Tuesday, 17 November 2015 [Victor Hulbert] A choir, flowing through the rear doors of the hall and towards the platform, was a highly unusual start to morning worship and the business of the Trans-European Division Annual Council meetings on Tuesday, 17 November. The beautiful rendition of ‘Live my Life for Love’ was even more remarkable in that a few days ago, the choir did not exist!
The diverse group of singers, led by Irene Hermansson from Sweden, was rapidly formed from representatives of the 22 countries that make up the TED. It was also a picture of diversity: male and female, Greek, Norwegian, Serbian, Dutch or British, all singing with purpose and harmony.
Diversity and harmony are big issues within Adventism. How do you even tackle them? Pastor Alastair Agbaje provided a solution during the worship period. He gave a warm-hearted presentation with ‘a personal touch’.
Alastair, who currently serves as Teens and Community Services director at the Trans-European Division (TED) and Chaplain at Newbold College, knows something about culture. A Trinidadian-Nigerian born in the UK, Alastair has also worked in Japan and Norway. It was the Japanese connection that not only brought humour, but also showed how different, equally valid cultural differences can either clash or enhance each other.
Calling two delegates to the front, he instructed them how to say, ‘hajimemashite’ (nice to meet you), along with the appropriate bow that is so much a part of Japanese culture. But what happens when one graciously bows while the other stretches out the hand for a western style hand-shake? Can unintended consequences lead to conflict? Equally can a growing understand of an alternative culture, a different point of view, lead to growth for both sides?
While he was focused towards the concept of Jesus’ compassion touching lives (Matt. 9:35), his words spoke toward the discussion of women in leadership that stretched over portions of two days within the Council. Various Unions within the TED territory have differing views on the role of women in church leadership. Some Unions have a diversity of opinion and practice even within their own territory. There are some local churches where women will not be found on the platform. In other areas and Unions women are to be found in significant positions of leadership. Since San Antonio, some women have found their role to be denigrated or even removed.
TED Union Presidents unitedly, regardless of practice in their own Union, wanted to send a strong message of support and affirmation to all women, whether in a local church leadership position, working as a Bible worker or pastor, or serving in an administrative capacity.
The result is a document, ‘Affirming Women in Church Leadership’, voted on Tuesday morning. While a practical rather than a theological document, the wording based around the framework of 1 Thessalonians 5:12-18, affirming recognition of those who ‘labour among you, and are over you in the Lord’, to ‘esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake’.
The full statement endorses the October 2015 Annual Council statement issued by the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church that was intended to give assurance to women, and in particular to ministers and elders, that the Church recognises that they are ‘called, gifted and committed to the service of the Church’. The affirmation is equally intended to discourage those who have chosen to negatively exploit the vote regarding the ordination of women taken in San Antonio in 2015. Following some painful stories from some female pastors and elders, all delegates were very insistent that there is no place in our church for abusive, hurtful or polarising actions within the Church.
The full statement, which can be downloaded here, states,
We celebrate the tapestry of people in our territory, whose customs, culture and understanding, though diverse, have been woven throughout the Bible and Christian history, towards an appreciation of God’s inclusive grace.
We acknowledge that God appoints women and men to minister according to their spiritual gifts and education. He does this to fulfil His mission to share the ‘Good News’ to every nation, kindred, tongue and people.
In the multi-cultural environment of Europe, there was also a plea: ‘Leaders of the Trans-European Division are committed to resolving differences through mutual respect, dialogue, thoughtful listening, heartfelt understanding, and submission to the guidance of the Holy Spirit who unites us‘.
Perhaps the impromptu choir sums it up best in what is rapidly becoming the TED theme song. For all of us, ‘Let me be that one light’. All of us delegates, male and female, whatever our background and culture, are committed to being the ‘spark to show us hope is near’. [tedNEWS]
tedNEWS Staff: Deana Stojković, editor
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