Today’s post is a translation of part of Klaus Ulrich Ruof’s article “Christi Liebe drängt zur Solidarität,” first published on the website of the Evangelisch-methodistische Kirke, the UMC in Germany. It appears here and on UM News by permission. The translation is by UM & Global’s David W. Scott.
The eleventh General Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) is now history. At the ecumenical summit in Karlsruhe, Germany, around 3,000 participants from 120 countries met for nine days from August 31st until September 8th to discuss the future direction of ecumenism. The meeting ended with a church service.
The World Council of Churches is a community of 352 churches that together represent over 580 million Christians worldwide. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member but has observer status. This large, ecumenical, worldwide association is headquartered in Geneva and was founded August 23, 1948 in Amsterdam. The WCC General Assembly meets every eight years, according to WCC rules. Where the next General Assembly will take place had not been decided at the end of the Karlsruhe meeting.
Unity is anchored in Christ’s love
In a message at the end of the Karlsruhe meeting last Thursday, the delegates called for the “healing of our living planet.” “We will find a strength to act from a unity founded in Christ’s love,” read the message, which was titled, “A Call to Act Together.” The goal is to create and maintain peace. The message thus ties in with the texts of the General Assemblies of 1948 in Amsterdam and 1975 in Nairobi.
The text of the message warns of catastrophes that originate in an irresponsible and broken relationship with creation that has led to ecological injustice and the climate crisis. At this moment, in which the climate emergency is gathering speed, the suffering of penniless people crowded on the margins is increasing. Referring to the theme of the General Assembly, “Christ's love moves the world to reconciliation and unity,” the delegates emphasized that Christ’s love urges us to come to Christ in solidarity and “to respond and act for justice.”
WCC Central Committee organized; youth revolt
Fifteen persons from the Methodist church family belong to the 150-member Central Committee, including two from The United Methodist Church: Bishop Sally Dyck, the ecumenical officer of the international Council of Bishops of the UMC, and Ann Jacob, who serves as a pastor at Edmonds, Washington. The Central Committee is the highest governing body of the WCC in the time in between General Assemblies and meets every two years. It carries out the policies adopted by the General Assembly, supervises and directs the program work, and decides on the budget.
As the size and composition of the 150-person WCC Central Committee were being determined for the next eight years, the youth revolted. They put forward a statement signed by 38 youth General Assembly members, including 12 delegates and 9 advisors. As members of the generation affected by present and coming developments in climate and society, and in view of the worldwide number of young people, they clearly demanded more participation and voices in this WCC governing body.
Agnes Abuom, the chairperson of the Central Committee, explained that this was no longer possible in the short term with immediate effect for the current composition of the body. She promised, however, that this issue would be taken up in the coming consultations of the Central Committee and would be taken into account for the future. According to the WCC’s bylaws, changes can be made, at earliest, at the next General Assembly.
The policy committee of the WCC noted that youth must be fully included in all commissions, committees, advisory groups, and reference groups of the WCC. However, some member churches apparently hesitate to nominate youth people for the Central Committee and other committees.
Humility and willingness to serve, after the example of Jesus
The new General Secretary, already elected in June of this year, gave a speech to the members of the General Assembly at the end of the meeting. Jerry Pillay, who comes from South Africa where he was Dean of the Faculty of Theology and Religion at the University of Pretoria, is a member of the Union Presbyterian Church in southern Africa. The 57-year-old will take as General Secretary from Ioan Sauca on January 1, 2023. Sauca took over the vacant position in April 2020 on an interim basis, after the former General Secretary, Olav Fykse Tveit, was named head bishop of the Church of Norway.
Pillay stressed his vision that the WCC member churches and their partners work together to “proclaim the good news of salvation and life in Christ” to the world. In addition, the WCC must continue and do more to make the “voices of the marginalized and neglected” heard so that economic influence or the power and authority of individual churches is not decisive, but rather a culture of inclusion, diversity, and equal rights is created.
In organizations, the powerful usually take over command and control. In a biblical sense, the humility and self-understanding of Jesus to be a servant must be an example. That is why Pillay put forward a vision of a WCC “that not only creates safe space, but also room in which the marginalized have equal rights and in which the voices of the neglected are heard, respected, and valued by the community.”