CCS student Tif McNaughton, currently on a Reflection Year, was a steward at the recent assembly of the World Council of Churches in South Korea. In this article she reflects on that experience, and on taking part in a course on environmental, social, spiritual, and political issues related to land. Thank you, Tif, for inviting us into your learnings…
Have you ever wondered what people do on a reflection year? The possibilities are endless! I have chosen to take a reflection year to address two main topics: theology of mission, and care for creation. How do we engage in these topics locally and globally, and what does it mean for a Diaconal Ministry student?
These priorities were well nurtured this fall when I joined a course called Spirit of the Land with the Augustana faculty of the University of Alberta, and served as a Steward at the World Council of Churches Assembly in Busan, Republic of South Korea.
Spirit of the Land combines contemplation, community building, story sharing and analysis to equip students to engage in the world differently. Issues of the environment, reconciliation between settler and indigenous people, food security, spirituality and personal wellness are woven into a holistic community land ethic. Check out our website for recordings of classes and our conference, resources and student reflections.
Halfway through the semester, I left for 3 weeks in Busan. As one of the 130 Stewards invited to volunteer at the Assembly of the World Council of Churches, my accommodation and meals were paid for by the WCC. The Spiritual Development Fund of Camrose United Church generously supported my travel costs. Stewards enjoyed 10 days of ecumenical dialogue and community building as we prepared for our duties to follow at the Assembly. It was inspiring to meet youth from so many traditions all over the world who care so deeply for the ecumenical movement and community development.
Once the Assembly started I was on a team of four fellow Stewards and a dozen Korean volunteers providing personal assistance to members of the Ecumenical Disabilities Advocacy Network. It was wonderful to get to know the EDAN participants and Korean volunteers. I got to enjoy their talents, knowledge and brilliance over ice cream, while regrouping in our Madang hall space, or on our way to workshops and plenary sessions.
What have been the highlights of these learning opportunities so far?
– Scoring a free voice lesson from Andrew Donaldson ahead of a Wednesday night worship service, in which he convinced me to sing! (Reflection years. They change you). Click here to view this and other worship services, plenaries and events at the Assembly. Printed versions of the sermons are available on the WCC website, and the worship resource guide for the Assembly can be found here. (My favourite songs were #6 and #21).
– Having been invited to a whole new version of global community. Imagine hearing the Lord’s Prayer in literally dozens and dozens of languages all around you! Walking down the hall, and joining a drumming circle led by people raising awareness for their anti-oppression work with Dalit theology in cities and villages across India. Talking with students from the Pacific region about their experience of climate change, and explaining long underwear to someone who has never tried to wear them. Sitting around after dinner counting the Old Catholic traditions around the world (there’s a lot and they’re all very interesting!). It’s all gone just as quickly as it came, and all of a sudden you’re standing in church back home wondering why the songs sound so strange.
– Meeting people who not only readily identify the connections between our current economic system and the destruction of creation, but who also lament the shrinking of public space for those who cry out for alternatives. With an EDAN friend I attended the ‘Diakonia and Development in a Changing World’ sessions, and found fruitful discussion of these topics there, as well as in the plenary sessions. Explore the WCC’s website for more great resources around these topics and specific points therein such as water, migration, peace building, gender, climate change and human rights.
– Being enrolled in a course which emphasizes contemplative and dialogue-based approaches to learning has been fantastic. Going snowshoeing and felting wool for academic credit? Don’t mind if I do. Taking the time to explore parallel resources like workshops and conferences? Yes please. As Clayton Thomas-Mueller reminded us at the Parkland Institute conference last week, one is not motivated by science and numbers alone. (Maybe that’s good news in a Canadian political landscape where peer reviewed research is under attack? But I digress.) The more we intentionally connect with Creation and our brothers and sisters, the more we will understand and care that our choices are tied to the crises of our planet today.
– Gaining a better sense of our need for inclusion and reconciliation today; with the earth, with all people who are excluded and oppressed by the Church, our governments, or in everyday social interactions. Even within the WCC – and of course our own communities – there’s a lot of work to be done. Father Michael Lapsley’s sermon beautifully summed it up during the WCC’s closing worship. A recent TRC supporter training session in Edmonton equipped participants to share the work of the TRC in our own towns and invite all people into the conversation of community and land ethics in a post-residential school Canada. My fellow steward Kay’s blog details her experience at the Assembly as a volunteer with the Brethren Mennonite council for LGBT Interests. There is no shortage of directions to go with this.
The prayer of the Assembly was “God of life, lead us to justice and peace.” To have gathered and prayed this together was such a wonderful privilege! So is studying community land ethics with my friends in Camrose. But, just like voting or being Spiderman, privilege is accompanied by responsibility. As the first 1/3 of my reflection year wraps up, I am asking: What do we celebrate? What do we mourn? Where is God in all of this? What now shall we do with all these resources, all these memories?
And as every CCS student knows, that’s where the learning really gets interesting.