A final flurry

The WCC’s 10th Assembly ended with a flurry of last-minute business, expressions of thanks to all who made it happen–particularly Korean host churches and volunteers who supported the event so generously and the WCC leadership and staff–and goodbyes.

A worship service closed the meeting, with a priest from South Africa giving the message. Interestingly, after 10 days of working on Christian unity, celebrating each other, getting to know each other, learning more about each others’ traditions, praying and singing together, he chose to point out divisions and expressions of hurt or pain that either made or marred the assembly.

I say “made or marred” because the divisions and hurts I saw at the WCC Assembly could be read in at least two ways: as disappointing and destructive of unity, or by virtue of their being able to be voiced openly, as evidence of a commitment to the whole body of Christ.

The setting of the assembly in a divided Korean Peninsula, and the announcement that Christians in North Korea were invited but felt they could not send representatives.

Diversity on sexuality, and speakers who seemed to target one group or another with sometimes hurtful language.

Differences on conscientious objection, with peace churches having to register a dissenting opinion in support of COs.

Indigenous people struggling for recognition, with persistence and tears.

Orthodox in the Middle East and others from the hot spots like northern Nigeria, pleading for ecumenical help for persecuted Christians–with little obvious reactions from the WCC.

Protestors from Korean churches not part of the WCC, who were outside the assembly each day with bullhorns and placards objecting to its being held in their country.

Two protestors ran onto the stage during the closing worship service and were tackled and carried out by security, in a very jarring moment. Stan Noffsinger, our general secretary who has been elected to the WCC Central Committee, let me know WCC leaders did not want to press charges but were told by local authorities the matter was not theirs to decide. I share the concern for how the protestors will be dealt with.

“When we listen to each other’s pain, the divisions between ‘us’ and ‘them’ disappear, and we all become ‘us,’” the preacher reminded the assembly. “Stronger than evil and death are the forces of love, peacefulness, and compassion.”

The benediction and blessing he gave: “May God bless you with enough foolishness so that you truly believe you can make a difference in this world.” Amen.

Peace for a day

Today the World Council of Churches 10th Assembly was all about peace.

Our general secretary Stan Noffsinger represented the peace churches in the plenary session. When he stood on the plenary stage with an Iranian Christian, as an American church leader, he bridged the divide between our two countries. The Iranian woman spoke of the suffering of the ordinary people because of the sanctions against Iran, which are supported by the US. In reply, Stan said, “What courage to speak truth to power,” and he added a personal expression of confession: “May God have mercy on our souls.” It was an emotional and powerful moment.

Then Brethren staff–Stan and Nate Hosler from the Office of Public Witness–joined colleagues in other US churches who are working on peacemaking to lead a “madang” workshop. Yet more powerful moments, as they talked about the foundations of being just peacemakers in the American context, and answered questions about the peace churches’ theological foundations.

The afternoon business session brought a statement on just peace to the floor. Nate, who has been working on the Public Issues Committee, was chosen to introduce the document and read aloud the introduction and recommendations. There was not time to finalize it in today’s business session but the delegate body gave great affirmation to the recommendations. It is expected to be adopted tomorrow.

The peace churches met together this evening, with the primary topic of how to support conscientious objectors in South Korea, who face an 18 month prison sentence when they refuse to go into the military. A young Korean CO came to the meeting and spoke fervently, requesting the help of international brothers and sisters to change the situation. Mennonites report that there are some 700 conscientious objectors in prison in South Korea. The group signaled their support and commitment to work on the issue with Koreans.

Peace church delegates also wrote a dissent for the official record, made necessary when an amendment to include the plight of COs in a statement on peace in the Korean peninsula was rejected in the business session.

These kinds of meetings seem so valuable and important that a discussion has started about creating an international gathering of peace church representatives.

Peace for a day, but a WCC Assembly happens only once every seven or eight years. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to do this more often!

— Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of News Services for the Church of the Brethren

The ins and outs

The ins and outs of how business is processed at this WCC Assembly bothers me. Inscrutable, sometimes inaccessible to the ordinary participant, often incoherent in both meanings of lacking coherence and lacking in communication.

I woke up this morning realizing I have to write about this aspect of the assembly in order to be truthful, but I also don’t want to be unfair. I’m a first-timer at WCC Assemblies and fortunately met up with a seasoned Quaker colleague over breakfast. She helped me put things in perspective having years of ecumenical experience and having been to previous assemblies

From her point of view, things are going far better here at Busan than they have in the past!

“Inscrutable” has been an epithet used against Asia by westerners who, not understanding the cultural differences, find themselves unable to interpret this part of the world. I remembered this history to the word as I pondered what my Quaker colleague had said.

