Mon, 03 Oct 1994

PGI seeks new rule on church building

By Imanuddin

JAKARTA (JP): The Communion of Churches in Indonesia (PGI) is seeking to change the regulation on where it can establish its houses of worship in the future, taking the power away from local community leaders and putting it into the government's hands.

PGI's Secretary-General J.M. Pattiasina said the communion's leaders will review the issue during its grand assembly in Jayapura, Irian Jaya, next month.

The communion, grouping 68 Protestant denominations in Indonesia, is drafting its proposal for a new regulation on the establishment of houses of worship.

The proposal, which calls for clearer guidelines and greater government power, is expected to be finalized in Irian Jaya, before it is presented to the government, Pattiasina told The Jakarta Post in an interview.

Under the present regulation, the local community has the power to decide on whether or not they want the presence of a church or a mosque in their area. This often creates friction between this society's majority of Moslems and its minority of Christians.

On the one hand, Moslems view the establishment of a church in their midst with suspicion because they perceive it as an attempt to proselytize. The Christians say they need to have churches near their homes in order to practice their religion.

Pattiasina disclosed that the PGI proposal will call on the government to make the rulings on whether houses of worship can be established in a certain area rather than leaving the decision to the local community leaders.

The PGI Grand Assembly, scheduled for Oct. 21-Oct. 30, is expected to be attended by about 2,000 church leaders. It will be opened by Vice President Try Sutrisno, Pattiasina said.

Not all the Protestant denominations are members of the communion but the larger ones -- including the Toba Batak Protestant Church, the Gereja Kristen Indonesia and Gereja Kristen Java -- are. The churches grouped in the communion are the Indonesian denominations of the Lutheran, Pentecostal, Reform, Mennonite, Methodist and Calvinist religious groups.

Protestantism is the second largest religion in Indonesia, accounting for nearly six percent of Indonesia's 190 million population. Moslems represent the largest with about 87 percent. Roman Catholicism follows third after Protestantism.

The upcoming assembly will be the 12th held since the establishment of the communion in 1950.

The PGI last held its grand assembly five years ago in Surabaya, East Java. The church leaders feel that the time has now come to meet again to review progress and to respond to new challenges.

"The General Assembly is expected to forge a greater unity among the various church members and reinvigorate the teaching of Christianity," Pattiasina said.

The assembly will also draw up a five-year plan for the PGI, which will be disseminated to church followers through the PGI's regional branches and denomination members.

The theme of this year's assembly is "Oh Holy Spirit, renew our theme and unite us" and the sub-theme is "Together we build a diverse society in Indonesia, which is united, prosperous, and equal in the framework of national development as the implementation of Pancasila."

Pattiasina admitted that one of the shortcomings of the Protestant churches in Indonesia is their inability to increase their role in modernizing their services to their followers and in resolving internal disputes between church members.

He cited as an example the prolonged conflict befalling the Toba Batak Protestant Church (HKBP), which, with more than two million followers, is the largest denomination in the PGI.

Pattiasina said the PGI tried mediating the dispute between the two conflicting camps in the HKBP through a meeting in Jakarta last month. A second meeting was planned in Tarutung, North Sumatra, this weekend.

Pattiasina said he hoped the dispute could be resolved before the general assembly. "We expect that HKBP could send one delegation."

On the issue of religious harmony in Indonesia, the PGI secretary-general said there are no more serious frictions between the people of different faiths. However, he urges more openness in terms of dialog between the religious leaders.

Pattiasina also stressed the importance of separating religion from politics in order to prevent people from thinking that the church is indulging in politics.

A reverend could join one of the existing political parties, but he must release his position in the church. In other words, the person must not be an active reverend, he added.

PGI is a continuation of the Indonesian Church Council (DGI) which was founded on May 25, 1950. The establishment of DGI was preceded by the formation of a number of councils of churches in several regions in Indonesia.

In 1948, three prominent figures of the Council of Churches -- Rev. B. Probowinoto of the Yogyakarta Chapter of Council of Churches, Rev. W.J. Rumambi of the United Christian Churches in Eastern Indonesia, and Rev. T. Sihombing of the North Sumatra Chapter of Council of Churches -- held a meeting in Jakarta to form a conference committee to prepare for the establishment of the National Council of Churches.

The preparatory conference for the establishment of DGI was held in 1949 and the council was officially established in a conference of churches in Jakarta a year later.

The name of DGI was converted into PGI at the 10th General Assembly in 1984 in Ambon. The change in name of the institution was expected to increase the role of Christian Churches in a unified body serving and helping the Christian community.