WCC pre-assemblies raise issues
By Catherine Ferguson, SNJM
Churches united make a difference!
A critical event, which occurs about every eight years takes place from Aug. 31 to Sept. 8 this year in Karlsruhe, Germany.
More than 4,000 participants from around the world from the member churches of the World Council of Churches (WCC), their ecumenical partners, and other churches and faiths gather in its 11th General Assembly to pray, celebrate and deepen their commitment to visible witness and common unity.
The WCC Assembly is the highest governing body of the WCC.
WCC member churches can be found in all regions of the world and include most of the world's Orthodox churches (Eastern and Oriental), as well as African Instituted, Anglican, Assyrian, Baptist, Evangelical, Lutheran, Mennonite, Methodist, Moravian, Old-Catholic, Pentecostal, Reformed, United/Uniting and Free/Independent churches, Disciples of Christ and Friends (Quakers).
In the 1930s and 1940s, the majority of the churches involved were based in Europe and North America.
Representation of churches by geographical regions arose from a vision of Christian unity no longer held captive by "western parochialism" but providing a balance among churches of East and West, South and North. This balanced diversity was deemed essential to the catholicity, or universality, of the worldwide church.
Preparations for this Assembly, whose theme is "Christ's love moves the world to reconciliation and unity," have been ongoing for several years.
The most participative have been Pre-Assembly meetings around significant issue areas. At these gatherings, members develop positions they want to bring to the Assembly and learn how to be effective in such a large diverse gathering in languages, cultures, theologies, organizational structures and decision-making bodies.
Three pre-Assemblies were held earlier this year and three will be held just prior to the Assembly. Their results will be published in the October issue of The Fig Tree. The three earlier gatherings give some indication of issues at play in this Assembly.
• The Africa region pre-assembly held virtually at the end of July strategized ideas that should constitute the African voice at the assembly. They named the challenges they face on the continent: conflicts, extremism, migration, COVID-19 and engagement of youth and women, among others.
"Even though our world, as Africa, has many challenges that we need to take seriously as we journey towards the assembly, we do not do so as people without hope, as God has given us resources and gifts that can take us into a better future. We have proven resilience because we understand the dignity God has given us is not negotiable," said Setri Nyomi, a pastor in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Ghana and general secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches.
• A Pre-Assembly for Specialized Ministries held in March recognized this moment as an opportunity for transformational change, addressing three critical issues confronting humanity and creation: overcoming racism, discrimination and xenophobia; the rise of populism, the climate emergency and committed to action on each of them.
Statements came from that gathering:
Racism: "Racism, xenophobia and discrimination have structured society to benefit some and denigrate others. The realities these structures create are incompatible with the God-given dignity of every person—and with Christian faith. Together with WCC members churches we commit to work towards overcoming racism, discrimination and xenophobia in all regions of the world."
Populism: "Truth is twisted, trust is manipulated, and those with privilege and power dominate. We witness the rise of nationalist populism across the globe. As trust declines in social institutions of many kinds, with spiraling misinformation fueled by social media, there are unprecedented threats to human dignity, justice and inclusion—life itself."
The statement continues: "Together with the WCC member churches, we commit to live our responsibility to ensure that all voices are heard, knowing we must find ways to amplify those voices in civil society who seek to pursue the common good."
Climate emergency: "The climate and ecological emergency threatens all of creation, including the whole human family. Responding to this crisis is impeded by how unequally its impacts are felt in different locations."
That statement continues: "Together with the WCC member churches, we commit to provide leadership and action that conveys hope in the face of the existential threat facing creation and humanity."
• Orthodox Churches pre-Assembly was in mid-May in Cyprus. The 50 participants included delegates from 20 Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches: hierarchs, priests, deacons, professors, laity, men, women, youth, observers and consultants.
They said: "As Orthodox, we are committed to the goal of Eucharistic unity, which has been the vision of the WCC from its initiation. The call for unity, reconciliation, justice and peace remains our mission today, as our incarnate Lord invites us to abide in His love by keeping His commandments."
Discussions centered on current global challenges and how the Orthodox agenda at the WCC 11th Assembly can keep dialogue open. Their report included discussions on anthropology, the ecological crisis and COVID-19.
Participants also heard from the delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church about the armed conflict in Ukraine and gained understanding of this situation.
In the last days of August, the pre-Assemblies for Youth, the Just Community of Women and Men and the Indigenous Peoples were held.
• The Youth Pre-Assembly anticipates 400 young people to participate in intergenerational dialogue and strategize for a common message for the Assembly.
• The Just Community of Women and Men plans to explore the assembly theme from a contextual gendered perspective—underscoring women's participation and calling for special focus on women's concerns, struggles and contributions in church and society.
• The Indigenous Peoples Pre-Assembly will challenge and critique notions of reconciliation too eager to gloss over wrongdoings and violations of the past such as colonialism, imperialism and capitalism, which have destroyed indigenous cultures, communities and the interconnected web of creation without addressing the ongoing systemic and structural causes of oppression and injustice of the past and present. Reconciliation is an intentional commitment to restoring wholeness in all creation.
• Finally, in its pre-Assembly, the Ecumenical Disabilities Advocates Network takes the dimension of celebrating the gifts of persons with disabilities, visiting the past and present wounds and coming up with steps of how to transform the injustices.
There will be articles in the next issue/s to communicate the significant reflections and actions of the Assembly.
For information, visit oikoumene.org/about-the-wcc/organizational-structure/assembly