Grace and peace to each of you. It’s a pleasure to be part of this lovely event and to share some thoughts with you. Let me thank the organizers Rev. Japhet and Josie.
This conference takes place four days after IECA buried one of its members – Mr. Silva Zeca, from Lobito. He was a very committed person to the noble cause of mending the world.
I must admit that I was a bit intimidated when the invitation was extended, realizing that I am relative newcomer to the theologian’s world while many of you have been doing good things in this world for much longer. Then I found out that my General Secretary of IECA, Rev. André Cangovi Eurico, would be one of the speakers, and I was doubly intimidated.
But I overcame my fears when I realized that this is an online conference. So, if my remarks are terrible and disappointing, you won’t have to go to the trouble of running me out of this virtual room! You can just turn off your volume. And, if by good fortune my remarks are timely and useful, I can leave with no fear of having to live up to a good reputation! So, all things considered, thank you for your kind invitation to speak today.
Since, I have twenty minutes for my presentation, allow me make good use of this time.
In the past, significant political and environmental crises have changed the world in fundamental ways. The great pandemics that devastated the land brought great advances in science and medicine. The great social upheavals were an opportunity to reprogram our world and also bring about better systems of cooperation, accountability and governance. The world changed, reformed, and became better. In recognizing the good has come out of previous catastrophes and pandemics, I believe that this current crisis is a major opportunity for healing and transformation of the church, which can enhance its power to act as God's agent of healing and transformation in the world.
If the Church, in Angola and worldwide, continues to be as it was before COVID-19, then the experience was worthless and the world will be less prepared and more fragile for future events of a local or international dimension. This conference, today, can be a reminder that “we believe that God calls the Church to do justice and love kindness, to show courage in the face of evil, to seek reformation for itself and society, to share God's liberating and empowering work, to trust in God”2 (Micah 6:8).
Why do we need to mend the world?
- The world is too dangerous from an environmental point of view: pollution; global warming; unprecedented and never before seen environmental disasters;
- The world is too dangerous from a social point of view: crime; political instability; fragility of states; racial and ethnic discrimination etc.;
- The world is too dangerous from an economic point of view: increasing inequality both within countries and between countries – in both ways the gap between the rich and poor grows wider and wider;
- The world is too dangerous from a political point of view: failed states with development models that further accentuate social inequalities; global governance crises; total disillusionment and lack of confidence in the global and local governance systems; desertion by nations of their commitments to universally accepted pacts;
- Even the Church has become an end in itself – a Church increasingly focused on itself for its own maintenance:
- The Church has lost its role in influencing society. I see a Church that is often held hostage by political and economic forces and has become less prophetic;
- I see that the functional structure of the Church is too rigid, heavy and vertical; a copy of failed organizational models in the world, with exaggerated emphasis on power and less on being in the service of God;
- I see a Church weakened by internal conflicts, sin and idleness, with different priorities than "Missio Dei".
- The Church must continue to be a fluid movement that uses the strength of the members instead of the strength of the government approved and controlled institutions;
How should the Church contribute to mending the world?
1. Renewing itself spiritually: A Christianity of appearances, a Sunday committed to the sin of self-righteousness, must be abandoned. Avoid at all costs falling into the deaf and blind situation described by Isaiah 65:1: “I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask, to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, “Here I am, here I am,” to a nation that did not call on my name.” We, those who consider ourselves to be in the Light, must seek God and invoke his name in Spirit and in truth.
2. Increase its spiritual and social relevance: We need a Church that grows fully. A Church that is not afraid to be a Church. The Church increases its Social relevance by breaking the Silence on difficult issues. By greater engagement and contribution to issues of Climate Management, Governance, Social Inequality, Racial Justice. We must be a Church that Promotes Dialogues of Hope.
3. Be more itinerant than sedentary as a Church: We must meet the challenge of moving the pulpit out into the community. And we must be present with both church and community at the same time so as not to leave “Jerusalem unguarded”. There is a need to make more adequate the Church's training and research centers (Theological Seminaries or Biblical Institutes) in the formation of post COVID-19 Church leaders.
4. Creating a more effective structure: We must be a more agile church with a less rigid structure than that of today, which is more suitable for those who sit on a sanctuary seat on a Sunday. We must be a church that goes out to the people and not the other way around. A church that recognizes that leaders have less and less answers to the complex environment in which they live. A church that needs the insights and contribution of everyone.
5. A more proactive and less reactive Church: We need the ability to renew, adapt, change quickly and succeed in an environment of rapid, ambiguous and turbulent changes. We need to move from an old church with outdated methods of operation, an old church that fails to renew its leadership by bringing younger age groups into its midst, groups who speak better to their peers, an old church which does not bring a contextualized message of renewal and hope, or has aged because it is worn out with endless internal conflicts. We need to Create Scenarios. (Most likely and the worst-case scenario - constantly asking the question: what is the worst that could happen in the Church or in the world and what are we going to do to avoid it, or to mitigate its effects?)
We have to mend the Church before mending the world. Mending the world needs the early church practices of deep introspection, and a spirit of sacrifice and humility.
There is a need to return to the essence of what it means to be a Church. We need to review the architecture of the current church, make it more horizontal, less institutional and more fluid in movement. The Church must stop doing the same thing and expecting different results. We have to experiment with more dynamic models that are appropriate to the current context. Deconstruct what is wrong. The fact that it is legal or in the statutes of the Church does not mean that it is good and great for the kingdom of God. I do not recommend asceticism, monastic life or any other excesses committed in the past, but to be a Christian or leader of a church has never been to be in comfort zones. It has always been a tight place, a tight way.
As a Church we need to be constant in our ethical and spiritual practice. We need to maintain the same voice and language of denunciation of social sin, alertness, empowerment, criticism, etc. It doesn't matter who the offender or thief is. A domestic thief (of our family, tribe, color or party) remains a thief.
Our schools of theology should be research centers that put the Church at the forefront, in developing new approaches that place it at the level of influence where it once was and so it can positively influence current global thinking. I think that theological education is one of the most important things for bringing about the changes we want to see!
My recent theological studies have been profoundly enlightening and empowering, and I long for that light to be shared far and wide. The work of mending the church and mending the world can seem an overwhelming task. We can be encouraged by the image of an American poet who wrote, ‘Humanity [is] like an enormous spider web .... If you touch it anywhere, you set the whole thing trembling [for good or bad] the same can be said for the whole of creation.' Finally, we can be strengthened and comforted by the scripture in Colossians chapter 1: Christ is present in and to all of life Coll 1:15"And in Christ all things hold together Coll 1: 17.
I thank you for your kind attention. And, I wish each of you Godspeed in your efforts to help hold up our half of the sky!