We have come together for the annual meetings of NCCI and CSA. As President I take this time to greet you all and welcome you to these sessions of deliberations. This is also an occasion of our mutual accountability. This responsibility will be carried out officially through the reports of the General Secretary, Treasurer and the secretaries and directors who are in charge of various activities of our great ecumenical movement. What I wish to do is to take a moment to introspect and reflect on our work during the past year. This, as you know, is a spiritual exercise which will provide a focus to our deliberations.
I wish to place before you a question around which we can do our introspection. How faithful and effective were we in fulfilling our quadrennial commitment of building up just and inclusive communities? We have completed sixteen months since the quadrennial meeting in Jabalpur. After observing and participating in many meetings, consultations and conversations since then, with appreciation I can say that we have made good progress in enhancing inclusivity.
Let us have a look at the development of our understanding of inclusivity. About two decades ago, NCCI’s agenda of inclusivity was very traditional. NCCI itself has been an umbrella of ecumenism for its member churches. Slowly the umbrella became larger to accommodate Roman Catholic Church and the Evangelicals with a new name NUCF. Side by side we had also occasions of dialogue with people of other faiths. Our understanding of gender equality was limited to giving equal status to men and women. Even for that, we did not succeed in giving equal status to men and women in all the member churches of NCCI.
Then came the issue of HIV/AIDS. Most of us found it difficult to overcome the stigma of HIV/AIDS. Some of us thought that we were “condescending” to listen to their cause. May be, we must confess that at that time all of us were not mentally prepared to include them as our equals.
We have come a long way since then. Our understanding of inclusivity has become much wider. Early this month we had two events organized by us.
i) An Interfaith Round Table on Disability with the theme, “Faith Journey Together Towards Inclusive Communities”. This round table was held in Nagpur from 7 – 9 August under the leadership of IDEA (Indian Disability Ecumenical Accompaniment). It brought together clerics and theologians from different faith traditions students of Religion and Philosophy from different faith traditions, and faith-based youth movements. They listened to Scriptures of various religions: “What do our ‘holy books’ say about disability?” They made a common and collective Action Plan. This had a double effect on inclusivity. It brought together several religions for this common purpose. That was the first dimension. It brought disability as a common agenda of all religions. This was the second dimension. I congratulate the IDEA team.
ii) A Consultation on Inclusivity. This event was held from 10 to 12 August in Chennai under the leadership of ESHA (Ecumenical Solidarity for HIV/AIDS). It was a national consultation on inclusivity related to gender, sexuality and religion. ESHA has been dealing with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender communities for several years now. Through ESHA much awareness has come to member churches of NCCI about LGBTI communities. This consultation brought together representatives of social wings of the NCCI churches, theologians, key religious leaders, members from LGBTI communities, and government and non-government agencies. The main aims were: 1. To show case and disseminate positive experiences of engagement of churches and theological colleges with the LGBTI communities with other NCCI member church leaders, religious leaders, government and non-government agencies. 2. To create opportunities for churches and theological colleges to engage concretely with various issues relating to the LGBTI communities and thereby take key steps towards inclusivity 3. To seek strategies in engaging communities (churches, other religious communities) towards positive conversations on sexuality, gender and religion, which will form one of the areas of ESHA Program’s new phase. I congratulate the ESHA team for this great achievements.
All that I have spoken so far were about our widening scope of inclusivity and great efforts we are making to enhance inclusivity. Yet, there are two main areas where we have to work hard.
i) The first one is “mann ki baat” matter of our mind. In our own world view and perspectives of our everyday life these finer elements of inclusivity like LGBTI community and disability have not found a place. We think of them only when we come for ecumenical meeting. We need to internalize the reality of inclusiveness.
ii) The other one is about “grass-roots”. All of us speak about grass roots, but we do not do anything about it. Our grass-roots are our local churches, our congregations and our local communities. The themes of inclusivity has not percolated in the desired level in the grass-roots. As agents of transformation we have to make conscious efforts to reach the grass-roots. We cannot boast of anything until then.
Rt. Rev. Dr. P.C. Singh
President, NCCI. Also Deputy Moderator CNI, Bishop of Jabalpur Diocese-CNI.
Note: This was one of the messages delivered by Rt. Rev. Dr. P.C. Singh during the annual meetings of NCCI and CSA which were held in Ranchi on August 22-23, 2017.