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Pacific Island churches begin the journey to a ‘new normal’

Can these lessons resonate worldwide?

by Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service

Courtesy of the Pacific Conference of Churches

LOUISVILLE — The Rev. Dr. Tevita Havea, moderator of the Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC), a PC(USA) global partner, says 2020 will mark a turning point for the Pacific Islands in how it understands everything from ecumenism, ecology and politics to development.

In a letter to PCC churches, she encourages leaders to look at lessons learned from the past to create a “new normal.” While her words are aimed at Christians in the Pacific Islands, her words could resonate in any region of the world.

“The impact of the coronavirus, while deeply tragic on the one hand, offers us a unique opportunity to envision life anew. Never before is our world so blessed with creativity and ingenuity, yet so vexed by our foolishness in believing that there are no limits to our powers and to what we can do. The coronavirus or COVID-19, in a most striking and startling way, revealed this folly. It lays bare and shatters the poignant illusion of this ‘normal’ and its ‘inevitability’ that the world, and we in the region, have taken for granted.”

Ecumenism

As our forebears read the stars, she said, it is now time for current church leaders to create a future vision of a new normal, conditioned by experiences, cultures, traditions and worldviews. The endeavor began at gatherings in 2016-2017 by the Papua New Guinea Council of Churches, a member of the World Council of Churches, enabling the emergence of a shift of understanding ecumenism from “unity of the body of Christ” to the “Household of God.”

Ecology

In talking about the need to conserve and sustain the natural environment, Havea quoted Rev. Leslie Boseto, who said, “As Christians we are obliged to be good stewards of God’s creations and today more than ever, we must make informed decisions about how to conserve and our children enjoy the cultural, social and economic treasures that have defined our people for a millennium.”

She also quoted Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Taisi Efi, another ecumenical elder from Samoa, who she believes described this concept of the “household” well.

“I am not an individual; I am an integral part of the cosmos. I share divinity with my ancestors, the land, the seas and the skies. I am not an individual, because I share a “tofi(inheritance) with my family, my village and my nation. I belong to my family and my family belongs to me. I belong to my village and my village belongs to me. I belong to my nation and my nation belongs to me.  This is the essence of my sense of belonging”.

Politics

Havea encouraged churches to come together on common political goals and to break the habit of listening only to like-minded people, learning instead to talk across artificial political boundaries to shared beliefs. She said political education at institutions of higher learning should ask students not what they expect from life, but rather, “What does life expect from you?” We must ask, “What does our political life expects from us?” rather than, “What do we expect from politics?” This is another reason why today’s leaders, according to Havea, need to write this aspect of story for the “new normal.”

Development

 Havea writes that it is possible to conceive of another way of measuring development and progress and it is imperative that both church and political institutions are united by common developmental goals and duties to each other.

 She writes, “It is evident that it is impossible to move forward without scripting this aspect of the story of the ‘new normal’ as we see, and anchoring it on our traditions, philosophies, cultures and faith traditions, and the wisdom therein. Unless we do this, development and its measures currently continue to favor the few and disadvantage the many among us, and the ‘normal’ that was will be the story of the ‘new normal.’ We as leaders — church, political and traditional — must script this aspect of our story together; it cannot be otherwise.”

Despite the enormous impacts of climate change, natural disasters and now coronavirus, Havea said church leaders must seize the opportunity to look at the world in a new way.

The Pacific Island region is a unique and culturally diverse region. More than 2,000 languages are spoken there, and, on an atlas, the islands look like tiny dots spread across the page.

Pacific Island nations are located in the Pacific Ocean, east of both Australia and the Philippines, as far west as Papua, New Guinea and as far east as Easter Island. The region is also referred to as Oceania — which also includes the Australian continent.


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