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WCC 11th Assembly, Karlsruhe Report

Women church leaders address unity and witness


In the final plenary of the World Council of Churches 11th Assembly in September at Karlsruhe, Germany, a Kenyan Anglican, an Australian Pentecostal, a Mexican Methodist and a Canadian Mennonite were among church leaders who reflected on "Christian Unity and the Churches' Common Witness."

The day's scripture was on the sons of Zebedee asking Jesus who would sit at his right and left hands, and hearing that "whoever wishes to be great must be a servant." Jesus called disciples to be servants to one another and the world.

The following are excerpts of their comments.

Rosemary Mbogo

Rosemary Mbogo

Rosemary Muthoni Mbogo, who is provincial secretary of and canon in the Anglican Church of Kenya, and was the chair of the Kenya National Council of Churches (NCC) from 2012 to 2018, said "the move to Christian unity is a step-by-step endeavor to understand God's heart, will and mind."

"There is no space in the world that is not part of the space encompassed by God's love," she said, encouraged that East Africans make visible the unity of Christian bodies through the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and programs on environment, social justice and serving people in need.

Common actions on national, moral, social, health and economic issues by the Kenya Conference of Catholic Churches, Pentecostal Churches and the NCC give her hope for unity.

"Actions are for men and women, young and old in the church. Let us move with God's love, using our unique gifts," said Rosemary, telling of her mixed heritage, born into a Pentecostal family, studying at Catholic schools and then studying for ministry in African traditions.

"Who am I? I am a child of God in the world of God, serving the people of God," she affirmed.


Jacqueline Gray

Jacqueline Gray

Jacqueline Grey, pastor and leader in the Pentecostal World Fellowship, professor of biblical studies at Alphacrucis College in Australia, likens the sons of Zebedee to Pentecostal churches, who are young, energetic, visionary often preoccupied with ambition and arrogance, and overwhelmed by rejection and ridicule.

"Some disciples are in conflict with the young upstarts," she noted. "We have been in conflict with disciples of other traditions, related to proselytism, suspicion and mutual rejection."

"Jesus calls all together to forget squabbles, agendas and status so they can serve others as he did," she said.

"In Busan, the WCC proactively reached out to Pentecostals to include us and to invite us to sit at the ecumenical table," Jacqueline said. "It's important we are at the table. We are grateful for inclusion. By working on commissions, we build relationships and trust."

The Global Christian Forum has fostered relationships, so Pentecostals are joining the WCC, she said, and the Pentecostal World Fellowship has an ecumenical commission and dialogues.

Because Pentecostalism is grassroots, Jacqueline said effectiveness is measured by looking at the local levels.

"Locally, we still see frustration," she noted. "Until it is normal to pray and worship together, we will not see the fruit of our activities, but being together here at the common table, we can share in our common mission."

Jacqueline is hopeful for the future relationship of Pentecostals in the WCC but noted it is hard for many Pentecostals to come to an expensive assembly because many are poor.

"Our theology and that of many of our young leaders is increasingly ecumenical. It gives me hope. Still, we need deliberate ecumenical engagement to build trust to overcome past and present tensions, suspicions and stereotypes as we come together in Christ's love," she said. "We must truly love one another, not just tolerate one another. To love one another, we must know one another in relationships."


Lani Jimenez

Lani Jimenez

Lani Mireya Anaya Jiménez, of the Methodist Church in Mexico, is a specialist in peace and sustainable development, and does research and projects to bring meaningful participation of women and youth in decision making.

"The core of our faith and the core of the ecumenical movement are that we are united in the triune God, or we are merely another organization in civil society," she said.

Unity is needed as the world faces polarization and fundamentalism that divide churches from the ecumenical movement and their own churches.

"How do we reconcile with Christians who are not part of the ecumenical movement?" she asked.

Lani saw "structural violence" as young ecumenical leaders were kept out of decision-making roles in WCC structures.

"The young have formed ecumenical spaces in digital networks. How will we show them we want them to join in intergenerational unity?" she asked. "If we do not affirm their roles, what will be our heritage in future generations?"


Bran Friesen

Bran Friesen

Bran Friesen of the Mennonite Church in Canada serves on the executive committee of the World Student Christian Federation and World Council of Churches reference group on the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace. Bran also works with Indigenous leaders and communities across Turtle Island in Canada.

For moving into the future, she said that discomfort can be a gift. Accountability is part of the churches' role in reconciliation, especially related to harm done to indigenous people.

"We are in an era of deep grief, but truth is being told by youth as bodies of indigenous children are found on the grounds of residential schools," she said.

She also expressed concern that the climate disaster affects and displaces indigenous people around the world.

Love, Bran said, has led some churches to give public apologies to indigenous people, but "love is not satisfied by words alone. Love means mending wounds."

Bran said true reconciliation is "reconcile-action" as churches turn inward to heal their own personal and structural wounds from colonization, and then alter church behavior so it no longer hurts people.

"I challenge us to pursue radical actions of accountability to protect the earth and unquestionably return land to Indigenous people," she said.

"We need to listen to indigenous voices and follow their lead," Bran advised. "My vision is for every indigenous community to have clean water, food security and housing security, and for women and girls to be believed when they are brave enough to tell us how they have been hurt.

"I hope for a future of reconciliation where we respect the cultures of indigenous people, learn their languages, are joyful with them and celebrate their strengths," Bran said. "This is the future my generation craves. I challenge churches to do this now, united across denominations, color, privilege, locations and religions—inclusive of youth."

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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, March 2023