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President's Reflection

There is a basic truth that undergirds the overcoming of difference.  Without listening, difference cannot be understood or overcome. 

This has been brought home to me in several ways in recent weeks. At the WCC Assembly there were several moments where differences were clear, and positions fixed. This was seen in the complexity of the differing views around the war in the Ukraine and the tensions with regard to the churches. Another was the strong response of the youth present in the Assembly at the lack of opportunity to have their voice heard together and the loss of opportunity to influence decision making. 

In Australia we have seen it in the past fortnight following the death of the Queen. Indigenous Australians have responded to this moment in time very differently to non-indigenous people. 

Without listening we are left with fixed positions, argument and a growing distance between each other. A commitment to listening across difference opens the rich possibility of understanding and appreciation of the point of view of the other. It enables us to enter into an experience of mutual grace where we can grow closer in our difference. 

Listening demands the suspension of our need to be right and to control the conversation in a direction that keep us comfortable. Yes, it is hard to do this. Most often I realise my failure to listen well and in my disappointment with myself I realise I have not grown in my understanding of the other! 

In the powerful appeal Paul makes to the Corinthian church to be united he used the image of the body. He makes an interesting assumption – that the parts of the body communicate with each other – shared joys and shared pain. 

One can only experience this sharing if listening is happening. Otherwise, we may say, directly or indirectly, to the one in pain – you are not really feeling pain … get over it! And to the one celebrating – I don’t see why you need to be happy when I am not!  

At the heart of the ecumenical enterprise, and human relationships, is the decision to listen. The outcome of listening is relationship, appreciation and not conformity.

Rev. John Gilmore

NCCA President 

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