by NZ CATHOLIC staff
A new path of the ecumenical journey was initiated in Wellington on February 25 with the launching of the National Dialogue for Christian Unity.
New Zealand has been missing from the global ecumenical family, with no national body since 2005. And that absence has been noted and lamented.
Following eight years of discussion, the theological basis for the new body and an executive was ratified and appointed the day NDCU was launched.
Cardinal John Dew said it was wonderful to work with other churches. “We formally accepted the rules by which the Methodist Church, the Anglican Church and the Roman Catholic Church committed themselves to working together towards Christian Unity,” he said.
“It has been a wonderful experience to work with people who are so committed towards making the prayer of Jesus real: ‘Father, may they all be one,’” he said.
Auckland Parish and Pastoral Services Group Leader Pat Lythe said that after the demise of the Conference of Churches of Aotearoa NZ in 2005, New Zealand has had no national ecumenical body.
“The heads of Churches continued to meet and enjoyed cordial relationships, but there was no structure to carry forward the ecumenical priority of working together for unity,” she said.
Mrs Lythe explained that in 2008 the Methodist Church invited other churches to join it in working out a theological basis for ecumenism in Aotearoa New Zealand.
“The Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Salvation Army and the uniting churches joined in the discussions. Other churches, the Assemblies of God, the Wesleyan and the Congregationalists, later joined the discussion,” she said.
The first objective was to produce a theological statement underpinning the search for unity. This was agreed on in 2010.
Following agreement on that, terms of reference were drawn up proposing a structure with an annual forum, an executive and a commitment to pursuing unity.
This was sent to the respective Church courts for approval “At this stage several of the participating Churches dropped out of the dialogue, as their leadership felt unable to commit to the proposal,” she said.
The Methodists, Anglicans and Catholics, however, continued to meet. Some of those churches which were not prepared yet to commit to membership but, still wanting dialogue, continued to participate in the discussions.
The three churches felt impelled to proceed with the hope that other churches would join on the journey in the future.
“Terms of reference morphed into a constitution or rules for the fledgling body, which named itself the National Dialogue for Christian Unity,” Mrs Lythe said.
Forum attendees were not just the three member churches, but participating observers from the Salvation Army, the Presbyterian Church, the Uniting Church and two other national Christian organisations, the Student Christian Movement and Christian World Service.
Also present to offer support and endorsement were representatives from the World Council of Churches and the National Council of Churches in Australia.
A celebration service was held that evening in the cathedral with heads of the three churches: Cardinal John Dew, Archbishop Philip Richardson and past Methodist president John Roberts presiding (the current president was prevented from attending because of illness).
More than 100 people attended and the mood was one of jubilation and rejoicing. The Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) applauded the initiative of New Zealand churches.
The general secretary of CCA, Dr Mathews George Chunakara, noted “the churches in Aotearoa New Zealand had played an active role in the Asian and global ecumenical movement for decades, although some churches are rather less enthusiastic in recent times in engaging themselves in wider ecumenical involvements”.
“However, it is our fervent prayer and hope that the newly constituted national ecumenical organisation will be instrumental in reactivating the spirit of ecumenism and united witness,” he added.
The office-bearers of the NDCU are Archbishop Philip Richardson (Anglican), Rev. Prince Devanandan (secretary), Rev. Rex Nathan (treasurer) and Pat Lythe, Anne Mills and Cornelia Grant (executive committee members). Rev. John Roberts, who facilitated the constituent bodies’ meeting, traced the recent history of the ecumenical movement in the country and challenged church leaders with a caution, “not to repeat mistakes of the past”.
He said, “failure to hold together faith and order issues with concern for social justice was a fundamental weakness of the previous ecumenical body, which became defunct”.
by NZ CATHOLIC staff