THE LITURGIES: "ECUMENISM OF THE SPIRIT"
In the preparation for the programme of this meeting we had to move away from the academic formality which is usually present in WCC gatherings. The consultation began with the sharing of testimonies of conversion, healing etc. where we all felt moved by the Spirit in liturgies which touched upon the innermost strings of our being. It was really a feast in which the ecumenism of the Spirit was the main factor of unity and reconciliation.
The testimonies of the participants confronted us with the reality of suffering and poverty of Latin America. Representatives of churches from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, El Salvador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela told their experiences of sharing in the suffering of our peoples under the neoliberal economic policies imposed on the continent. We listened to heartbreaking stories which did not come from the books of economic analysis but from the life and pastoral work of each of those present.
Testimonies in the liturgy move the believers to come out of the "culture of silence" in which they have been confined by the rules and laws of the society which marginalize them, so that they become subjects of history in a group where they regain the power of the Word, where essential elements of their culture are recovered and where the universal priesthood of the believers is daily practiced through the welcoming of the diversity of ministries, the articulation of the religious discourse and the intense effort of evangelization of each believer. Through the liturgies a world of fellowship was created in the meeting, bringing to mind the words of the Argentinean Pentecostal Bishop Gabriel Vaccaro, who recently died: "our Pentecostal churches are charismatic and healing communities". It is true that in the Pentecostal communities a world of fellowship is created, of welcome, prayer, celebration, sharing and restoration, helping the believer to move away from the individualistic, competitive, almost savage atmosphere of the social environment to find answers to questions such as illness, death, unemployment and the disintegration of the family.
Besides, the whole liturgy is nurtured by this music, non-professional but which springs up from the heart and impacts the adoration of the believer filling him or her with a joy and a hope that transcends beyond the limits of the temple. In Lima we sang well, and a lot! This incarnation of Pentecostalism in the daily life and in the social and cultural roots of the people represents a significant contribution to the life and mission of the Church in Latin America.
It is obvious that the Pentecostal movements find a very special emphasis in worship and moments of adoration. As Carmelo Alvarez, who has thoroughly studied Pentecostalism has said: "the whole Pentecostal communitarian life is a worship life". The celebrative aspect is closely intertwined with the testimonial and participatory elements. There is also a strong missional element that is lived out and experienced in the worship, because one has to go and tell what has happened and bring other people to partake in the joy of salvation.
To speak about Pentecostalism means speaking about testimony as an expression of the faith as it was announced in the words of Elisabeth and Mary in the Gospel of Luke: "Who am I, that the mother of my Lord should visit me"; and "For the Mighty One has done great things for me, and Holy is his name". (Luke 1: 43, 49)
The dialogue was enriched by the participation of Elias Abramides, from the Orthodox Church in Argentina and of Pentecostal representatives from North America.
It was interesting to see how the prayers shared by Elias Abramides were so well received by the group as an expression of a spiritual dimension unknown to them, which exists in such a lively and existential form in the liturgies of the Orthodox Church. The two traditions met, through the mediation of prayer and the indescribable presence of the Spirit.
Ecumenism in Pentecostalism is full of this "ecumenism of the Spirit", where the concept of unity is a faithful image of the Unity of the Spirit which encompasses the entire creation of God, its stewardship and integrity, and emerges from the authentic experience of the Holy Spirit itself. According to Gamaliel Lugo, a Pentecostal leader from Venezuela, "the Holy Spirit is the integrated principle which inspires, moves and gives coherence to the entire evangelizing, prophetic and healing task of the Church".
The Latin American Pentecostals from the churches which are part of the process of unity of CEPLA and which participate actively in the Latin American Council of Churches affirm that the main contribution of the Pentecostal movement is to recall that nothing is more ecumenical than the Spirit. Hence their understanding that a task and a challenge to achieve Pentecostal unity is to broaden the circles of participation of Pentecostal churches in the "ecumenism of the Spirit".
We who come from the so-called historical or traditional churches must understand that this "ecumenism of the Spirit" demands from us that Pentecostals must be welcomed to the ecumenical movement as subjects of history, with their own issues, their symbols and communitarian liturgical expressions, with this lively experience of the Spirit in their daily life that is so alien to our traditional churches.
To affirm that "the Pentecostals are not ecumenical" does not help us to value the tremendous contribution they can offer to the ecumenical movement.
The consultation convened by the World Council of Churches in Lima, Peru, ended with a big celebration in a location belonging to the Assemblies of God. Brazilian Methodist Bishop Pablo Ayres gave the final message and we concluded the meeting united in a large circle, an experience that was later on recalled by a North American participant, Donald W. Dayton, with the following words, full of emotion:
"dancing in the aisles of the temple, embracing one another in an authentic ecumenism of the Spirit, remembering at the same time that chorus that we sang in Choseca, Peru: I cannot live without you, brother, sister, I cannot live without you. You are part of the Body of Christ, I cannot live without you".