A gathering to consider Ecumenical Community

Ecumenical Christian Community Melbourne

Tuesday 14th September 2010

Wes Campbell

A reflection based on Genesis 1: 1-5; Psalm 8; and John 1: 1-5

God of Life,
Whose beauty shines on us in the face of your Son;
Open to us your way of truth;
By your Holy Spirit encourage us to be your people;
Give us neighbours to love;
Create in us hearts of peace,
And wills for justice;
Bind us to yourself,
as you have made covenant
with Israel,
and with your whole creation,
we pray to you through Jesus Christ, with the , Father, and the Holy Spirit,
AMEN

The three readings speak of God as Creator. Biblical faith was never a world hating attitude. There is, rather, a strong claim that the mysterious NAME who takes an active part in the affairs of Israel, calling Abram and Sarah, and Moses and the prophets, is the same One who was there before the beginning and set all life in motion.
So we speak of a ‘universe’, one cosmos, with harmony between its many diverse elements.
The writer of Genesis tells of the Creator who speaks to bring light and life into being. Instead of the road toward dark chaos violence and constant war, is the creation that can be called ‘good’.  And this is confirmed in the Fourth Gospel, where the WORD (LOGOS) with God from the beginning, generates life. Behind this is the Wisdom tradition. And the clear focus here is this: that the generative power of life and light is now known in our human form, in Jewish flesh, in Jesus of Nazareth.  So the psalm speaks of the dignified place given to humans.

This confession of faith, the sense of beauty in the creation, the ordered shape of the cosmos, the single source of life, the character of the material world as ‘good’, and the confidence that the bearer of Truth shares our life, led ultimately to places of learning called universities.

We are in a so-called secular university. Yet it turns out to be a diverse and plural place. Among us are various forms of Christian faith; there are other communities – Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, and so on, offering their view of the world and prayers, to say noting of the student activists, Green environmentalists, socialists, and those whose research (both humanities and natural sciences)  deals with life in its complexity.

One of the tasks given to me as a Chaplain was to form ‘visible Christian community’.
You know how that has been played out, particularly in studies and forums.  And we are visible to one another.
And as you know, there are a number of chaplains and other church workers on campus. One of the most visible student groups in the 1950s, 60s & 70s was the Student Christian Movement. It no longer exists in that form.  Then chaplains existed to support students in their activity. That is now reversed.  There have been a few attempts to re-start the SCM, but that time has now passed. It falls to us to find new forms. I am coming to this discussion knowing that I, as chaplain, carry a good deal of information, and we share good gatherings.
But when one semester passes into another, one year into another, and one chaplain to another, the question is how to carry the community on.

Beginning with the remarkable fact that there are Christian people on campus, the pressing question is this: how can we foster ecumenical Christian community, with a shared continuity.
And how can we contribute to the life of the university in a way that recalls the origins of this community of learning, assisting the university to be a university, where a search for truth and learning that enriches human life is the norm.

Below, I have posed some questions which might focus our discussion. You may have something entirely different to raise. When I first had a go at the questions they came out as:

HOW IS CHRISTIAN FAITH TO BE LIVED OUT WITHIN THE UNIVERSITY, AND HOW CAN WE SUPPORT AND ENCOURAGE ONE ANOTHER?

IS IT POSSIBLE TO AGREE TO FORM AN ECUMENICAL CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY PEOPLE WHO WORK TOGETHER WITH THE CHAPLAIN TO CREATE A COMMUNITY OF ‘CHRISTIAN INTEREST’?

HOW CAN ECUMENICAL CHRISTIAN FAITH BE BROUGHT TO BEAR ON THE LIFE OF THE UNIVERSITY, AND THE CHALLENGES HUMANITY & THE PLANET FACES?

I suggest we do this in the spirit of the affirmation of faith (based on the Basis of Union), which takes pilgrimage as its key metaphor: we are on the way, travelling together. I suggest that is the character of ‘ecumenical Christian community’. [Let’s do what we can today, and then decide what is still needed to take it forward.]

An early impression of mine regarding Tertiary Ministry (2007) : “Tertiary chaplaincy is a fragile flower, and there is no guarantee of continuing ministry, yet when you look at a university campus, you are looking at the church in five to ten years time. The experience of campus is that not a large number of students are interested in Christian faith. It is now a ‘post-Christian’ environment and requires a missionary presence. It calls for a ministry to support and learn from students who, in surprising ways, continue to live by Christian faith. It is challenging because it requires the chaplain to be pro-active – an ‘entrepreneur’ for the faith.  The reward is to be in an environment where ideas and serious thought are encouraged; and to see the way young people are maturing and grappling with the life issues they face, along with others who are concerned about the future of the planet.”

WHY ARE YOU HERE TODAY?
ARE YOU ATTRACTED BY THE NOTION OF AN ECUMENICAL CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY @ UNI?
HOW MIGHT IT LOOK?
WHAT NAME?

We affirmed ‘Ecumenical Christian Community and explored it for an hour or so. We have left details of future organismic for another day. WE PLAN TO MEET AGAIN: 4.30-6.00pm: Tuesday 16th November 2010, at Chaplains Meeting Room, 138 Cardigan St, Carlton.

Wes Campbell

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