The Eighth Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC), which takes place in this the Council's fiftieth anniversary year, offers a unique opportunity for church representatives from around the world to join with sisters and brothers in Africa. Together in Harare, Zimbabwe, from December 3-14, they will seek to make real for a troubled continent the promise of Jubilee, which is about reconciliation, restoration, and renewal.
The task of reclaiming and reinterpreting African tradition and culture will be central to their efforts. For the Zimbabwean peoples the ethos of one of their ancient traditions, that of the Padare, is all important. The Padare is about consensus through open dialogue and mutual respect.
"Dare" is the traditional Shona term which denotes the special meeting place which, before colonialism, functioned at many levels of Zimbabwean society.
The "dare" was a place where all participants became equals. It was also a place of consensus; there was never a rush to reach decisions, for that would have prevented the building of community.
According to one young Zimbabwean woman I met recently, the primary value of the Padare tradition today lies in its potential to provide alternative ways of promoting peace, reconciliation, and community.
Zimbabweans today, like many other societies, cannot afford, and do not want, to romanticize their traditions or their past. At the same time, they want to remember and respect their traditions to adapt them to contemporary needs and circumstances.
With this in mind, the Zimbabwean hosts of the WCC's Eighth Assembly suggested that the planned "open space" within the Assembly should be called Padare, and that the central and most positive features of the Padare tradition - equality, consensus, and community - be its hallmarks.
The idea of an open space is not new to WCC assemblies, but the ethos of this space, when conceived of as Padare, brings a new dimension to the Assembly. In developing the Padare concept for the Assembly, the Planning Committee was struck by the potential of this tradition to provide a new model for the world. Padare is a style of dialogue and consultation which includes more, rather than fewer people. It stresses the dignity and equality of all within the assembled company, and affirms unequivocally that, in the search for unity and understanding, the journey is as important as the destination, and that exploration and dialogue are as vital as any decisions or conclusions.
By drawing on the best in Shona tradition and reflecting the importance given within ecumenical circles today to dialogue rather than decisions, the Padare promises to be a very important feature of the Assembly both symbolically and practically.
Besides concentrating on issues of justice and peace, the Padare will also tackle topics concerning faith and unity, prayer, worship, the nature of the church, the shape of mission, and the relationship between the Gospel and culture. Within this context, major presentations will reflect on the outcome of the Fifth World Conference on Faith and Order held in Santiago de Compostela in 1993, and the Conference on World Mission and Evangelism held in Salvador, Brazil, in 1996.
The Padare, as a place of encounter and dialogue, will therefore help to ensure that the future perspectives and priorities of the member churches of the WCC genuinely reflect the concerns of ordinary Christians around the globe.
Rev. Myra Blyth is a Baptist Minister from the United Kingdom and the Executive Director of the WCC's Unit IV: Sharing and Service. She is also the moderator of the group that is handling arrangements for the Padare.
Editors' note: The WOMEN's network and the St. Nina Quarterly have been invited by the WCC to participate in the Padare this December.