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WCC remembers Pentecostal ecumenist Walter J. Hollenweger

WCC remembers Pentecostal ecumenist Walter J. Hollenweger

Rev. Dr Walter Jacob Hollenweger. Photo: WCC

06 September 2016

Rev. Dr Walter Jacob Hollenweger, a long-time professor of intercultural mission theology at Birmingham University in the UK and prolific author on the nature of the Pentecostal movement, died on 10 August in Krattigen, Switzerland.

From 1965 to 1971, Hollenweger served on the staff of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Geneva, Switzerland as that body’s first secretary for evangelism.

WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit recalled the historic contribution of Professor Hollenweger, both as a pastor, in the World Council and during his life as a teacher: “His passion to share the gospel inspired countless students in mission; his narrative methods paved the road for new forms of ministry and evangelism through social media. His history of Pentecostalism is a treasured resource. His legacy as the first secretary for evangelism of the WCC has been the restless reminder that our fellowship is incomplete without our Pentecostal sisters and brothers.”

While at the WCC, Hollenweger was known for a close personal engagement with churches throughout the world that, in his words, “combine Pentecost spirituality with political and social awareness. I have been looking for a church that considers both to be charismas of the Holy Spirit.” He found such associations in such gatherings as European immigrant fellowships, Latin American congregations and African American assemblies of the urban USA.

According to a WCC news release of 3 April 1970, he was more impressed by some church visits than by others. Commenting on a trip to meet Pentecostal leaders from white communities of the United States, he observed: “They have worked to become accepted by the middle class and have succeeded. After their efforts, they get angry when I tell them it wasn’t worth doing. I really don’t blame them. They were just the last denomination to get on the train, and it was already headed in the wrong direction.”

Having begun his ministry as a Pentecostal lay preacher in Zürich, he was ordained to the ministry of the Swiss Reformed Church following theological studies at the universities of Zürich and Basel. He received his doctorate from Zürich on the basis of a dissertation that became the 10-volume Handbook of the Pentecostal Movement.

Hollenweger published many scholarly articles and books, the best-known being The Pentecostals and Pentecostalism: Origins and Developments Worldwide.

He served as mission professor at Birmingham University and Selly Oak Colleges from 1971 to 1989. Among the innovations with which he has been associated is the Centre for Black and White Christian Partnership. At the Vrije Universiteit (Free University) of Amsterdam, the Hollenweger Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies of Pentecostalism and Charismatic Movements, established in 2002, is named in his honour.

WCC Commission on World Mission and Evangelism

Hollenweger Centre