Perhaps I have to take a step back and reconsider my first responses to how this Assembly works.

For example, holding elections in closed session without allowing observers or media in the room seems undemocratic to me.

But it may allow for a level of candor between delegates that is impossible when they are under scrutiny. I hope it allows the WCC to more effectively work at the needed balance of Christian traditions, gender, age, areas of the world, ethnicities, and points of view that is desired in the leadership of the organization.

In another example, there are a few committees appointed in advance of the assembly that seem to exert most of the power in the decision making process. There a number of committees meeting during the assembly, each of which has a separate area of work. This is where documents are vetted and revised, suggestions from the delegate body are received or rejected, with little chance for further amendment or revision once a document comes to the delegate body for decision. The two with the most power are the Public Issues Committee which controls what issues end up addressed in the assembly’s statements, and the Program Guidelines Committee whose job is to set the agenda for future program work of the WCC staff.

But the committee process allows for a lively give and take, albeit with much of it still done behind closed doors. Any delegate can give suggestions in writing to the committees, and churches can create coalitions to support each other’s suggestions and points of view. The committees are large groups of people, with 40-plus people in the Public Issues Committee. The chair of that committee acknowledge to the delegate body their own frustration in having so many issues put before them (they received 22 suggestions for public issues statements) and being forced to choose between them because only so much can be done with the time and resources available.

Another example is the way consensus decision making works here. Perhaps because of the size of the hall, perhaps because of the lighting, moderators–there are separate moderators for each item of business–are not seeing or acknowledging how often delegates raise cards to signal disagreement.

But maybe, as I heard some peace church people say the other day, this is just part of the way the ecumenical animal grows and matures together. Different parts of the body of Christ move at different speeds, and some parts will always be ahead of other parts. Some parts of the body will always have to wait for other parts to catch up.

The point where I still have concerns is the way documents, and sometimes key sections of documents, appear and disappear without explanation. It’s all part of the process, but what is that process, how does it work, and who is making the decisions?

For example, the message from the peace convocation held in Jamaica, which was touted as the culmination of the whole Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV), is playing no role in this assembly. Instead, an entirely new just peace document appeared on the agenda, apparently pulled together only in the last couple of months.

Another example: a wonderfully egalitarian process in the ecumenical conversation group I sat in on, on the topic of “human security,” culminated in a really good one-page summary of the concerns and affirmations voiced by the group. It was put up on a large screen during the last of the group’s four daily meetings and every person present had a chance to suggest changes and revisions that were accepted by the facilitator.

But when I looked eagerly for that summary in yesterday’s handout of outcomes of the ecumenical conversations, portions of the “human security” summary had disappeared. Points that might be considered more controversial or more difficult to deal with ecumenically were no longer there.

What does this say about the ecumenical movement? My Quaker colleague asserts that we are moving in the right direction. What is inscrutable now will become inextricably woven together.

I have to say, amen. But add my own prayer: God, make this body into your Kingdom reality–sooner rather than later!

Some invisible hand

When I got back from the “Pilgrimage of Peace” hosted by the Korean churches in the Seoul area, I downloaded the photographs from the weekend. Much to my surprise, on my camera were some pictures that I had not taken.

The pictures were of our busload of WCC Assembly participants singing for the Ansan Jeil Presbyterian Church, where we worshiped on Sunday morning. I had left my camera in the pew when we went up front to sing, and someone from the congregation sitting nearby must have picked it up and taken the pictures for me.

This Korean Christian sister or brother must have known I would love to have those pictures, and indeed I do! It was a wonderful, surprising, unexpected gift.

One of the speakers used the phrase “some invisible hand” in Tuesday’s plenary session. He was telling a story from the life of the indigenous people of Canada–but as I heard him say that phrase my mind went off on a tangent and I thought of my unknown picture taker.

And I thought, is that how God works? How often does God show up unexpectedly in our lives? Sometimes very quietly. Sometimes invisibly, until suddenly you see the results of God’s handiwork.

— Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of News Services for the Church of the Brethren


“I’m overwhelmed by your presence here tonight,” said pastor Samhwan Kim, moderator of the Korea Host Committee for the WCC Assembly and pastor of Myungsung Presbyterian Church. He was speaking to ecumenical guests from around the world who helped fill his sanctuary Saturday evening in Seoul.

Overwhelmed and overwhelming. Exactly right to describe the weekend. Hundreds of WCC participants went on a two-day “Pilgrimage of Peace” organized by the Korea Host Committee and hosted by Korean Christians and their congregations.

