WCC 11th Assembly, Karlsruhe Report
Kenyan sees delegates as 'image of humankind'
Looking from the podium over delegates at the Aug. 31 plenary of the World Council of Churches (WCC) 11th Assembly, Agnes Abuom, moderator of the WCC Central Committee since 2013, observed, "You are a living image of all humankind in all its diversity."
She saw them as bringing stories of people struggling for justice and peace, and stories of communities working for reconciliation and unity.
Agnes was aware they bear the trauma of people suffering from violence and war, the burden of communities divided by hate speech, racism and ethnic tensions, and the effects of the climate emergency and economic exploitation.
"Cheap reconciliation and superficial unity are not enough," she said. "We need to see the world as it is, broken and marked by sin.
"Absolutely fundamental to the WCC and the ecumenical movement are relationships," said Agnes. "That's what makes experiences like the assembly so precious and formative. We encounter one another—in all our uniqueness—and recognize a neighbor in the stranger, and unity in the midst of our diversity.
"We come to Karlsruhe as pilgrims to share our hopes and anxieties, accompany and support each other, set new directions for our journey and witness together to the love of the triune God," said Agnes, urging them to bring good news and compassion to the poor and marginalized.
Delegates gathered because, even though they belong to different communions that are not in full communion with each other, they believe human beings, regardless of gender or skin color, are created in God's image and have equal dignity.
They came to conduct business, evaluate the WCC's work and guide its future work.
"At its best, the assembly is a spiritual celebration of God's power of love to renew our minds and hearts, so we become a counter-cultural force driven by solidarity with the most vulnerable people and for God's creation," said Agnes, an Anglican from Kenya.
The assembly met Aug. 31 to Sept. 8 around the theme, "Christ's Love Moves the World to Reconciliation and Unity."
Agnes recognized young people, "anxiously struggling for life" as they experience the first catastrophes of the climate crisis and as "the last generation that can take action to stop global warming."
More than 400 had attended the pre-assembly Ecumenical Youth Gathering.
Agnes reported on Pilgrim Team Visits to various regions and on the convergence in the Faith and Order text titled "The Church: Towards a Common Vision."
She recounted engagement with churches in the Colombian peace process and racial reckoning in the United States, closer ties with the Roman Catholic Church and World Evangelical Alliance, and innovative ways the WCC stayed together in mission and ministry through the COVID-19 pandemic.
"WCC themes are always about our mission, witness and unity in prophetic dialogue with a certain time," she said.
The first assembly she attended was 1975 in Nairobi, in her home country, Kenya. Its theme, "Jesus Christ Frees and Unites," spoke to liberation struggles and ending colonialism in Africa and the global South.
With hate speech normalized in social media, with xenophobia and racism fed by national populisms and politics of fear, and with the poor facing climate catastrophe driven by lifestyles of the few who are rich, Agnes finds it makes sense to call Christians "to re-envision prophetically their mission, witness and unity related to Christ's compassionate love."
She hoped the theme, the consensus procedures and the commitment to unity would help the assembly "address difficulties that divide humankind."
Agnes said the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace since 2013 in Busan, Republic of Korea, was a time of praying, walking and working towards God's reign of justice and peace.
It showed that doctrinal and ethical disagreements should not stand in the way of collaboration and fellowship, she added. It was a way to integrate local, national, regional and global levels of the ecumenical movement to focus on marginalized people.
During the pandemic, the pilgrimage pushed the WCC to new ways of working together using new methods and technologies.
Agnes commended the pilgrimage approach of teams listening to and challenging people they encountered.
• In Israel and Palestine, they discussed the separation wall and water justice.
• In Nigeria and other places in Africa, women and interfaith partners told of their struggles.
• Colombian communities described scars they bear from the civil war as they begin peace.
• India and Dalits told of their struggle for equal rights.
• Koreans expressed their yearning for reconciliation.
• Refugees in Bangladesh, Myanmar and Thailand shared about the support they need.
• Indigenous people in West Papua and the Philippines described of their plight.
• People in Fiji reported on being displaced by rising sea levels and mining.
• Indigenous peoples and those of African descent in North America discussed their struggle with the consequences of colonialism and slavery.
• The Sami people in Northern Europe, migrants in Italy, and people in Armenia and Ukraine also shared the injustices and violence they encounter.
The pilgrims focused on the climate crisis and care for creation; economic injustice and an economy of life; violence, wars and work for peace; and racism, ethnic pride, oppression of women and human dignity.Stories centered on five themes: truth and trauma, land and displacement, gender justice, racial justice, and health and healing.
"In Christ's love, we are free. We can and must be bold and prophetic, standing up for justice and peace," Agnes asserted.
She called for an "ecumenism of the heart" to overcome divisions, see with the eyes of Jesus' compassion and the eyes of common commitment to God's kingdom.
"Within the foundation of unity in Christ, we can look at what separates us in matters of faith, ordained ministry and ethics," Agnes said.
She also introduced seven new member churches to the WCC: the Dutch Reformed Church from South Africa, the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian Blantyre Synod from Malawi, the Council of Baptist Churches in Northeast India, the Africa Brotherhood Churches from Kenya, the Community of Baptist Churches in Central Africa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa and the First African Church Mission from Nigeria.
For information, visit youtube.com/watch?v=1fH6tFLh3DQ and youtube.com/watch?v=oGeTUhdxRaA.