A first-of-a-kind global gathering that has brought together the broadest range of Christian tradition ever is not "going to be easy," predicted the leader of a global church body.
"I don't think it is going to be easy, but I hope we will find a meeting space," said the Rev. Setri Nyomi, general secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, according to Ecumenical News International.
The Global Christian Forum began Tuesday in Limuru, near Nairobi, and will end on Friday. Some 240 participants from a wide range of faith groups – including Anglican, Baptist, Evangelical, Roman Catholic, Friends, Mennonite, Moravian, Eastern Orthodox, Pentecostal, Seventh-Day Adventists, and United Churches among others – are part of the meeting.
"I am stunned we have here what might be described as a new Pentecost," said the Rev. Dr. Cecil "Mel" Robeck, an Assemblies of God minister from the United States and a member of the Global Christian Forum continuation committee, according to the World Council of Churches.
The idea for the forum was first proposed in the mid-1990s by then World Council of Churches general secretary the Rev. Konrad Raiser with the recognition that the ecumenical movement was broader than the WCC, which represents 560 million Christians in 110 countries.
Raiser had said the forum could reach out to Roman Catholic, Pentecostal and Evangelical churches that are not part of WCC, according to ENI. WCC is mostly composed of Orthodox, Anglican and mainline Protestant traditions.
About half of the forum's participants are evangelicals or Pentecostals.
"Our differences are not bigger than what binds us together," Nyomi said. "We have more in common, but how we express it is different."
The stated purpose of the forum is to create a new, open space in which a broad range of Christian churches and interchurch organizations can gather in a multilateral setting to foster mutual respect and explore and address together common challenges. It aims to include all streams of Christianity, including those which have not been in conversation with one another.
"It is a wonderful opportunity for the broad spectrum of Christian churches and communities to encounter one another and to be in conversation with one another, not with the view of creating complicated structures, but rather with the view of maintaining the fellowship of conversation and of Christian hope," said the Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky of the Orthodox Church in America.
Addressing the forum's opening session Tuesday was the Rev. Peter Karanja, the general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Kenya. In his speech, the Anglican priest said churches are increasingly reluctant to make moral, ethical or spiritual demands on their members for fear of being labeled legalistic, fundamentalist or fanatical, according to ENI.
"The individuals are left to choose what being a Christian means for them and as long as they are happy, then everything goes," said Karanja. "There is something inauthentic about our faith, if it just remains in our heads or liturgy, but does not translate into changed lives and conduct."
Karanja called on Christians to look "beyond" the "peculiarities and distinctions, divisions and conflicts, mistrusts and all apprehensions which divide us and set us up against one another," according to WCC.
In addition to the church denominations or "families" that have gathered for the Global Christian Forum, a number of Christian organizations are also represented, including: regional ecumenical organizations, youth and student international movements, YMCA and YWCA, United Bible Societies, World Vision International, the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, the World Council of Churches and a number of forum-type organizations.