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WCC 11th Assembly, Karlsruhe Report

Delegates reflect on God's love for Creation

Julia Rensberg, Bjorn Warde, Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Emmanuel of Chalcedon, Coptic Archbishop Andaelos of France


By Catherine Ferguson SNJM

The plenaries at the World Council of Churches (WCC) merge concerns of the people of churches today with theological reflection on God's word in Christian and Hebrew scriptures.

"The Purpose of God's Love in Christ for the Whole Creation" was the theme of the initial plenary of the WCC's 11th Assembly, held on Sept. 1, in Karlsruhe, Germany.

Leading the session was Agnes Abuom of the Anglican Church of Kenya. She has served as moderator of the WCC Central Committee and the 11th Assembly business plenaries. She is the first woman and the first African to hold this post.

The session focused on the role of churches in the climate crisis and the situation in the Middle East. It was threaded together by a conversation with two young delegates reflecting on the issues from their perspective guided by questions Agnes asked.

The first of young delegates was Julia Rensberg, representing the indigenous Sámi Council in the Swedish Church. She works for the Sámi youth association and for Indigenous rights in Sápmi. The second was Bjorn Warde, a delegate and pastor from the Presbyterian Church of Trinidad and Tobago, who collaborates with mission groups in the Caribbean consulting on gender-based and family violence outreach and youth empowerment.

Agnes began by asking Julia and Bjorn what the assembly theme said to them.

Bjorn reflected that in the Caribbean there is reckless exploitation of natural resources, causing flooding, pollution and deforestation.

"We hear this earth as she cries out to us, especially to the youth. She cries out for reconciliation," he said.

From the perspective of an indigenous youth, Julia explained, "Today we indigenous live at the border of the climate crisis. We are the firsthand witnesses of the ice melting, the sea rising, the forests drying out and becoming infertile. We need to live and protect Mother Earth."

Following these reflections, Agnes invited Metropolitan Emmanuel of Chalcedon from the Greek Orthodox Church in France to reflect theologically on the theme.

Metropolitan Emmanuel echoed the concerns of the young people, emphasizing that the challenges of ecological degradation and climate change are not solely the consequence of globalization, made manifest in geopolitics and economics, but they have also been justified by misguided philosophy and theology.

He asked: "Are we not misled in seeing ourselves as masters and possessors of nature, just as we are misled in seeing ourselves as masters and possessors of the faith? Just as nature is not to be exploited for self-gain, our faith should not be either."

Emmanuel concluded his reflection, explaining that "to reconcile is above all to heal the evils of history, the scars of time, mutual misunderstandings, conflicts of memory and fratricidal hatreds. In this sense, the division between Christians to which we intend to respond by praying for the unity of the Churches is a spiritual wound, with shared responsibilities—whether accepted or not."

Agnes asked the young people to continue the conversation: "How does this keynote relate to your context?"

Julia reiterated that for indigenous their existence relies on Mother Earth, and "she is ours to protect," while Bjorn affirmed that the paradise that is the Caribbean is part of their identity and they feel the responsibility of taking care of creation.

Again, Agnes returned with a question: "How would the ecumenical cooperation of churches foster the concerns of young people and amplify your voice?"

Julia replied that "ecumenical cooperation can unite us and this has given her a spark of hope," while Bjorn acknowledged that we haven't been good stewards and "our work for a better future involves looking at innovation and technologies that embrace clean energy so that we can reduce the impact of the injustices that we have wrought on the planet."

The second half of the plenary centered on a theological reflection on reconciliation and unity in the Middle East, as presented by Archbishop Angaelos, the first Coptic Archbishop of London. Although currently living in London, the Archbishop is Egyptian and brought that perspective to his reflection.

Using the metaphor of a tree with many branches, leaves and strong roots, Angaelos reminded the assembly that "the mission of the church is to be one."  He spoke specifically of the context of the Middle East, saying "Christianity was never exported to the Middle East. It is the source of the church from which our richness today is derived, but the source is a historical reality."

He also sees that the mission of the church is "to reconcile as we have been reconciled and to be vehicles of that reconciliation." He sees that the sisters and brothers of the church are a reconciling force today in Iraq, Syria, Israel-Palestine, Egypt and even as far as Armenia. "There is a transformation from a time of conflict and persecution to a time of presence, transfiguration and witness."

He cautioned the assembly to be careful not to caricature our brothers and sisters in the Middle East merely from the perspective of victims because they are also witnesses.

He drew on the images of Coptic iconography, saying that "martyrdom in our church is never depicted in a state of suffering but in the glory of paradise awaiting the kingdom."

Finally, Agnes once again questioned the young people, referring to their participation in a justice and peace pilgrimage that occurred before the 11th Assembly. 

"How in your listening today and in the pilgrimage, does the theme of reconciliation resonate with you and give you hope?" she asked.

Julia ended the session by calling for truth-telling about the action of violence through colonization, which continues today: "Christ's healing is needed for both humans and nature."

Bjorn finds that voices of youth arise above other voices when there is injustice, and said it is important that these voices lead to action.

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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, January 2023