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Speech of the general secretary of the WCC

Speech of the general secretary of the World Council of Churches, Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, to the WCC 10th Assembly

30 October 2013

Business Plenary Hall, Bexco, Busan

The Dawn from On High Will Break upon Us

 

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, dear participants in the 10th Assembly of the WCC,

 

1. God of life

 

God of life, lead us to justice and peace.

 

Everything we are, and are called to be, is given through our faith in God, the triune God, who creates, nurtures and cares for life - our lives and the life of the whole creation.

 

We are bound up in the mystery of the God of life; we are in a living relationship of the God of life; we are in the life-giving ministry of the God of life.

 

As it is written in Acts, “In him, we live and move and have our being.”

 

There are many symbols of life. The most visible is the dawn of every morning. This is described in one of the most beautiful formulations we have in our Bible:

 

By the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us,

to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,

to guide our feet into the way of peace.  Luke 1: 78-79

 

The dawn from on high will break upon us.

 

The life of every new day is a gift of grace from God and humbles us in gratitude.

 

 

We are given a place in this dawn to bring the work of yesterday into a new time. It makes us honest; it gives us light to see and speak about life as it is, things as they are, ourselves as churches and human beings as we are.

 

We become hopeful: The light will shine for those who are in darkness, even in the shadow of death, and we will be guided in the way of peace.

 

God is creating a new day for us: for all in creation living with threats; for us, as people of different faiths or no faith, facing new and unprecedented conflicts between groups identified by religion; for those who live here in Korea as members of a divided people and families.

 

God is creating a new day for the worldwide ecumenical movement, building on our experience of a real but not yet full unity in our faith and life.

 

The dawn comes by the tender compassion of our God of life.

 

The Holy Bible grounds everything in the God who loves all people and all that is created. God lives with us and calls us to fellowship in the light and in the darkness, in the great moments and the most difficult, even, the shameful moments of human life and history.

 

The cross of Christ shows us the overwhelming love of God and points always to the resurrection when the God of life claimed victory over sin and death.

 

The Holy Spirit is present in our lives, in all life, giving us the courage to live, to look forward, to pray and work for the kingdom of God to come and reign among us in this world, with justice, peace and joy. It gives us a hope beyond this life.

 

 

 

 

God’s creation is more under threat than it has ever been. The globe cannot bear the sum of all the developments and the crises that are present and those which are likely to come. The poorest among us, are the most affected and are becoming increasingly poor.

 

Affairs cannot continue like this. We know all this from recent reports of the UN climate panel, and other reports; many of you know it from your own experiences.

 

Yet we also live amid signs of a new dawn and a new day of light and hope. Fully 2.1 billion people have received access to clean drinking water since 1990. Millions have been lifted out of poverty. Many diseases are being cured.

 

We come here from many contexts. With our diversity we bring stories, experiences, hopes, prayers and vision. We also bring our pain, challenges, and yearnings for justice and peace.

 

This assembly brings us to Asia, a continent of growth, with the largest share of the world’s people, great wealth and power in the global context, but it is also a continent marked with many worries and many families who do not share in the growth and hope of others.

 

We are in South Korea, a country where many have overcome poverty through hard work, and the WCC has played a significant role supporting the democratization processes.

 

Still, the peninsula and people of Korea remain divided, having lived without a peace agreement for more than 60 years. I have visited the Republic of Korea several times, and a few weeks ago I also visited the Democratic People´s Republic of Korea and have now visited both sides of the demarcation line feeling the power and pain of the separation.

 

In the presence of God and with you, our companions on the journey, we perceive the mystery of good despite the world’s evil, and we must bear witness to the tender compassion of our God.

2. Lead us - a fellowship of churches

 

2.1 WHO AND WHAT IS THE WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES?

 

Let us therefore claim this moment of a new dawn by going back to basics. Our basis is that we are

 

…a fellowship of churches which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour according to the scriptures, and therefore seek to fulfill together their common calling to the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

 

We - the churches - have a legacy as the WCC for which we give thanks to God. Among the dramatic events, severe injustices and crises the world had to face and be rescued from in the 20th Century, significant initiatives were born.

 

The ecumenical movement and the WCC have been instrumental in cultivating better and stronger, deeper and wider, and more mutually accountable relationships.

 

Some of us have needed the ecumenical movement and the WCC more than others.

 

In all of this, the fellowship has always needed you, the churches.

 

The greatest asset of the WCC is you, the 345 member churches with two churches well advanced in the application process. Therefore we have done our utmost to ensure that as many of the member churches as possible could be present here in Busan.

 

We should focus on how to emphasize the WCC’s unique “added value”. We represent authentic ecumenical connections between East and West, North and South. On the basis of our churches’ experience, we contribute to the understanding of human dignity, human rights, freedom of religion and peace between the peoples.