Overwhelmed…by the gifts we received from the Korean churches, starting off with a warm pullover emblazoned with the WCC logo to make the high speed train trip from Busan to Seoul more comfortable.

Overwhelmed…by the bus trip to the observatory on Mt. Dora on the edge of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) where we prayed for peace under the auspices and eyes of the South Korean military, while looking over into North Korea.

Overwhelmed…by the sumptuous banquet provided by Pastor Kim’s church that night, and subsequent delicious meals to which other Korean hosts treated us.

Overwhelmed…by the Korean cultural program in Myungsung’s beautiful cathedral. The fan dance and jindo drum dance performed by the National Dance Company of Korea. A performance of traditional Korean story set to music by master singer Sooksun Ahn. The overture to a Verdi opera played by the KBS Symphony Orchestra directed by Seunghan Choi. Opera singers tenor Yoonseok Hahn and soprano Youngmi Kim and an octet performing “A Longing for Mt. Kumgang” among other Korean favorites. A dramatic rendition of the history of Christianity in Korea. The Myungsung combined church choir of 800 voices singing a hymn written by Pastor Kim. The Hallelujah Chorus bursting out at the end of the evening.

Overwhelmed…by the warm welcome from another large Presbyterian church some 40 kilometers away, who put up a busload of us at a hotel for the night and then welcomed us into worship this morning.

Overwhelmed…by the love shared at the Ansan Jeil Church. Senior pastor, reverend Ko Hoon, has over his decades there grown the congregation from a small church to a congregation of about 20,000 members, with some 10,000 people worshiping in 7 services each Sunday.

Overwhelmed…by the gift of hand made soap from the Ansan Jeil Church’s ministry which employs people living with disabilities.

Overwhelmed…by the amount of work and resources put into the WCC Assembly by the Korea Christians. The ecumenical officer of the Presbyterian Church in Korea, who accompanied our bus group, and who has personally worked on this event for more than a year, shared these numbers: 24 people in the Korean Host Committee, 300 Korean Christian volunteers working to support the assembly, 30 denominational staff are attending the whole of the WCC Assembly from the three main denominations in the host committee and the Korean National Council of Churches, with several other denominational staff attending two or three days each in order to get a taste of the event.

Overwhelmed…by the requests for prayer. “We need your prayers for the peace of the Korean Peninsula,” said the PCK ecumenical officer. The weekend Pilgrimage of Peace made it clear that Korean Christians deal continually with the political and military division of the Korean peninsula.

Overwhelmed…by the stories other Christians are sharing from the many places around the world where persecution, violence, terrorism, war, and other dangers threaten.

God of life, lead us to justice and peace.

–Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford is director of News Services for the Church of the Brethren

Weekend in Seoul

I leave early tomorrow morning for Seoul, one of hundreds of participants in the WCC Assembly who will be speeding up to the capital city of South Korea on a bullet train for a visit to the DMZ, the Peace Park, and on Sunday morning to Korean congregations from a variety of Christian traditions. It should be an exciting weekend!

The invitation brochure from the Presbyterian Church in Korea advises participants that the ministers among us may be invited to preach, so be prepared.

As an ordained minister, I wonder if I will be asked. Would a Korean congregation want to hear from a Church of the Brethren woman? And there will be many more senior ministers there, not to mention bishops and archbishops. So I expect not.

However, just in case I am mentally framing a little something I could say using a text from Philippians that has become my scriptural touchstone during this ecumenical experience. The questions I’d love to discuss with Korean Christians and indeed with Christians from every nation, stem from this verse in 1:27.

What could happen in our world if American Christians and Korean Christians, not to mention Christians in other countries, would stand firm together in the Spirit?

In what new ways would our suffering world be comforted and cared for, if Christians across all national boundaries strove side by side?

How could we attain one mind, the mind of Christ, despite our many differences in the worldwide church?

And where does the faith of the gospel lead us in this 21st century?

–Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford is attending the WCC 10th Assembly as director of News Services for the Church of the Brethren

The DobiDos DB-1000

Under the category of “intercultural opportunities I haven’t taken advantage of…yet”: hot spicy kimchi, the popular Korean dish of pickled garlicky vegetables, usually cabbage. And the DobiDos DB-1000.

My nobler self wants to connect with a culture that is new to me, while I am here in the Republic of Korea for the World Council of Churches Assembly. I find, however, that sometimes my desire for openness has been overwhelmed by caution.

I haven’t yet tasted spicy kimchi, even though it has been served as a side dish with several meals. I think my fear is a result of hearing people describe it as “an acquired taste.” This is completely irrational, because all of the Korean dishes I have eaten here have been delicious, without exception.

