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The calling of the church? Wish peace to one another!

13th international conference of IRTI at PThU

What is the calling of the Church in times of increasing polarization? How should the church deal with pluralism and how can it contribute to a peaceful society? How can a church, despite its good intentions, prevent itself from creating more divisions when it enters into dialogue with others?

These and other questions were raised during the 13th biennial international conference of IRTI, the International Reformed Theological Institute, 4 - 7 Juli at the PThU. The theme of the conference was 'The calling of the church in times of polarization'. Some 100 ministers, scholars and other interested individuals attended the 4-day conference at the PThU in Amsterdam. The programme included lectures by speakers of different nationalities. They placed pluralism, the vocation of the church, and polarization in the context of their cultural background and the society in which they live and work. The participants could also attend an excursion program in Amsterdam and choose from guided walks with themes like 'Christianity and slavery', 'LGBT in Amsterdam', and 'sacred or religious sites'.

Pluralism

Pastor Anne-Meta Kobes from Heerenveen was one of the participants in the conference. "It was very inspiring to be together with scholars and colleagues from all over the world. Because you are gathered with people from so many different cultures, 'pluralism' and how you deal with it comes very close. Do you understand each other well? Do you share the same definitions?"

We are too needy

One of the keynote speakers of the conference was Dr. Nadine Bowers-Du Toit of the University of Stellenbosch from South Africa. In her lecture she spoke about 'conviviality', the art and practice of living together. "Living together means showing solidarity, looking for common resources, respecting each other and building a sustainable society. In addition, Bowers stated that "in the contact with others, you must always realise that you yourself are in need of help as well. Because if you don't, you maintain a power relationship between the giver and the receiver."

Anne-Meta Kobes appreciated this lecture. "I could immediately use it in my Sunday sermon. What do we do when we enter society with our stories, do we come to do more than just bring? Or are we also open to receiving? Bowers-Du Toit said: 'We are too needy'. Daring to receive means to start with the other. As a church, we can only be pluralistic if we really immerse ourselves in others. Let us first begin to wish peace to one another."

Interaction

Prof.Dr. Heleen Zorgdrager, member of the IRTI management team, looks back on a successful conference. "IRTI grows into an increasingly important network of contextual and innovative theology in the Reformed tradition. We see a pleasing increase of young people and women. Participants come from established Reformed institutions worldwide, but also from, for example, the more evangelical Fuller Seminary. Fascinating interaction takes place between South African and Indonesian theologians, between Hungarian and Taiwanese theologians on the role and vocation of the church around issues of ethnicity, class, gender, ecology or in relation to the government. It was surprising to see the baptismal debate of the Synod of Dordt through the postcolonial lens of Afro-American theologian David Daniels (Chicago) or to hear about a contextual theology of the sea by Moluccan theologian Steve Gaspertsz. We are already looking forward to the next IRTI conference that will be held in 2021 in Yogyakarta."

Photo credits: Adham K. Satria-Spierings