 

I trust we will have even strong governing bodies after the decisions we make about our constitution in our Assembly.

 

To be a fellowship of churches, we all have to contribute according to our size and our resources. What we have as churches does not belong to ourselves alone. We have, as WCC, staff and a secretariat. We have partners in the ecumenical movement who expect a lot from us. We have funding partners for our programmes, for whom we are extremely grateful, who are faithfully committing themselves to contribute to and be more involved in our projects.

 

 

2.2 SINCE THE LAST ASSEMBLY

 

We have had a challenging period since our last assembly, and numerous challenges which we have addressed.

 

It is quite remarkable that, even with fewer resources these years have also been a time of rich harvest.

 

On behalf of this Assembly, I present our heartfelt thanks to the Moderator, Walter Altmann, to the vice-moderators, as well as to my predecessor Sam Kobia. I also thank the presidents, all members of the Central and Executive Committees as well as all my former and present colleagues for their many efforts since Porto Alegre.

 

We have worked to create efficiencies in the organization, to become more focused on the impact of programmes, better to coordinate programme and relationship-building work.

 

We have taken initiatives for finding new funding partners.

 

 

2.3  THE ECUMENICAL CENTRE IN GENEVA

 

The WCC is located wherever you are as member churches. You are the WCC. However, to be in the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva is a great asset in itself. It places us in the midst of international organizations and their work for justice, peace and much more related to our call and agenda.

 

Our presence in Geneva for more than 65 years is an important part of church history.

 

We have embarked on a plan for developing the property in Geneva. I am happy to report to you that this process has advanced in a very solid way, utilizing our real estate in a way that serves us and improves the quality of that area of Geneva.

 

 

2.4  CHRISTIAN SOLIDARITY

 

I often summarize the unique qualities of the relationships we have and are called to nurture in the WCC in one word: solidarity.

 

As Saint Paul writes:

"No part of the body can say to another: ‘I have no need of you.’”

 

Christian solidarity in the light of the cross of Christ represents a strong biblical principle which has become a foundation for all ecumenical relationships. It is in this solidarity with the groaning world that we pray.

 

God in Jesus Christ makes a “preferential option for the poor.” To follow Jesus Christ means to do the same. To be baptized into Christ is to share in the cross and the resurrection, giving us courage to hope in life and in death.

 

Christian solidarity is not exclusive, and cannot mean being against the others.

 

2.5  THE QUEST FOR UNITY

 

Unity is an expression of the life given by God and a way to live in a new solidarity. We see the significance of the gift and calling of unity in the body of Christ. Christian unity is inextricably connected with the unity of all humanity and creation.

 

This is profoundly expressed in several of the documents this Assembly receives and makes its own, including Faith and Order’s document The Church and the proposed Unity Statement.

 

Through sharing and discussing, we have experienced the gift of unity, but also in coming to agreement in significant matters through thoughtful processes and in particular through practicing consensus methodology in decision-making.

 

Yet we also find that it serves our unity to know in which issues we do not press for consensus at the moment, where we know that we have to live with and allow safe space to deal with different positions.

 

And among many different initiatives we have developed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Global Christian Forum, affirming the different but complimentary roles of the WCC and conciliar ecumenical bodies and the relationships that can be established through the forum.

 

 

2.6  SOLIDARITY IN MISSION

 

A new mission statement has received broad and significant recognition, and has already become a landmark in the work on mission in our time.

 

The participation of missiologists and church leaders from many parts of the ecumenical family demonstrates the wide contribution to this document. The mission of the church is diakonia and evangelism; showing the love of our God to all. To be missional is to be church in solidarity with those who are marginalized. In fact, mission is defined by and comes to us from the margins.

 

 

 

 

 

2.7  THE WAY OF JUST PEACE

 

Just peace is a way, a journey – a difficult one at times – through which we must address our own complicity with injustice and violence in its many forms.

 

The International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (IEPC) held in Kingston, Jamaica, 2011, demonstrated that the work of just peace is more than an activity of the WCC but something at the very core of our Christian identity.

 

The search for just peace must continue as a way to understand the right dynamic between justice and peace, knowing that all contexts are different. We must see what just peace means as an alternative way forward, and contribute what we can as a fellowship.

 

 

2.8  SOLIDARITY WITH PEOPLES AND CHURCHES IN CONFLICT SITUATIONS

 

In light of the fact that Damascus was an alternative venue for the WCC central committee as the site of this Assembly, this call to just peace comes particularly close to our hearts as we gather for our Assembly. Together with the peoples and churches of Syria we - you - have been praying for justice and peace. ACT Alliance with its many partners has been addressing the human tragedy evolving before our eyes.

