Consultation on Ecumenical Formation and Capacity Building for Young Dalit, Tribal/Adivasi Theologians

National Council of Churches in India – Dalit and Tribal/Adivasi Concerns
in Partnership with
EMW-Germany, Christian Service Agency and Leonard Theological College

Consultation on Ecumenical Formation and Capacity Building for
Young Dalit, Tribal/Adivasi Theologians
1-3 February 2018 | Mahatma Gandhi Hall, Leonard Theological College, Jabalpur

Ecumenism as mission of all churches involves building relationships, challenging the local styles of being church and leading to the sharing of resources by establishing solidarity and accepting the fact that every church is called by God to be a partner in mission, not be isolated. A clear theological self-understanding reflected on the concept of life and mission of the church must be proclaimed with bold options in support of the marginalized people around us. Ecumenism must motivate the church and society to develop a countervailing power in the midst of gloom and despair. Dialogue with people of other faiths and respect of the religious values of our neighbor should be our lifestyle. There is a need to bring an effective awareness among all the Christian communities across India to be united in bringing significant changeswith regards to addressing the evils of caste, creed, colour as well as socio-political, cultural and economic changes which our Indian society has been undergoing from ages and which has seen a rapid growth in the recent times. Therefore it is the need of the hour for the Indian churches and Christian institutions including the theological colleges to work together and work effectively on denominationalism and fundamentalism which can lead to or create differences among the Christian communities and societies.

In order to bridging gaps and helping the young dalit, tribal/ adivasi theologians to understand the gospel in totality, as a gospel that deals with humanity and all creation, helping people towards better life integrated with ecology, and which supports freedom, and stands for human rights and eco dignity,  NCCI-Dalit and Tribal/Adivasi Concerns in partnership with EMW Germany, Leonard Theological College, Jabalpur and Christian Service Agency organized  a three days Consultation on “Ecumenical Formation and Capacity Building for Young Dalit, Tribal/Adivasi Theologians” from 1st -3rd February 2018 at Mahatma Gandhi Assembly Hall, Leonard Theological College, Jabalpur. A total of 41 participants in which 30 Theological Students from twelve different theological colleges/seminaries from the Northern, Eastern and Central regions of India, affiliated to the Senate of Serampore Colleges and 11 Resource Persons participated in the consultation. The consultation started with a creative and participatory worship led by Mr. Pradip Bansrior, Executive Secretary-Dalit and Tribal Concerns-NCCI along with the team of theological students, the reflection was given by Mr. Jianthaolung Gonmei, Executive Secretary- Youth Concerns, NCCI and concluded with the benediction pronounced by Rev. Dr. Naveen Rao, Principal, Leonard Theological College. Following the inaugural worship, Mr. Pradip Bansrior welcomed the delegates and the resource persons and shared the purpose of the consultation and also extended his sincere thanks and gratitude to Rev. Anil Michael, Treasurer- LTC and the administrative body for hosting the consultation in the Leonard Theological College, Jabalpur.

The first session of the consultation was a lecture on Understanding “Ecumenism” – History and Work of Ecumenical Movements and NCCI delivered by Rev. Dr. Roger Gaikwad, General Secretary-NCCI. He spoke on ecumenical traditions and the history of ecumenism highlighting the various changes and paradigm shifts which the ecumenical organizations went through and the present endeavor and approaches in the contemporary times. He said that ecumenism needs to go beyond ecclesial and social relationships within and among churches, even beyond inter-religious relationships to inter-human relationships and integrity with all creation. The role of NCCI is that of advocating for  and facilitating an egalitarian and just community which can effectively contribute towards building a caring and loving Christian community which cares for every individual without any form of discrimination to anyone or anybody.  A challenge was given to all the theological students towards initiating this cause through their efforts and by bringing awareness about this in their respective colleges/seminaries and churches to which they belong.

