Wednesday, May 21, 2003
Pentecostal and WCC Theologians Dialogue on Lee Campus

Walking across the Lee University campus this week, one could hear several languages rising from the Centenary Room—Russian, Spanish, German, Korean, several African dialects, Dutch, Arabic, an Indian dialect, Greek, and various accents of English. It was not a new language class for the first summer session, but a meeting of the World Council of Churches—Pentecostal Joint Consultative Group.

Twenty theologians and church representatives from around the world have gathered at Lee University in order to continue a dialogue that began several years ago. In 1998 at the General Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Harare, Zimbabwe, this joint consultative group was commissioned to dialogue concerning doctrine and church life with Pentecostals who are not members of the WCC. Recognizing the growth of Pentecostalism worldwide, the WCC has sponsored three occasions for this group to meet in the past—in France, in Ecuador, and in Korea. This gathering at Lee is the fourth meeting for the group.

Over a year ago, Dr. Harold Hunter, a representative for the WCC--Pentecostal dialogue, contacted Dr. Terry Cross, Dean of the School of Religion at Lee University, with a proposal from the WCC group to meet at Lee University. Dr. Hunter, a Lee alumnus, explains, “Our motive in coming to Lee University, in the light of the outstanding leadership of Dr. Conn, Dr. Dirksen, and Dr. Cross, was that Lee was uniquely qualified to receive us. The decision on the part of the group to come to Lee was unanimous, and we have not been disappointed.”

For several days, participants from all over the world have arrived at Lee. In welcoming the group to the campus, Dr. Carolyn Dirksen, Vice President for Academic Affairs, suggested that Lee has been working towards developing a faculty and student body that is open to theological tolerance and dialogue. It is fitting, therefore, that this group is here to dialogue in an attempt to bring greater unity to the Church.

Each day the participants spend most of their time discussing theological issues related to unity—areas of convergence and divergence among them or their respective churches. They are working towards a final summary document that will be presented to the General Assembly of the WCC. It will be determined then whether these dialogues will continue.

Participants for various Pentecostal churches are as follows: The Rev. Miguel Alvarez, Honduras; the Rev. Dr. Harold Hunter, USA; the Rev. Dr. Veli-Matti Karkkainen, Finland; the Rev. Japie Lapoorta, South Africa; the Rev. Paulson Pulikottil, India; the Rev. Stephen Safwali, Zambia; and the Rev. Dr. Sam Hwan Kim, Seoul, Korea; and the Rev. Frederick Ware, USA.

Participants for the World Council of Churches representing various churches are: the Rev. Cecilia Castillo Nanjari, Chile/Brazil; Brother Grigori Dovgyuallo, Belarus; the Rev. Hector Osvaldo Petrecca, Argentina; the Rev. Bas Plaisier, The Netherlands; Nahed Fahim Habashy, Egypt; Dr. Despina Prassas, USA.

Serving as Co-Moderators for the Consultative Group are the Rev. Dr. Bruce W. Robbins (General Secretary of the United Methodist Church) and the Rev. Dr. Cecil (Mel) Robeck, Jr. (Fuller Theological Seminary). Assisting in all of the planning and details to make this meeting occur was Mr. Hubert van Beek from the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Switzerland.

Because there are several languages spoken by the participants, two interpreters have felt the burden of translating all of the spoken and written material for participants into the languages of Russian and Spanish. They are Katsyarina Pastukhora and Ivelisse Acosta.

Dr. Mel Robeck speaks about the pleasure of working with this diverse group: “It brings out the best in us, causes us to understand who we are, and challenges us to seriously consider what we believe and why we believe it. It forces us to be good listeners—and good learners—and calls us to reassess the positions we take. Through this interaction we experience a richer and fuller ministry as Pentecostals.”

“Lee University and the School of Religion are pleased to offer these participants a quiet setting for their important discussions during the week,” said Terry Cross. “We believe dialogue among the various churches in the world is critical in this century for the Body of Christ. I look forward to reading what they will have written here this week.”

Nahed Fahim Habashy of Egypt expresses her delight at the group’s experience so far: “We feel like we are at home. We did not expect it to be like this.” Dr. Despina Prassas agrees: “The environment adds to our dialogue. We have had a tremendous opportunity to relax and be comfortable.”

As this group continues its journey toward building unity among churches, their spirit and energy have resonated with Lee University’s own heart. The future of this diverse group and indeed the Church looks brighter because of their work here at Lee this week.

PHOTO1: Members of the World Council of Churches who participated this week in dialogues on the Lee University campus.

PHOTO2: Dr. Carolyn Dirksen, Lee University Vice President for Academic Affairs, welcomes the World Council of Churches – Pentecostal Joint Consultative Group to the campus.

Submitted by the Lee University Office of Public Information