What The Council of Churches in East Asia (CCEA) Can Become: An Observation
By Bishop Edward Malecdan
CCEA holds an annual meeting of primates and bishops the Anglican Communion coming from the Philippines, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Myanmar (Burma) and Australia. Photo shows Bishop Malecdan and me in his office at Cathedral Heights, Quezon City, during my visit last February 2013 to the Philippines.
Prior to becoming a bishop, Malecdan was instructor of Church History at St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary. In this address, he challenges the CCEA to re-examine their priorities, “go beyond fellowship” and become more engaged in the life-and-death issues of our time. - Fred Vergara)
I was asked by Archbishop John Chew to share my Province’s view on the Anglican Communion’s Covenant Agreement in this meeting. I am very sorry that I have to digress from the given assignment which makes this presentation quite different from the other Covenant sharing. I apologize.
As we already know, the Council of Churches in East Asia is basically a “fellowship.” We are here at this time for the bishop’s meeting. We also come together triennially as Full Assembly with our spouses and 2 other representatives from our dioceses – one lay, one clergy. We bring our dioceses and provinces with us to our meetings wherever it is held and discuss and share our joys and sorrows in the ministry, and learn from the experiences of each one, especially with the host country or diocese. In brief and as what our Chairman said in his letter to us on September 28, 2010 we “mutually encourage and edify one another through our fellowship and various activities.”
We go home after our gathering re-invigorated, having strengthened old friendships and established new acquaintances. We are also refreshed with the one week “working vacation.” And we have been contented with this fellowship since the promulgation of CCEA’s Constitution on February 8, 1963 in Cathedral Heights, Quezon City in the Philippines. This is good for us and the churches we represent. We really do care for one another. But what I find lacking in our concern for one another is our hesitancy to consolidate and express our minds together in matters that destroy the fact that human beings are “created in the image of God” and other life and death issues.
Meanwhile, the Anglican Communion, seen in its instruments of unity such as the Lambeth Conference, The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting has, every now and then, made statements challenging various assaults upon people and communities that distort the “abundant life” promised to us by Jesus. The Primates’ meeting for instance confidently and without hesitancy, brought out a statement in 2002 addressing the violent killings in the Middle East and on HIV/AIDS, making clear its opposition to the wanton loss of life brought about by war and sickness and suggesting remedial measures that may help solve the problems. Archbishop Rowan Williams, in his few sermons and messages I have heard and read do not set aside the day to day events affecting human life. He shares his mind on these as he also honestly and intelligently addresses problems the Communion is facing today. Needless to point out that the ACC and the Lambeth Conference also do this from time to time and when occasion warrants. That is why I think there is an existing divide between what the CCEA is doing from what the Anglican Communion does through its through its authorized agents of unity. These are general statements but let me site two examples.
The CCEA’s Full Assembly was held in Seoul, South Korea in 2002. We heard at least three speakers, Dr. Choi Young Sil, Dr. Jong-Wha Park and if my memory serves me right there was also a woman theologian who addressed us. Their presentations emphasized the urgent need for reconciliation and re-unification of the two Koreas, North and South. We even visited the Panmunjum Truce Village where we saw how tense the place was and where soldiers of both countries, armed to the teeth, see one another eyeball to eyeball with tiger eyes and ready to pounce on the enemy. This experience should have put exclamation marks on the focused message of our resource persons – peaceful reunification of the two Koreas. In an open forum I suggested (supported by a few other delegates) that CCEA come up with a statement in support of the idea of reconciliation and re-unification brought forth by the speakers. Our voices were not heard and the opportunity to at least affirm that desire for reunification in South Korea, and be a voice to the voiceless was lost. However, a resolution on Human Sexuality was discussed which to me was not and is not life threatening for the churches. I may be wrong.
The second example happened in Lambeth 2008 but its background took place in South Africa. Before this Conference in 2008 I attended a meeting of the Inter Anglican Standing Commission on Mission and Evangelism (IASCOM) held in South Africa. On the Sunday of that week of our meeting, we were brought to a church to attend the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. That day, there were 2 dead persons in church and so 2 coffins were to be blessed for burial after the mass – on a Sunday. They died of AIDS. We joined the congregation in the burial service at the cemetery. This new cemetery replaced an old one which was already filled up. But this new one which is more than five hectares was already 2/3 full and occupied less than a year after it opened. Quite a number of people are dying every day. Most of the graves were very new and of various sizes, small and big, tall and short. In fact, while we were burying the two Anglicans, there were also other denominations burying their own dead. And while we were there, many other coffins were in queue at the cemetery gate for burial. All of those to be buried that day, died of AIDS, we were informed.
In Lambeth 2008 the bishops were divided into smaller groups called Indaba. At one time, my Indaba group came out with 5 issues for discussions. If you remember, there were many Indaba groups. My group was divided into 5 smaller groups and each member was made to select what issue he or she was interested in. One of the issues was HIV/ AIDS. I elected to be with this group so I signed in. But lo and behold, there was no one except me, not even my African colleagues. So I had to join another group. I was flabbergasted especially so because of my previous experience in South Africa which firmed up my belief that the HIV/AIDS pandemic should be a priority and therefore should seriously be considered because it has something to do with a death epidemic. That was not the case. And for me, it was a clear case of misplaced priority (not by Lambeth as a whole but my Indaba group) although I should have asked my group mates afterwards why the reluctance to deal with the problem. Probably, their provinces and dioceses are doing everything regarding the matter. Nevertheless, I wanted to know.
I think that one problem of CCEA is that member churches respond to social and political issues individually not in concert. The statements generated by these problems among us are a cacophony of so many voices whose priority is neither here nor there. Meanwhile, many people in our region are suffering from abject poverty, conflict and division, various forms of oppression and degradation that distorts and destroys life that should be lived to the fullest. Again, we say we are doing our part as provinces, dioceses and churches in addressing the problems– and we are contented with that.
I believe that CCEA will have to go beyond its being a fellowship of bishops so that its voice and actions TOGETHER will have more teeth as it were, and be heard with respect and dignity not only in the region but throughout the Anglican Communion and the world. I believe that CCEA can become more relevant and influential when it takes a definite stand on sensitive, tough and hot-button matters like world-wide social justice (or injustice) issues that divide rather than unite – issues that destroy life rather than preserve it. It is in the exercise of our prophetic ministry that the CCEA can make a dent in the transformation of society for the better. The experience would be a rebirth and a new beginning, just what Easter brings to all who believe in Christ’s Resurrection.