Rev. Dr. Naveen Rao, Principal of Leonard Theological College presented a paper on Faith & Order, Theological Education, & Ecumenical Formation. He brought out necessary insights about “faith and order” commission and gave insights about the history and formation of the ecumenical and Christian unity and its motifs which are very much related to the theological education in the past and in the present times. Dr. Naveen Rao also highlighted attempts to interpret the Bible for our ministry and mission; there is a need for the unclothing of the Bible from its denominational and doctrinal coverings. There is a need of deconstruction of the denominational and doctrinal interpretations that have wrapped the Bible so much that it is difficult to reach to the Word of God as it is without negotiating with the denominational interpretations. The task of deconstruction demands a denial of the “status quo” that has come to be attached with the traditional ecclesial interpretation as the only interpretation suitable for the biblical faith.

Rev. Thomas John, Vicar of Marthoma Church, Jabalpur presented the paper of Rev. Dr. Ipe Joseph on “Diakonia, Prophetic Witness and Ecumenical Spirituality,” Rev. Thomas John, highlighted the prophetic role in the times of the Old Testament of how a prophet was called by God to live and was commissioned by God to proclaim the teachings of God to the  people and to create awareness about the good teachings given and expected by God from the people. He highlighted the situation which the subaltern communities in the country are facing and the importance of  bringing about new diaconal situations for cultivating indigenous ecumenical spirituality. He challenged the young theologians to utilize indigenous modes and measures to create an inclusive form of community. The session and the first day of the consultation concluded following a group discussion on building and making Church a more inclusive community and creating an awareness about the different issues which are ongoing in the society and in the community in India and also making Church a diakonial place,  a caring community which cares for everyone without any discrimination based on any individuals caste, creed, colour, gender and culture.

The second day of the consultation began with the morning worship led by the students of Leonard Theological College, followed by the Bible Study on “Biblical and Theological Foundations for Ecclesial Unity – Tribal/Adivasi Perspective,”  taken by Dr. Bendanglemla Longkumer, Faculty at Leonard Theological College. In the Bible Study, Dr. Bendanglemla emphasized various theological and biblical perspectives related to Ecclesial Unity ‘pertaining to tribals and adivasis, by highlighting the concepts of 1) Oneness in the shared life of Christ; 2) Unity founded on Christ’s love and bonded in peace; and 3) Unity with mutual belonging in the body of Christ.  This  succinct presentation was followed by a group discussion on Biblical passages where different forms of Ecumenical approaches could be discerned.

A panel presentation on “Dalits and Tribal/Adivasis: Struggle for Caste, Identity, Land, Forest, Water, Fundamental Rights, Gender Justice and Youth in the Cyber Age,” was thoroughly dealt by Rev. Dinesh Angolkar, Mr. Pradip Bansrior, Dr. Bendanglemla Longkumer and Mr. Jianthaolung Gonmei. The four panelists presented their papers and motivated young theologians to be actively involved in the campaign for the liberation of subaltern communities i.e. dalits, tribals, adivasis, women, children, youth. All panelists encouraged the young theologians to lead their churches towards the ministry of transformation, through reading the scriptures from Dalit, Tribal and Adivasi perspectives, and facilitate theological clarity in addressing the emerging socio-political, economic and cultural issues. After their presentations, questions were asked by the students and were responded by the presenters. The session was concluded by proposing the responsibilities of the Church and the Christian institutions in facilitating an alternative and an effective response in handling the contemporary situation of subaltern communities.

“Contemporary Issues in Ecumenism in relation to Migration, Human Trafficking, Human Sexuality and Gender Diversities” was addressed by Daniel Mendonca – Activist and Representative of Intersex Community. Daniel Mendonca shared some of the key aspects and findings regarding the issue of Migration and Trafficking which is growing on a large scale in the rural areas as well as in urban areas. The social evil in the form of human trafficking is also a modern-day slavery system that has been paralyzing the whole world because it is seen by many people as the source of generating money by selling human body parts and organs in the form of trade industry. In this session, Daniel Mendonca also dealt with the issue of Human Sexuality and Gender diversities related to different aspects of LGBTI community and people with different sex orientations and mental and physiological upbringing, calling upon the theological students to accepting them as children of God, Daniel also gave examples with the biblical accounts and references which talk about gender diversities and  various issues which are related to it. Daniel also stressed on the role played in providing  gender rights to  persons in need. The session was concluded after a time of questions and responses.

