Pacific church leaders are re-reading the stars, and re-charting the course of their ecumenical vaka together in a time when the region is facing unprecedented socio-economic and political pressure.
The vaka – or canoe – is a vessel in which Polynesian islanders are traditionally immensely skilled navigators, traveling great distances across the Pacific, finding their way by reading the stars, wave patterns and cloud formations.
As 25 Pacific church leaders met with World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit in Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand, in August, they described how they are now taking their places as a united group in a vaka they hope will hold fast.
“Unity is not just a religious issue for the Pacific, it is a matter of survival!” said Maohi Protestant Church president Pastor Taaroanui Maraea. “This is critical if the ecumenical instruments in the region are to survive and have the capacity to be effective and sustainable for the long term.”
What will it take to navigate these rough waters? Maraea urged Pacific churches to “speak together as a united voice and move forward together as the Pacific community of churches for mission.”
Tveit offered greetings on behalf of the WCC fellowship and shared some insights on ecumenism today. The ecumenical call, he said, is “a call to love in the deepest sense – it is a call to love God with all our might, to love our neighbour as ourselves.”
As climate change threatens creation and human survival directly in the Pacific and across the world, Tveit framed the key questions: “How can we love God and not all God’s creation? How can we love our neighbour and not care for the conditions that ensure his or her survival?”
Tveit commended the Pacific church leaders for their determination to stand united and strong in the face of these challenges, saying the the world needs the Pacific’s “prophetic voice” and deeply-rooted faith and spirituality to resist unsustainable attitudes toward nature.
The Pacific church leaders’ key agenda was to discern a renewed framework for the ecumenical movement in the region, help strengthen ecumenical commitment and collaboration within and amongst churches, and revitalise national as well as regional ecumenical bodies.
WCC general secretary visits the Pacific region (WCC press release 31 July 2017)