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INTER-CHURCH FAMILIES CONFERENCE, NEWCASTLE

11th International Conference
Newcastle, NSW, Australia
18-21 August 2005

Ray Williamson (Rev Dr)
General Secretary NSW Ecumenical Council

It is a very great pleasure to welcome you to this conference, to welcome you to Newcastle, and to bring you very warm, ecumenical greetings on behalf of the NSW Ecumenical Council.

For the benefit of our international visitors, may I say something briefly about our ecumenical structures in Australia! We have a National Council of Churches in Australia, a network of councils of churches in each state and the Northern Territory, all of which are affiliated with the NCCA, and then many regional or local ecumenical bodies, such as Action of Churches Together in Solidarity here in the Hunter region.

The NSW Ecumenical Council is comprised of sixteen member churches, nine of which are eastern churches – from the two Orthodox families and the Assyrian Church of the East. While many of those churches are quite small, their membership of the Council reflects something of the multicultural nature of the Australian society.

The NSWEC also bears out the truth of one point in the Rome Document that you have been considering, namely, that inter-church families are more likely to be involved in ecumenical councils and activities. Two Inter-church families in Newcastle – Warren and Christine Sheppard and Bev and Kevin Hincks have been and continue to be highly involved in the NSWEC, and it is good to be with them at this conference. So, it is on behalf of the NSWEC that I welcome you and bring you greetings.

Just over a year ago, the member churches of the NCCA endorsed and signed a Covenanting Document as an expression of a commitment to grow more fully into that visible unity which we believe is essential to the authentic life of the Church. Some have described that event as the most significant ecumenical moment for Australian churches in the last ten years. The challenge for us in state councils, such as the NSWEC, is the task of encouraging the churches at the state or diocesan, and at the more local, levels to own that document for themselves and to explore new opportunities for local ecumenical partnerships. The message of encouragement that we try to convey is that such local initiatives truly have a prophetic role. Nothing could be more local as a local ecumenical partnership than an inter-church family. So I would invite you to think of yourselves as such a prophetic sign – a sign of hope, a sign of unity.

May I offer you also one other image! Over many years the NSWEC has had a strong association with the Taizé Community, with one of the brothers coming here regularly to lead us in a programme as part of the Pilgrimage of Trust. Naturally, over these last few days we have been dealing with the shock and sadness of the tragic death of Brother Roger. He has been one of the great ecumenical leaders of the last 60 years, the founder and inspiration of an ecumenical religious community. That community now consists of members who come from most of the traditions in the western church. It is like an inter-church family, struggling with all the issues that are so familiar to you. His hope for the community was that it might so live its life as to be “a parable of communion”.

Thank you for coming to Newcastle for this significant conference. Every blessing for the remainder of your time here and for the on-going ministry of the inter-church family network! May you continue to be for the Church a sign of hope, a sign of unity, indeed, a parable of communion.

RAY WILLIAMSON (Revd Dr)
General Secretary
NSW Ecumenical Council