The final session of the second day on the Contemporary issues in Ecumenism in relation to Social Ethics, Inter-Religious Harmony, Peace, Climate Change and Ecological Justice was addressed by Mr. Kasta Dip, Director of India Peace Center. He emphasized and reflected on the Biblical text which talks more about various issues related to socio-ethical perspectives. He said that the challenge today is to reiterate and rejuvenate the Indian Constitution’s basic principles: equality, freedom of religion and tolerance, and to emphasize that equality has to be substantive, that freedom of religion has to be re-infused with its collectivist dimension, and that tolerance should be reflective of the realities of our society and lead to acceptance. He highlighted the various issues related to  inter-religious harmony and peace formation and ecological justice and the current situations of climate change with regards to global warming and the rise in Greenhouse gases which has a tremendous effect on the lives of the people from the margins by compelling them to migrate towards the urban areas and making their lives more miserable and more vulnerable to the approaching dangers in the  near future.

The third day of Consultation began with the morning worship led by the students from 11 different theological colleges/seminaries followed by the Bible Study on Biblical and Theological Foundations for Ecclesial Unity from Dalit Perspective, which was taken by Rev. Dinesh Angolkar. He, through various biblical texts brought insights related to the issues faced by Dalits in modern times,  emphasized the urgency of  bringing Ecclesial unity through theological foundations where there will not be any distinction between anyone whether rich or poor, weak or strong, and everybody will be cared for and given equal status and hope of living a life of dignity without any differentiation to his/her status or caste. Therefore it is essential to work towards a just and egalitarian community which sees everyone equal and makes no discrimination based on an individual’s caste, gender or creed.

The session on “Communication and Wider Ecumenism in the context of witness and mission of the church” was addressed by Rev. Caesar David, Executive Secretary for Communications, NCCI. Rev. Caesar David shared some of the key aspects in the area of communication which are helpful tools in propagating wider ecumenism.  He said that the church needs to focus on communication systems, approaches, and processes, with reference to how the potential of emerging information and communication technology can be harnessed and brought to use in the church’s value-driven agenda. Rev. Caesar David also highlighted the ways how communication can be an effective mode in the context of witness and mission of the Church, as the recent bombardment of technology has taken the world to a completely new dimension.  Mission paradigms have been reinvented because of this new approach which now has given a completely new understanding to the area of communication and its newer approaches.

In the final phase of consultation, the Statement of the consultation prepared by the Statement Drafting Committee was presented on the basis of outcomes of the sessions and group discussions. It was reviewed and finalized by the young theologians collectively.

The three-day consultation provided a unique opportunity for the young theologians:

* To discuss ecumenism, faith and order, theological education and formation of an ecclesial community which would care for everyone and every individual irrespective of his/her faith, denomination, caste, creed, color, gender and culture in general.

* To discuss and address various issues based on the struggles of the Tribals/Adivasis and Dalits in the context of contemporary challenges of globalization, casteism, constitutional rights, gender justice,  cyber age, technological divide, unemployment, ecology, identity crisis, socio-economic, political and cultural oppression; and

* To revisit and rediscover a relevant Biblical and theological vision in today’s context which would inspire and facilitate the young theologians in their ecumenical formation.

The consultation concluded with vote of thanks offered by Mr. Saurabh Khobragade (Intern) and the closing prayer and benediction were pronounced by Rev Dr. Roger Gaikwad.

Pradip Bansrior
Executive Secretary
Dalit and Tribal/ Adivasi Concerns
National Council of Churches in India.

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