British and Irish participants at the historic thirteenth Conference on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME), convened by the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Athens 9-16 May, are calling for “an ecumenical recovery of the central Christian vocation to announce the Good News of Jesus Christ” through a clearer focus on evangelism.

The plea comes in a letter to the WCC’s mission commission, which has been meeting this week in the aftermath of a gathering that drew together participants from 300 churches, confessions and Christian bodies across 105 countries. It was the most widely representative conference of its kind, involving Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Evangelical and Pentecostal delegates from six continents.

The letter to the WCC was coordinated by the Churches’ Commission on Mission (CCOM)  of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, and has been signed by the Bishop of Maidstone, the Rt Rev Graham Cray, the General Secretary of the Church Mission Society, the Rev Canon Tim Dakin, Fr Philip Knights of the Catholic Agency to Support Evangelization in England and Wales, the Rev Dr Jim Campbell of the Irish Council of Churches, Dr Kirsteen Kim, lecture in mission at the University of Birmingham, and Mr Simon Barrow, Secretary of CCOM – which links the work of the global mission departments and agencies of the churches in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.

Welcoming the attention of the WCC world mission conference to the work of the Holy Spirit and the vocation of the church as a healing and reconciling community, the letter says that the next step for the ecumenical movement is to learn how to “talk the walk” better.

“Holistic evangelism” is described as “the means through which the nature, identity and call of Jesus Christ – the one who breaks down the world’s dividing walls – is made known.” It combines word and deed, “renews the church, and grows its capacity for further witness and service.”

The growing list of signatories, from among the 30 CWME participants from Britain and Ireland, say that the WCC also needs to engage directly with new mission movements from the global South and with “fresh expressions of church” in the North.

“The ecumenical movement was birthed out of the Edinburgh 1910 world mission conference,” explains CCOM Secretary Simon Barrow. “Since then the demographic of world Christianity has shifted dramatically to the South, as reflected in the rainbow composition of the Athens gathering. Christians across the theological spectrum are now seeing the urgent need to re-communicate the liberating message of the Gospel in a divided world.”

Barrow continued: “This is not another fashionable criticism of the WCC, but an expression of deep partnership – one that lends fresh visibility to the prophetic and pastoral mission of healing and reconciliation for which the fellowship of the World Council of Churches is known.”

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