Spirituality and ecumenism: journeying together

by Agatha Tambunan last modified 15 December 2015 10:52 AM
Spirituality and ecumenism: journeying together

Seminar participants preparing a banner. © Carla Khijoyan

15 December 2015

Over the last few years, I have had the opportunity of meeting many Christians from different churches and countries. On this journey, I got to experience ecumenism from different perspectives.

My first experiences were as a steward and member of the music team in events of the Communion of Churches in Indonesia (CCI), and then with the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA).

In November 2015 a WCC Seminar on Ecumenism and Spirituality Lived and Practiced by Young People was held in Salatiga, Indonesia. I was really excited because that was the first time I participated in a worldwide ecumenical event.

Let me begin by telling you about ecumenism in Indonesia. Known as the world's most populous island nation, it consists of hundreds of ethnic groups and tribes. That’s why some church synods are based on the ethnic groups.

The understanding of ecumenism in Indonesia is still shallow. The word is well-known, but only as the term for an important church service (for example: ecumenical Christmas service, ecumenical Easter service) or formal meetings between synods. There are ecumenical youth events around Indonesia, but unfortunately the information about those events is not well spread.

Until now it is still a struggle to unite Indonesians. There is still a gap between the ethnic groups because each of them has its own culture and traditional languages. The geographic condition is also a challenge because transportation is lacking. Imagine: it takes 8 hours flight from Jakarta to Papua; the same time as to fly from Jakarta to South Korea. People who can effort the ticket prefer to fly abroad.

At the CCA Youth Forum, my brothers and sisters around Asia introduced me to a wider perspective on ecumenism.

Ecumenical movement is not only about church services and meetings. It is a rich movement in Christianity. It does not only involve theology, but also art, social, environment, economic, and you can even connect sports with the ecumenical movement.

Most Asian countries, including Indonesia, face a common problem, which is Christians being minority groups. Conflicts and wars between religions are still frequent in Asia. As Christians, this experience does not bring us to see conflict as a way to solve our problems, but it makes us stronger to fight for justice and peace.

Shortly after the CCA Youth Forum, I attended the WCC seminar and have deeper learning about ecumenism and spirituality. Before attending this seminar, my own definition of spirituality was only the relationship between me and God and how strong is my connection with God.

The keynote speaker of the seminar, Rev. Dr Joas Adiprasetya, defines spirituality as follows: “[Christian] spirituality is our way of living our lives under the guidance of the Spirit that enables us to direct ourselves to the fullness of life of God’s world as exemplified by Christ.”

So it is not about doctrines, ritual, and system of truth. It is more about the journey, pilgrimage, and the way of life. And of course you involve other people in your journey.

In the seminar, the participants agreed that youth spirituality is like the spring of spirituality. We have the desire to explore more and eagerness to have deeper learning. The internet accomodates those needs. I bet you open Google more often than the Bible.

During the group discussions, we found that the churches have to be open-minded to guide the growth of youth spirituality. The relationship between church and youth is no longer like the leader and its employees, but it should be a partnership.

The youth needs chances to express themselves in modernized ways but still with guidance from adults – without too much judgement. Sometimes the gap between adults and youths comes from the style of worship. The adults stick to hymns and the conventional ways; on the other side the youths use many kind of music genres (rock, pop, jazz, R’n’B, etc) for worshiping.

In this modernized world, you can get information in just seconds. It is so easy and instant. And that makes the church face a big challenge as a place to grow in spirituality.

When you have commitment and connection with the church, things won’t go as smooth as one click in the internet. You need to invest time and engage with many different kinds of people. No wonder the youths see the churches as challenging and complicated organizations and we almost lost the value of patience.

We also talk about multi-cultural and multi-religious contexts in the seminar. No matter where you go and where you live, you will find those two conditions. We should not treat diversity like a competition over who has the best culture and religion. We should look for things that we can work on together and be a role model for others to appreciate and respect each other.

In the end, it does not matter if you live in a developed country or a third-world country, and if are you the majority or the minority in the society. What matters is how you can help the growth of spirituality in your church, communion, and country.


The impressions, hopes and ideas expressed in this blog are the contributions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or policies of the World Council of Churches.

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