World Council of Churches urges Christians to have hope amid persecution

HOPE in a pilgrimage of justice and peace formed the integral thread for proceedings at the meeting of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Trondheim, Norway, held last week.

The meeting of Central Committee, the WCC’s main governing body until the next assembly, was called to order by its moderator, Dr Agnes Abuom, from the Anglican Church of Kenya, on 22 June, who urged member churches to be catalysts for change in “a rapidly changing and increasingly pluralistic world”.

The 2016 meeting took place from June 22-28, the second gathering since the Central Committee was elected at the WCC 10th Assembly in Busan, Republic of Korea in 2013.

The theme, “Pilgrimage: Discerning the Landscapes Together,” reflected the final message of the 10th Assembly prompting, among others, a powerful statement for peace and justice in Israel and Palestine.

At the invitation of the Church of Norway, the Central Committee talked about the key issues for the world ecumenical family, in Trondheim, an important Christian pilgrimage site, home to the northernmost medieval cathedral in the world.


Possibilities from pilgrimage

Abuom observed that “the pilgrimage offers us immense possibilities to re-imagine ourselves as a movement of God’s people in the mission – open and inclusive, and agile and receptive to the prompting of the Spirit.”

Meeting every two years, the Central Committee has 150 representatives elected from the 348 WCC member churches. It is responsible for carrying out the policies adopted by the assembly, reviewing and supervising WCC programmes and the budget.

The election of new Executive Committee members also took place in Trondheim. In addition, the Central Committee elected a committee to perform a midterm evaluation of its programmes and another to plan the next WCC assembly.

“We have affirmed time and again that the church is a people’s movement and that the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace will also engage people of other faiths and men and women of good will. Let us reclaim and rebuild our capacity for discourse,” Abuom said.

WCC general secretary, Reverend (Dr) Olav Fykse Tveit, a member of the Church of Norway, described the church on pilgrimage as “a people defined by hope”.

He said, “This is not about generalised optimism, but instead about conveying a reason and motivation for hope.

“Often, it means being able to see beyond what we see and expecting something more and something else, looking for justice and peace, and nothing less. Hope is a criterion of our Christian faith,” explained Tveit.

He cited examples mentioned in the Executive Committee’s review of activities since 2014 with the WCC’s involvement in stages of the pilgrimage such as in the Korean peninsula, Ukraine, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine, South Sudan, Burundi, Colombia, Nigeria and in cities of the United States that have experienced racial confrontation.

Panel discussions were held on child rights and there was critical introspection on religion and violence, while the WCC also spoke up on behalf of forcibly displaced persons, including the right to asylum.


‘Network of peace initiatives’

“We have established a network of peace initiatives,” Tveit reported, noting a previous week’s gathering of church participants “for a workshop in Johannesburg, South Africa, commemorating 40 years since the Soweto massacre. The churches share with one another, from different parts of the world, how we are fulfilling our role of being peacemakers and calling for justice.”


World Mission Conference

On 29 June, the Central Committee chose Arusha, Tanzania as the venue for the next World Mission Conference to be held 8-13 March 2018.

Bishop Geevarghese Mor Coorilos, Moderator of the WCC’s Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME), presented the conference theme, “Moving in the Spirit: Called to Transforming Discipleship.”

More than 700 delegates from churches worldwide are expected to gather for the event hosted by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania.

During the meeting, the WCC welcomed three new member churches to the ecumenical fellowship and also admitted two others to interim membership status.