 October 2013 | by Paul Valentin
We flew halfway across the world to get to Busan, South Korea, for the global assembly of the World Council of Churches. And when we got there, we were greeted by people waving banners in Korean with the only recognisable writing in English proclaiming: ‘WCC kills the churches in Korea’.
Not exactly a warm welcome, but perhaps we should take pride in what we are being accused of.
According to a national English language daily, 'the WCC stands for religious diversity' and 'the WCC defends homosexuality'.
This suggests we represent people and churches who accept that we live in a diverse world where there are many opinions and ways of being (even though we are still far from a shared view on homosexuality).
Just looking around the venue where the delegates are starting to gather, you are reminded of the immense diversity we represent.
African bishops mingle with Maori church delegates, Coptic priests and representatives of the ecumenical forum on disability.
Sadly, we can all think of situations where the lack of tolerance for diversity has led to vicious cycles of violence and gross violations of rights.
The voices of the speakers at the rally suggest little room for dissent or questioning. Silent contemplation is not on their minds.
It hurts me to hear the fanatical speeches, punctuated by the occasional Wesleyan hymn. However, Jesus’ followers don't always agree.
The assembly doesn't formally open until tomorrow.
So at this stage we are all in preparatory meetings, greeting old friends from across the globe or introducing ourselves to the many delegates in the hotel breakfast room, in the shuttle bus or just walking through the massive Busan Exhibition Centre.
While waiting for the shuttle to the venue, I met an American Methodist, a church representative from Tuvalu and a youth volunteer from Kenya.
Korea is quite an experience in itself. Everything in Busan is clearly marked - in Korean - as are all the instructions in your hotel, meals on the restaurant menu etc - impenetrable. Certainly a refreshing reminder that not the whole world speaks English!
Between now and tomorrow I hope to get my sense of direction right - the venue is so vast, you can spend all your time getting from one end to the other - while text messages should allow me to stay in touch with colleagues.
Despite the dubious welcome outside the venue, I am starting to feel excited about the possibilities offered by such a global gathering!.......................................................................................................................................
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.