The global Senior Friends Gathering held in tandem with WSCF’s General Assembly has reconnected, inspired and energised friends of the Federation.
For Finnish senior friend Ilari Rantakari the gathering was a “wonderful and historic event. It gave a lot of joy and convinced (at least me) that the WSCF work continues and is supported by the earlier generations”.
The August 4-8 gathering brought 50 senior friends ranging in age from under 30 to over 90, from 19 countries. For former SCM UK and Ireland staff Dr. Salters Sterling, it was impressive to meet SCMers spanning all the decades from the 1930s to 2000s, “It was deeply moving to both witness and be a part of such a congregation of ecumenical saints.
Across the years and from around the world we had come because of what we believed and tried to live. Our memory chain had a completeness of links taking us back to our original visionaries, even to John R. Mott himself. We had been convened not a moment too soon.”
With its theme from Acts 2:17, “your sons and daughters shall prophesy and your elders shall dream dreams,” the gathering included reflection on “Forty years since Turku 1968” with a panel discussion on the watershed WSCF conference held at the height of the student revolution.
Organised by Rev. Alice Hageman (USA) and Dr. Christine Ledger (Australia), the programme of worrship, Bible study, panel discussions and keynote addresses was described by Dr. Sterling as “vintage SCM”. Former WSCF Chair Prof. Wong Wai Ching (Hong Kong), current Africa Regional Secretary Ms. Georgine Kengne Djeutane and Rev. Dr Paul Oestreicher (New Zealand/UK) who was a resource person at Turku 1968, offered challenging Bible studies on dreams, visions, radicalism and prophecy. Worship throughout the event was organised by Presbyterian minister Rev. Ann Owens Brunger (USA). Brazilian theo-poet Dr. Rubem Alves’ keynote speech took the group on a journey of discovery,into the power and promise of poetry - as a form of transformation and of breaking open the limits of the possible.The address of Dr. Gregory Baum (Canada)introduced both students and senior friends to the vital roles of priestly and prophetic religion,claiming the prophetic task for SCMs and all those who believe in striving for justice in the world.
A highlight of the gathering was the interaction with the General Assembly delegates; during mealtimes, through WSCF staff reports, in welcomes from SCM Canada and the stewards and in the day shared with the Assembly on August 7. Many senior friends recalled the time when students had made a wholesale rejection of their elders and wondered whether any meaningful meeting with this student generation would be possible. For Dr. Sterling and many others,the day the senior friends joined the Assembly confirmed that the student attitude has “changed utterly”,
“That day was a transfiguring experience, convincing all of us that whatever else, a new day had dawned. Remembrance, worship, keynote address, bible study, panel presentation and Commission discussions were all shared. We were overwhelmed with friendship, lovebombed with graciousness, listened to with interest and delight. Words are inadequate vehicles by which to convey the genuineness of the fellowship that was created”
The senior friends who gathered in Montreal were so enthusiastic about the experience that they have recommended that a similar meeting take place during the next General Assembly in 2012.
From Federation News November 2008