Thursday, October 21, 2010

Moderator joins Archbishop of Canterbury at 40th anniversary of CNI.

Robert Alley, moderator of the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference, joined the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and other Christian leaders to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Church of North India.

CNI was formed on Nov. 29, 1970, by six Protestant denominations including the Church of the Brethren. The 1970 ceremony included Shantilal Bhagat, Loren Bowman, Joel Thompson, and Howard Royer, along with a number of mission workers representing the Church of the Brethren in the US, and Bishop Ishwarlal L. Christachari of the Indian Brethren was named as one of the original bishops of CNI serving in Gujarat Diocese.

The three-hour thanksgiving service for the 40th anniversary took place Oct. 14 in Nagpur, central India, and was attended by two dozen CNI bishops and over 5,000 church members. The service began with a long procession through the streets of Nagpur, lined with students from St. Ursula’s girl school, to the All Saints Church where a large tent was erected to host the celebration.

The moderator of CNI, Bishop Purely Lyngdoh, rededicated a hexagonal unity monument erected to commemorate the union, with the name of a founding member on each side. Alley and Williams then released balloons and pigeons in celebration.

The Annual Conference moderator was accorded a high level of respect, Alley said during his report on the event to the Church of the Brethren’s Mission and Ministry Board. Leaders of the six founding partners of CNI were seated at the head table at the 40th anniversary celebration, along with the Archbishop of Canterbury as head of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. Alley was invited to join in serving communion along with the Archbishop and other leaders. "It was an honor to the Church of the Brethren," Alley told the board.

The Archbishop delivered the main address for the anniversary celebration. "In St John's Gospel," Williams began, "Jesus gives us a very simple account of what unity means for his followers. There is one flock because the sheep all recognize one voice--the voice of the Good Shepherd. So if there is not one flock, we must assume that the sheep are not listening to the same voice--that they are in part listening, as Jesus says earlier in the same passage, to the voices of strangers. When the Church of God begins to come together, it is a sign that we have stopped listening to strangers."

Williams went on to observe that "as we stop listening to one another, we stop listening to Christ. And whether this happens in the name of nationality or tradition or pride of achievement or purity of teaching, the effect is the same tragedy."

"While we celebrate our common unity that is expressed in our common worship and in our common mission towards working among the marginalized and dispossessed, we also recognize that being a united and uniting church implies that we continue to name the sin of disunity among us even today," stated CNI General Secretary Alwan Masih, reading out a unity declaration.

The most memorable moment during the service was the lighting of candles by Alley, Williams, and Lyngdoh, symbolizing the rededication of CNI to its uniting mission. With lighted candles in their hands, bishops, clergy, laity, and delegates of the church repeated a pledge of rededication to unity.

CNI is the dominant Protestant denomination in northern India with about 1.3 million members and 3,500 congregations in 27 dioceses. Its headquarters are in New Delhi. The six founding members are the Council of Baptist Churches in Northern India, the Church of the Brethren, the Disciples of Christ, the Church of India (Anglican, formerly known as the Church of India, Pakistan, Burma and Ceylon), the Methodist Church (British and Australasian Conferences), and the United Church of Northern India.

Leading up to the anniversary, Alley and Jay Wittmeyer, executive director of Global Mission Partnerships for the Church of the Brethren, participated in numerous events in CNI communities with a Brethren heritage. This included addressing faculty and students of the United School of Theology in Ahmedabad, speaking at a youth conference, breaking ground for a new school, and helping ordain pastors in Aywa. During their Oct. 6-16 trip, Alley and Wittmeyer also met with the India Brethren in Ankleshwar and the Rural Service Center.

Annual Conference has stressed the value of maintaining relationship with both CNI and the India Brethren, Alley reminded the board during his report. "The mission of Christ both informs us and far exceeds the boundaries of our distinctions," Alley said as he shared conclusions from the trip. One conclusion is that what is happening in both CNI and the India Brethren congregations is like the theme he has chosen for Annual Conference next year, he said: "Gifted and extending the table."

-- Jay Wittmeyer, executive director of Global Mission Partnerships, contributed to this report.

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