by Roddy MacKenzie
The 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches is now officially underway here in Busan Korea. This Assembly of about 7,000 people representing about 560 million Christians in 110 countries began with the most dramatic of Gathering Prayers, and for us concluded with none other than the Archbishop of Canterbury. What a day! Read on!
WCC’s Gathering Prayer to Commence Its 10th Assembly
We assembled this morning in the Worship Hall of BEXCO (Busan Exhibition & Convention Centre) for the Opening Prayer. The Worship Hall is huge — it has an indoor floor area the size of two football field. For the WCC’s Opening Prayer Service, it seated 5,000 people. A Korean Choir of 500 voices and a large number of musicians playing traditional Korean instruments provided the music.
The first people Ka Hyun and I encountered this morning were Karen Hamilton and Jim Christie. Karen is General Secretary and Jim is Past President of the Canadian Council of Churches. We have a soft spot for Karen because of her great enthusiasm when it was first proposed last winter that Ka Hyun and I come to the WCC here in Korea. Then the Anglican Bishop of Busan phoned Ka Hyun’s cell phone, met us at the Worship Hall entrance, and seated the two of us in the Worship Hall with his wife. Moments later Gary Paterson happened by — he used to be my Minister at St. Andrew’s Wesley Church and is now Moderator of the United Church of Canada. I introduced Gary to Ka Hyun and the Bishop of Busan’s wife. Afterwards in talking with her it struck us it would be good to have Gary, Karen and Jim accompany us to the Anglican Cathedral to greet the Archbishop of Canterbury’s flight from London this afternoon. I found where Gary was sitting, Ka Hyun did likewise with Jim and Karen, and the three of them enthusiastically accepted our invitation. More on that below.
It’s a powerful experience participating in a Worship Service for 5,000 led by a choir of 500 and the leaders of Protestant Christianity, Orthodox Christianity and Anglican Christianity in English, French, Spanish, German and Korean. Even moreseo when almost half the Congregation are Ordained Clergy from these three of the four great strands of Christianity, the fourth being of course Roman Catholicism. His Holiness Pope Francis sent his greetings and blessings today from The Vatican to our Gathering. The Sermon of His Holiness, Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of all Armenians, whom I’d met the previous evening in our hotel lobby (see picture below) was powerful in delivery and content. For example, His Holiness said:
“The truth is that the pre-Biblical pagan cultures did not care very much for the poor of the world. But it is also becoming clear that society in the modern era has very little use or concern for the poor among us — whether they are poor in material needs or poor in spirit. By contrast, it was Jesus who blessed the poor.”
His Holiness reminded us that the Armenian Genocide by the Ottoman Empire began 98 years ago in 1915. He called it “the greatest cataclysm of our [Armenian] history: The Genocide of the Armenians, committed by Ottoman Turkey.” His Holiness said that the later genocides in Europe, Cambodia and Africa might not have happened if the world a century ago had taken action to aid the Armenians. Then he spoke of current pain worldwide, and especially in Egypt and Syria.
The 5,000 of us recited our universal Christian Confession of Faith, the Nicene Creed, and then of course The Lord’s Prayer. The Anthem of the 500 voice Korean Choir was “God of Life” based on the music of Korea’s deeply loved folksong “Arirang“.
The prayers were most interesting and moving. They were “Cries of Hope” from Africa, from Asia, from the Caribbean, from Europe, from Latin America, from the Middle East, from North America, and from the Pacific.
To give you a taste, the Cries of Hope from Europe were: “As Europeans, we gather here from nations, communities and churches of great diversity and of many contradictions. We represent a uniquely European history of civilization, culture, and spirituality, On the one hand, we represent a tradition of human advancement. Yet we are also aware that we represent a heritage of death: wars, colonial exploitation, racism and genocide….”
The Cries of Hope from North America were: “Lord, have mercy on us for we mine the resources of our own lands, and those of the south, leaving in our wake environmental devastation. Christ, have mercy on us, for we demand cheap goods, heedless of the sweatshops and child labour required to serve our selfishness. Lord have mercy on us, for we are addicted to a culture of violence, numbing ourselves to the increasing number of victims at home and abroad. Hear our cries. Grant us hope!”
The Archbishop of Canterbury at Busan Cathedral
After an hour’s ride on two underground Metro lines followed by a ten minute walk through the oldest part of Busan Gary, Karen, Jim, Ka Hyun and I reached the Anglican Cathedral at the same moment the Archbishop of Canterbury and his wife Caroline arrived there from the airport. Introductions all round, then into the Cathedral for a Service. People at the Cathedral were delighted to have five Canadians take part in the first ever visit to their Cathedral by an Archbishop of Canterbury. That’s because one room of the Cathedral is dedicated to the memory of Canadian Missionary The Reverend Stephen H. Cartwright. He’s one of Korea’s “Seven Angels” from Canada revered by Koreans for their fine work bringing to Korea Christianity, and modern education and medical systems. It has been the prayer of Ka Hyun and me for our participation in the WCC that God grant us the eyes to see and the ears to hear what we’re being shown here in Busan. So it was quite something for us that the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Homily included him saying:
“Let the Spirit of God open your eyes and speak to you. We are called to be the friends of Jesus. When we are His friends, He tells us truths. Spend time alone with Him in Prayer, and time reading and contemplating Scripture.”
After the Service, there were pictures (see below) and then a reception with the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Archbishop was very interested in Ka Hyun’s large white cross (see picture). He was delighted to learn it’s a personal gift to Ka Hyun from Korean Archbishop Paul Kim, the Anglican Primate in Korea, and that Archbishop Kim had made the cross with his own hands. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s wife Caroline gave me valuable advice on how to survive and thrive married to clergy based on her experience in the 21 years he’s been Ordained. After the departure of the Canterburys, the five of us were served an excellent Korean Dinner with the Congregation in the Cathedral. Then our ten-minute walk back to the Metro Station followed by an hour on two lines before we emerged from underground at BEXCO and, across the street, our hotel. Thus concluded with goodbyes all round among the five of us at the Metro Station the most remarkable day.