Soon after I arrived at the Ecumenical Center, I met Odair Pedroso Mateus. I learned that he had held the position of Executive Secretary of Theology and Ecumenism at the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (now WCRC) before Douwe Visser, whom I have been assisting, assumed it. Our encounter came to mind yesterday when I discovered at the WCC library a little book that he had authored: Beyond Confessionalism: Essays on the Practice of Reformed Ecumenicity (Sao Paulo: Emblema, 2010). In the first chapter there is an arresting phrase worth pondering: “How has the Alliance articulated at crucial points in its history those particular bonds of communion…with the call to transform traditional confessional boundaries into gates of exchange of spiritual gifts?”
This is a perennial question that is relevant to all Christian world communions, or to any human group or organization for that matter. The struggle in opening ourselves to the other so that there may be a free and mutual giving and receiving lies in the ambivalence of the boundary itself.
On this phenomenon the Dutch pastoral psychologist Tjen van Knippenberg insightfully remarks that on the one hand, the boundary serve as protection, separating the strange from the familiar. When the boundary is crossed from the other side, this poses a threat and a danger. The presence of the other in our world necessarily alters it. It now has to be reconfigured to accommodate him or her. We experience this process as painful because we fear that it may mean we will no longer recognize our place in it. Our altered world will no longer have the familiar set of reference points by which we used to find our way around in it. But on the other hand, the boundary is also a challenge. The desire to break new ground animates the adventurous spirit. The other side of the boundary holds unknown horizons that invite exploration, that promise to open up new perspectives. Without the other, our world remains static, and we ourselves stagnate.
Knippenberg correctly observes that development is only possible when the self situates itself within the tension between stability and change. The self situates itself between a sense of security and openness as long as the boundary serves as closure and the site of disclosure.
What he says about the self applies equally to Christian world communions, including WCRC.