Trust the Disciples to put up a succinct yet pithy summary of World Convention that takes us onto the next step – preparing for the “Great Communion.’ See their site here. You will also find a link to a slide show of convention highlights there. My own pictures are on Flickr, albeit with restricted access. Contact me if you want in.
This short post is for the benefit of those who are concerned that I’m still holed up in an airport somewhere. I am home and running to catch up with all sorts of things. Will get back to blogging ASAP.
Arrived at LA airport about noon. The plane for Changi leaves in 13 hours so plenty of time to cool my heels – reading, blogging, waiting to check my bag in. A deaf bloke circulates the tables selling pens and little stars & stripes badges. I buy one of each. Shortly after the PA system begins blaring announcements warning passengers they are not obliged to give money to “solicitors.” I’ve been a soft touch all the time I’ve been here – apparently over generous when tipping and falling into conversation with “solicitors” and inevitably slipping the odd buck here and there. I am really surprised at the low rate of pay here. Service people and even “solicitors” go out of their way to be friendly and polite. Should not enterprise in hard times be rewarded, or am I exacerbating “the problem?” This is one cultural reality I think I would find difficult to get used to if living here longer.
A number of delegates to the convention were impressed when I said that I was present largely through the largesse of my home congregation at Wembley Downs. So this would be a good spot to say thanks to folk like John & Margaret Somerville and Ken Patterson and my church board and elders who prodded me when I was humming and harring as to whether I would attend this gathering. It seems that congregations that are alive to the passion and vision of the Stone-Campbell heritage, while enthusiastic in a local or regional setting, are straining to catch the global vision. Many jurisdictions are experiencing the anxiety of restructure and are thus internally focused. It will always be incumbent upon a few, across all three streams, to be a kind of “global Jiminy Cricket” – voices to keep reminding us that we need to remember where we came from in order to know where we are going. So my thanks to Wembley Downs for their largeness of vision and the will to put strength (and their minister) behind it.
By the way, Jenny tells me a lot of folk have been reading this blog and discussing it. How about bringing the conversation on line and using the “comments” box at the end of each entry. You can sign anonymous!
World Convention is an odd animal – difficult to categorise. One passport screener asked whether I was here for business or pleasure. Those who know me well know that I rarely give black & white answers – it’s just not in my make up. I said I’m here for a convention. He said “Oh, business.” But I suspected business had certain conditions on my type of visa – so I said “No! We have no business sessions planned!”
“Oh, then pleasure?”
“Not primarily, it’s a church convention and we come together from all over the world to network and learn from each other. That’s what a convention is.”
The screener just shrugged his shoulders and let me through.
But that’s it – coming together from all over the globe and learning from each other and our experiences and work as part of the Stone-Campbell movement.
Inevitably and importantly, the host country wields great influence on the agenda. As part of the home of the movement that gave birth to Churches of Christ in its various manifestations, Nashville was a great choice. Both Campbell and Stone were present here, and a lot of the history and zeitgeist of their passion is here, reflected not only in the presence of Lipscomb University and the elegant quarters of the Historical Society of Disciples of Christ, but the prolific presence of churches in this “buckle of the bible belt.” The frontier urgency seems prevalent too, in the downtown street scenes where, bars, music and gospel seem to jostle quite comfortably and un-selfconsciously alongside each other.
The effects of the 100 year split are felt very keenly with lamentation by some, but also indifference by others. The passionate diligence of those for whom healing the split is of paramount importance, however, will, I feel, eventually win the day.
For visitors to the US, the emphasis on reconciliation was an education.The issues that separate don’t loom as large elsewhere. US members seem surprised that the Australian scene does not differentiate over much between Disciples and Independent distinctives.
Some felt that the emphasis on healing US divisions, the launching of the Great Communion, etc might have been overstated in an international gathering where there are other concerns – difficulties in several African nations and the Indian sub-continent and South America, indeed the presence of guests from poorer countries where there are differently urgent and important matters to discuss. There were forums and plenary occasions where all received their due, however.
Body of Christ theology tells me that whenever one part is in pain and needs healing – we all send our antibodies in to do the therapeutic work. The significance of the American roots of our movement is so important that if it fails to be strong we all suffer. The hospitality, candid honesty and will to heal exhibited by our host country modelled well what the church can be in any corner of the globe.
Anyhow, that’s my reflection as I sit here in LA waiting for the long plane ride home.
