CPCE General Assembly: Hope and the Future the subject of the Opening Service of Worship

Taking up the words of Paul’s letter to the Romans about hope for creation and assured salvation (Romans 8:20-28), Pastor Fulvio Ferrario of the Waldensian Church spoke at the opening service of worship of the conflict that can arise within our feelings between hope, on the one hand, and often a dark sense of doom, on the other, in respect of the future.

He used the example of the large steelworks in the southern Italian city of Taranto, whose emissions have caused thousands of cancer cases over the decades, to illustrate this dichotomy. A legal injunction issued in August threatens the closure of the plant any time now – right as Italy is suffering its worst economic crisis since the Second World War – bringing with it the prospect of an entire city falling into unemployment. “Should you risk the threat of cancer in order to make a some form of living?”, asks Ferrario, “Or accept unemployment to save your life? But if you opt for the latter, what kind of life are you then saving?”

Paul reminds us that we enjoy the first fruits of the Spirit: we can speak of hope for the future. These first fruits are not to be found in ideological or religious security, though, nor in any lofty, moralistic church sermon, but rather in the experience of a sense of longing and anticipation. Like the people of Taranto, we too live with this conflict between hope and having to wait, not despite, but because of the Spirit.

Addressing the members of the General Assembly in Florence, Ferrario, Professor of Systematic Theology at the Waldensian Faculty in Rome, suggested that they should not just discuss the subjects of freedom and the future. Far more, he said that as European churches they should pray together for freedom and the future. For certain it is important to discuss ecclesiastical matters such as mutual recognition and the understanding of ministry, Scripture and doctrine. But they should also anticipate hearing something other than their own voices, perceiving something not uttered by themselves, but promised to them. Ferrario concluded with the hope that “in our discussions about church matters we might expect to receive this Word as both a gift and an instruction at the same time”.

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