Am I depriving myself of something I would really enjoy?

In the same vein, at lunch the other day with the Brethren group, Samuel Dali from EYN endured ribbing for refusing to taste the octopus. Fortunately I wasn’t on the end of the table that was served the dish with fish in it because I don’t do octopus either. I successfully avoided eating octopus throughout a college semester abroad in Greece, and am not ready to give up my anti-octopus stance. No offense to octopi, of course.

On the other end of things, so to speak, I am afraid of the toilet in my hotel bathroom–the DobiDos DB-1000. I had heard mechanized toilets are popular in Asia but I’ve never seen one before. One gathers it fulfills all hygiene functions up to, and maybe including, scrubbing your back for you.

It has a console full of buttons and dials. They are all identified in Korean. Four of the largest buttons feature icons intended to help out international guests like me, but I can’t figure them out. One looks like waves. Another looks like a fountain–I’m not planning to push that one because I don’t really want a fountain erupting in the middle of my bathroom. The most mysterious looks like a man rising out of the sea. If the toilet ever does erupt I plan to push the one that looks like a stop button.

Fortunately I found the simple flush lever hidden behind the console, which was a relief.

My husband routinely pushes every button and pulls every lever when he encounters a new gadget, and he would have figured out the toilet in five minutes. So I ought to be able to.

After all I’ve been spending my days doing much more difficult things, like getting to know Christians from many different countries, communicating past language barriers with others who share a common commitment to building relationships, witnessing the ecumenical family trying to figure out how the churches can address hard issues that affect the whole world.

I have resolved to push one button–maybe on my last day here so if I flood the bathroom I won’t have to feel embarrassed in front of the hotel staff for long. And I will take a small taste of hot kimchi too. After all, I might really like it.

Octopus will have to wait.

–Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of News Services for the Church of the Brethren

It feels like Philippians

Today the World Council of Churches 10th Assembly felt a lot like Philippians. I’ve been joining in the challenge from Annual Conference moderator Nancy Sollenberger Heishman to study Philippians before the Church of the Brethren’s next Conference.

I confess I haven’t gotten to memorizing the letter yet, I always have the excuse that I’m too busy–which of course is no excuse at all! But today during worship, as the benediction was given, I found Philippians running through my head.

A colleague at work has asked me to explain why it is important for a Brethren delegation to be at the WCC meeting, she wanted to pass it along to folks who question the value of ecumenical involvements.

Here’s an answer, straight out of scripture:

“Only live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel…. Make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Philippians 1:27 and 2:2).

This morning during opening worship I found myself beside Linda, a young woman from Kenya, who is a delegate from the Anglican church in her country. For both of us, it is our first experience of a WCC Assembly, and we both confessed to nervousness as well as excitement.

Yesterday in the bus to our hotel, I found myself beside a woman from the United Church of Canada, who serves as a staff member of her denomination as I do for mine. We had some time to talk about our work.

In the afternoon business session, I found myself beside a Korean woman who is a guest at the Assembly from a local church congregation in central Busan. She spoke little English but we managed to help each other out nevertheless. I helped her find translation equipment, and she repaid the favor with a fresh tangerine and a cookie out of her bag of snacks.

At lunch today I found myself beside Jan Thompson, a member of our Brethren delegation. We found a quiet table in the exhibit hall (quiet being relative in an assembly of some 5,000 people all speaking different languages) and had a chance to share our experiences of the morning and compare notes.

At the end of the evening business, I found myself beside an eastern European woman, who is also writing about the assembly for one of her church’s publications. Her husband is a delegate, and I had a chance to meet him as well. She shared some friendly frustration at the need to listen to reports that were given verbally as well as handed out on paper, and I nodded in complete understanding. I had been frustrated at that too.

How can we Christians stand firm, and strive side by side, if we don’t make the effort to get out and meet and talk with each other and get to know each other? It is only by getting together–whether in our congregation, or our district, or our Annual Conference, or even a huge ecumenical meeting–that we can work on being in full accord, having the same mind, having the same love.

Being the body of Christ.

–Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

Sleepless in Seoul

It is very quiet in Seoul’s Incheon Airport at 2 in the morning. I know because I have been laying awake, listening to the quiet while trying to persuade a body that is still in central time US that I desperately need sleep after the long flight over the Pacific.

The thing my body and mind both are having a hard time with is the math of this time shift. By flying so far west, I have gained a day. I flew out of Chicago Sunday morning at about 7, and arrived here in Seoul, Republic of South Korea, on Monday at about 3 in the afternoon. This means a trip that took some 17 hours, with less than an hour on the ground in San Francisco between one plane and the next, has put me some 14 hours ahead of myself, so to speak.

