Believers from more than 100 nations, representing churches in every geographic region and most of the historic traditions of Christianity, gathered Sunday for the closing of one of the largest gatherings of church representatives and mission organizations in the 21st century.
The very theme of the Conference that is now coming to an end is Come Holy Spirit, said the Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia, general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), at Sunday's sending service in central Athens.
Standing on the Areopagus where the apostle Paul preached to the Athenians Kobia said, As we learn from Pentecost, many things happen when the Holy Spirit comes. Among other things the coming of the Holy Spirit represents the gift of understanding and this is the theme of our meditation this evening.
From May 9 - 16, some 650 believers from all continents and the largest confessional families gathered on the Aegean shore east of Athens for the 13th Conference on World Mission and Evangelism one of the largest gatherings of church representatives and mission organizations in the 21st century.
During the eight-day conference, the participants sought to address the world's divisions while discussing the conference theme, "Come, Holy Spirit, heal and reconcile" and the sub-theme "Called in Christ to be reconciling and healing communities."
According to the WCC, members of the ecumenical fellowship of churches provided representatives of the Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican, Baptist, Independent, United, African Instituted and Pentecostal traditions. In addition, a significant number of Pentecostal and evangelical churches not belonging to the WCC were in attendance and, for the first time at such a conference, a substantial delegation of 42 representatives from the Roman Catholic Church came not as observers but full members. For many, the conference was characterized primarily by its "expanding participation," the WCC reported.
The atmosphere of the conference differed from many ecumenical assemblies, the WCC stated. The Council noted that there was considerable time for common prayer, Bible study and small group discussion of matters relating to the themes of reconciliation and healing. Meanwhile, plenary sessions explored sub-themes such as building community, overcoming violence, confronting HIV/AIDS and promoting a church that is open to people of every physical and spiritual condition. Marketplaces of ideas and experience, bearing the Greek name "synaxeis", gave further opportunities to examine issues not on the formal agenda, reported the WCC.
During the conference, participants recognized that divisions among Christians persist and that changes affecting the world in the new millennium form an unprecedented challenge to Christian mission and witness and call the churches to repentance and reconciliation. A "message," or formal letter from the conference to the churches, drafted by participants during the week, was referred to the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism for completion.
In addition to being the first time such a conference was held in a predominantly Orthodox context, the Conference was also the first time that the conference plenaries were broadcast live via the internet.
According to the WCC, there have been 12 such ecumenical mission conferences since 1910.