 

Recently the WCC convened a high level meeting with church leaders from Syria, Russia, the United States of America and numerous European nations. We met in Bossey with Kofi Annan, former United Nations general secretary, and Lakdhar Brahimi, UN-Arab League joint representative for Syria. They urged that we, the churches, use the significant role we have to advocate for a peace process.

 

We plan a second meeting, at the beginning of the Geneva II conference. The Geneva II conference cannot fail its task to find a peaceful way forward towards a political solution of the conflict.

 

We are particularly called as a world community of Christians to be in solidarity with those who live where the history of our faith has its roots. We think of Iraq, Egypt, Syria and Palestine. With them, we believe that the way to peace is to move forward into a culture and practice of democracy and citizenship, with equal rights for all.

 

There is hardly any place where the people have been in need of a just peace longer than in Palestine Israel. We have taken many initiatives to address the occupation, to end violence and to accompany the peoples in this conflict, for example. Through the EAPPI Programme, and to coordinate your efforts and our theological reflections through the (Palestine/Israel Ecumenical Forum.

 

During this period we have addressed the need for Christians solidarity in many places.

 

In Pakistan, the churches have been deeply wounded by the killing of church members and destruction of their churches. A number of instances of rights of minorities and freedom of religion have been addressed together with the Churches Commission for International Affairs.

 

In Canada, the work for the rights of indigenous peoples has exposed how Christian doctrine there and in many countries has been abused to suppress others, even taking away land and culture. In spite of this legacy, the local churches of First Nations peoples are growing.

 

I have also met the president of South Sudan who expressed the signs of the new dawn for his people through the peace agreement of 2011. He personally thanked the WCC for its faithful solidarity and many efforts, together with many partners in the ecumenical family, for our work to secure a sustainable peace for the peoples of Sudan and the liberation of South Sudan.

 

In my many visits to see you as churches in all continents of the world, I have learned again and again that those who deal with the worst conditions and the heaviest cross to carry are often those who have the strongest expression of faith and solidarity with others.

 

Now is the time to welcome together the dawn from on high, to get up, to open windows and doors and go together into the new day.

 

Thus, we are not here to discuss if we can make a difference together as a fellowship of churches, we are here to discern how and with whom we can offer our contributions.

 

We are called to advance, to embody the image, of the servant church.

 

 

 

3. A pilgrimage of justice and peace

3.1 WHERE ARE WE GOING?

 

This is why I find that a pilgrimage of justice and peace should be the vision for what we do together in the period until the next Assembly.

 

We are together here in Busan to make our own mosaic, bringing together our different parts through prayer, sharing, conversations, discernment and decisions.

 

 

 

3.2  A JOURNEY TOGETHER

 

Our programmes and new initiatives should carry out an integral vision, involving one another and building relationships between us as churches and partners.

 

The work of the WCC must reflect the engagement and commitment of member churches. People in villages the world and in the international organizations next to us in Geneva should be able to see this uniqueness, and make use of it.

 

To give one example: In June 2012, we had the first official WCC meeting in the People’s Republic of China when the CCIA commission gathered in Shanghai and Nanjing. We should work more closely with the China Christian Council (CCC), our largest Asian member church, in such a significant context for the church and the world.

 

We need to find the points of energy for our work. We are called to share the resources we need for this work. They belong to the God of life, and we are stewards of these resources. These offerings may be financial resources and in-kind assistance, but they also may be what you can offer of your human resources for shorter or longer periods.

 

We go into this new day bringing the legacy and the learning, with a renewed profile and with revised priorities.

 

 

3.3 SPIRITUALITY OF PILGRIMAGE

 

Our ecumenical spirituality should embody this image of pilgrimage. Our prayer together should strengthen our willingness to see the new challenges and tasks together, in simplicity, not preoccupied with ourselves.

 

Therefore, we should try to see together how our work could be shaped accordingly, as it is divided into three main areas in our programme plans: unity and mission, public witness and diakonia, and ecumenical formation.

 

 

3.4 UNITY AND MISSION

 

Unity is a gift of life together. What the Spirit has given us is not to be kept as our own property.

 

The WCC has a special role in this work, by empowering others, ecumenical institutions, councils, all of our partners. We must bring the depth of our relationships into the next period.

 

We value and nurture our relationship with the whole ecumenical movement.

 

The identity of the church is missional. This must be the perspective through which we undertake all of what we do.

 

The changing religious landscape offers the opportunity to engage in creative work on being a missional church in a secular context, renewing our call to evangelism and public witness.

 

A Faith and Order world conference on renewal in 2017 will be a significant way to mark the 500 years since the Reformation, but it is also a way to explore how we are renewed and by which theological principles.

 

 

3.5 ADVOCACY IN PUBLIC WITNESS AND DIAKONIA

 

There is a role for the council to say what is true in the right time and to the right people. In our advocacy role, we must be professional, pastoral and prophetic.