At last a hot spot at Nashville Airport where the homeland security guard is so friendly he says “Pass right on through, Dennis!” It’s still a few hours before my flight to LA, so I’ll just upload my journal re the journey through Campbell stamping grounds –
Travelling east through the plains of Ohio, we cross the river of the same name into the rolling hills of West Virginia, a north-south panhandle some 20 miles wide and maybe 100 miles long. This is Campbell country. My eyes had still been getting used to the deep green of the Kentucky and Ohio countryside we’d been crossing. Here the green is greener still as we catch a glimpse of the occasional deer (yes – the Bambi kind) skipping off through the heavily wooded mountain sides. The steep winding road takes us to our lodgings in Bethany, renamed from Buffaloe by Alexander Campbell when he applied to run a post office from there. By that stage his writings supporting the Restoration plea had become so prolific that incoming mail warranted its own facility. I was halfway through re-reading Louis Cochran, The Fool of God: a novel based on the life of Alexander Campbell (Standard, 1958).
It was an uncanny feeling of being able to recognise and feel familiar with the various rooms of his perfectly preserved home – a rambling mansion by the frontier standards of the early to mid 1800s. He added to it three times to accommodate his various enterprises, including 14 children to two successive wives, a school, a printing press, and a thriving farm (on which, for some time, he raised merino sheep). To sit in his place at the long dining room table at which he entertained often up to thirty guests, to gaze upon the ornate furnishings of the Stranger’s Hall where he received various luminaries of early American history, to poke around in the cellar where his first wife, Margaret (then with three small daughters), agreed to live so they could accommodate a boarding school), to look through the separate study he built 100 yards from the house, was to find oneself once again in a “thin place.” A tour of Bethany College, a large and imposing liberal arts university founded by Campbell, testified to the boundless energy and enterprise of this man for whom sound education and deep faith in Christ alone as expressed through a church uncomplicated by man-made creeds was the core of his being.
After overnighting in Cincinatti, we visited the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill. The Shakers were a sect to which some signatories of The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery later subscribed. A separatist community something like the Amish, they adhered to a particular millennial view that stated Christ had already come in their leader (a woman) and that their task now was to live out the heavenly simplicity of the perfection of the kingdom of heaven on earth. Consequently their work was their prayer, permitting no flaws . Such visions of perfection led to continuing improvement in agriculture, medicine, hygiene and household items (this is where the flat straw broom originated). Their expertise in such matters was much sought after. Caught in the crossfire of the American Civil war, the millennial vision evaporated and the Shaker communities began to dwindle. Workers were leaving farms for the factories in town. The Industrial Revolution with mass production facilities overtook them. Enforced celibacy did not improve their chances either. Today there are three remaining Shakers living in Maine. One remaining legacy is the a capella music that forms one genre of the Country and Western spectrum.
Otter Creek Church of Christ was one of a number of Nashville churches that graciously hosted World Convention visitors today. The church is an adherent of the a capella tradition, but for the last ten years has worked diligently in promoting healing of the divisions within the Stone-Campbell movement. One leader wryly observed that they were sometimes referred to as “Odder Creek” because of this and other positions. A number of us came to Otter Creek because of connections made on the Stone-Campbell tour earlier. We were warmly received and hosted at a luncheon that followed. I was able to share my congregation’s fondness for the platypus, a kind of “Australian otter” that defies easy description. Again, some pictures will be added as soon as I can find a hotspot that my wifi will connect with. Heading home tomorrow, so not sure how soon I can tune in here again.
Sound advice to young men leaving an African village to make their fortune abroad. Umbilical cords were interred in the ancestral burial grounds – a permanent reminder of roots, belonging and identity. The closing day of convention centred on the place where the metaphorical umbilical cord of adherents of the Stone-Campbell movement, indeed all Christians – is buried, the Lord’s Table. A moving but simple ceremony heralded the year of the Great Communion, leading up to the celebration on October 4th, 2009, of the bicentennial of Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address. Some pictures later of this and the preceding night’s Grand Ol’ Opry style celebration featuring Tommy Emmanuel.
Tonight, acceptance of the invitation from our churches in Brazil to hold the 2012 Convention there was accepted with acclamation. Under normal circumstances, Zimbabwe, the home of incoming president, B. J. Mpofu, would have been the country of choice, but the current situation makes this difficult. No doubt we will hear more of arrangements as they unfold.
Get ready for the Great Communion of 2009 – the Bicentennial of the document that is regarded by many as the foundation of the Restoration Movement (Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address. It is also the centennial of the split in the movement that became formal when the US Census of 1909 listed Churches of Christ and the Christian Church as separate denominations. The approaching bicentenary is providing an urgent incentive in dialogue between representatives of the three streams in the USA for next year’s celebrations. A visit today to the Historical Society of Disciples of Christ opened access to a rich resource for research and study.