Incheon has a transit hotel within the airport, especially for travelers who have a long enough layover between flights to book a room for 12 hours and get some sleep. Our next flight to Busan, the city on the south coast where the World Council of Churches Assembly will be held, doesn’t leave until 7:20 a.m.

When they said the hotel was in the airport they really meant it: my small room has a window overlooking a large arrival hall where passengers check in and go through security. Right now the only person out there is an early arrival from the cleaning crew. Or maybe she’s working late–time being relative at the moment.

Yesterday’s 11-plus hour flight from San Francisco to Seoul was long enough for the inflight entertainment to run three full length movies plus a concert movie and a couple of TV shows. However most of the people who packed the 747 jet liner seemed more interested in sleep.

In between attempts at sleep I did have an opportunity to talk with some of the people seated near me. The woman across the aisle was immediately friendly and smiled at me when I found my seat, asking where I was from. She spoke great English with a strong Korean accent, and was reading a book in English titled “Following Christ.” I hoped she might be going to the WCC Assembly too, but she quickly explained that a Mormon friend had lent her the book, and she repeated several times that she was interested in the Mormon faith. After the long flight as we were filing out of the plane, she wished me well in Busan with another of her wide smiles.

The men sitting on the other side of me were part of a group of 23 Korean businesspeople who had spent eight days in the United States. From their description, it sounded like a business trip mixed in with a lot of sightseeing. In those eight days they had managed to go to Niagara Falls, Las Vegas, San Francisco, and even got in two days at the Grand Canyon after the government shut down ended and the national parks reopened.

I had been studying materials for the WCC Assembly, and Timmy (I couldn’t pronounce his name so he fell back on his nickname) asked about the conference. I explained a bit about the World Council of Churches, how many people are expected, what church I come from. He borrowed one of the print outs of a PowerPoint on the WCC Assembly that I had been looking at, and read it intently. His friend sitting next to him immediately looked up the WCC on the web, using his smart phone.

Then Timmy told me that he also is a Christian. He is an elder in a church in a city some ways north of Busan. He and his friend both seemed excited that many Christians from many different countries around the world are coming to their country.

That’s about all I learned about my seat mates. My knowledge of Korean is nonexistent, and though one of them spoke a lot of English, when we hit a word or phrase that we couldn’t push over the language barrier the conversation would lapse. And everyone would go back to the more important business of trying to get some sleep.

The friendliness and welcome I have already received from South Koreans encourages me–even in the middle of a sleepless night.

A personal connection

My 11-year-old son is a Pokemon fan, and by extension a fan of all things Japanese–which sometimes gets confused with all things Asian. When I told him I’d be traveling to the World Council of Churches (WCC) 10th Assembly, taking place in the city of Busan in the Republic of South Korea, he asked me to bring back “some cool Pokemon things” for him–not realizing how different the countries of Asia are from each other and Pokemon may not be a thing in South Korea at all.

I tried to give him, so far as I know it, a brief history of the Korean Peninsula. I mentioned the Korean War and the fact that his grandfather, my dad, had been a conscientious objector during that era of the military draft. The church called my father to Nigeria to do his alternative service as a 1-W. He liked Nigeria so much that he ended going back as a mission worker, and spent years and years there. He took my mom back to Nigeria with him, and so my brother and I were born and raised in Nigeria.

Then it hit me: the Korean peninsula is an important place for me and my family. The unexpected turn in my father’s life that took him to Nigeria actually originated in Korea–although his faithful response to the evils of war and his determination to stick to his convictions for peace had a lot to do with where our family ended up.

I have never been to Korea, or even to Asia before. On this trip I will check it off my bucket list of continents (Australia alone remains). I had been thinking of this assembly as primarily an ecumenical event and the opportunity to be in South Korea as a bonus to the experience.

Now I realize I need to pay more attention. Korea is important to me. It has been instrumental in shaping who I am as a person of Christian faith and pacifist convictions.

Could this translate, I wonder, from the micro or personal level to the macro–worldwide church–level? Perhaps after this 10th assembly of the worldwide Christian movement, the Korean peninsula will have become instrumental in directing the church in new ways as a community of conviction and faith. We need to pay attention!

As I make my way to the World Council of Churches Assembly, I pray the prayer that the WCC has provided participants to use in preparation:

A prayer on the way

On the way to Busan, may we humbly walk with you, God of life.
On the way to Busan, guide us as we gather, pray, and deliberate as disciples of Christ.
On the way to Busan, lead us in the way of justice, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.