 

We have the opportunity of being partners with other important global institutions with common goals and interests. We are ready to contribute to the renewal of the United Nations organization, to become an expression of “we the people” and not only “we the nations”, as the UN Charter itself formulates it.

 

We will continue to work in the framework of the UN Human Rights Council. Together with the next Churches Commission on International Affairs we shall be ready and have the capacities to be both proactive in taking new initiatives and respond to developing conflicts and crises.

 

Let me name some examples of new initiatives we are considering:

 

  • In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the WCC is asked to make a new, substantial effort for peace and reconciliation together with that nation’s churches.
  • We have initiated a new project together with the International Labour Organization to explore just peace through access to decent work in Egypt.
  • Life must be sustainable for all, human beings and creatures. There is a deep connection between economy, ecology, and ecumenism. We need to develop this vision of an economy of life for all.
  • We are ready to take the next steps of working with UNAIDS and churches in all continents to address HIV and AIDS.
  • The huge efforts of churches and ecumenical partners for migrants should be given a proper corresponding contribution from the unique position of the WCC.
  • The work to make the churches just and inclusive communities is a way to give space for the many resources represented in the diversity among us.

 

The WCC has played a significant role in bringing the people of the North and the South of Korea together. This Assembly should speak wisely and firmly to promote peace among all the Koreans. I am proposing new initiatives for a high level meeting in Geneva of church leaders from several of the involved countries, to continue addressing the underlying problems of this unsolved conflict. Peace is a condition of justice for all, and proper relationships require respect foe one another, for human dignity and human rights.

 

 

3.6 ECUMENICAL FORMATION

 

Ecumenical formation ensures the ongoing strength of our institution as well as the whole ecumenical movement. The Bossey Ecumenical Institute not only educates, but offers experiential learning through the development of common life in community.

 

The work of Ecumenical Theological Education develops theological and ecumenical competencies in all parts of the world. The ecumenical movement must promote that legacy through ensuring that those in the North and South, East and West, for men and women, for lay and ordained, be part of the renewal, formation and education.

 

 

 

3.7 THE NEXT GENERATION

 

We are part of an ecumenical movement in which younger people and their organizations bring vibrancy and offer us potential for renewal. We want you to be with us and join in our work.

 

About 600 of the participants in this assembly are youth. Learning from our experiences with the ECHOS commission, we need your contributions in all dimensions of the WCC’s work. We also need to find more adequate and flexible structures for this than one commission.

 

 

3.8 COMMUNICATION

 

To do a lot together for justice and peace we must communicating well with one another, with the many who build public opinion, and with the people and institutions of power. This Assembly represents new methods of sharing information. We will continue to share information and publications through a variety of media.

 

Sharing information is not only telling about we are doing, but a very important means of undertaking what we mean by a pilgrimage of justice and peace together.

 

 

3.9 A FELLOWSHIP OF WOMEN AND MEN

 

One of the great legacies of the WCC to be renewed and to be carried forward is the work to improve the just and mutually supportive fellowship of women and men. The voices and contribution of women should be given even more space in our fellowship if we mean what we say about solidarity. This requires greater prominence in responsibilities and leadership in all aspects of our common life.

 

 

3.10  INTER-RELIGIOUS RELATIONS

 

We have to develop the quality of inter-religious relations even more. By embracing common values and by finding ways of moving forward in conversation and conviction we hold the potential to increase the work on our common goals. At the same time we want to do what is possible to reduce the impact of extremists’ violent actions.

 

As we embark on a pilgrimage of justice and peace, we need to work with all people of good will who share our vision and commitment to reflect the common value of life for all. We should continue to strengthen our relations with Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and other peoples of faith

 

 

  1. CONCLUSION: THE WCC GIVING LEADERSHIP IN THE PILGRIMAGE

 

The WCC has a leadership role in the ecumenical movement, and we take this responsibility seriously.

 

The test of fellowship is our humility, our willingness to listen to the other, to receive gifts, gifts we did not even know we needed.

 

It is in our honesty that we acknowledge that in our advocacy work we do not know everything, yet still we courageously make our contributions for the common good.

 

And it is in our hopefulness that we discover those glimpses of the new life we receive when we work together in common witness and service, when we experience greater communion, when others listen to our voices when we speak truth to power.

 

It is our time and task now to do even more to make visible what that means.

 

Our success will be measured not only by our progress, but by the experience of moving together. We are here to discern these directions forward together.

 

In the life of God we can face life as it is. And I believe that the God of life is now creating a new possibility for the council.

 

The dawn from on high is breaking upon us.

And so our pilgrimage can begin:

“Our feet will be led into the way of peace.”

 

* This is an abbreviated version of the general secretary’s report which was received by the WCC Assembly delegates in writing and which is available for download here.