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A vision for a pilgrimage: working and walking together into the future

Speech by the WCC general secretary to the Pre-Assembly for Specialized Ministries at Ecumenical Institute, Bossey 18-19 April 2013

18 April 2013

 

Pre-Assembly for Specialized Ministries

Ecumenical Institute at Bossey

18-19 April 2013

A VISION FOR A PILGRIMAGE:

WORKING AND WALKING TOGETHER INTO THE FUTURE

Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit

General Secretary

 

 

Dear sisters and brothers, dear partners in our common mission, dear co-walkers on our common pilgrimage,

 

Welcome to this round table pre-assembly for specialized ministries! I have looked forward to this event since we decided upon this gathering last year. In many ways it is a pre-assembly also for us in the WCC. This is a time together to discuss the viability of our plans and preparations for the Assembly, particularly how we work with our partners. This is still a work in progress.

 

Moreover, it is a moment of discussing our common future, at the Assembly and after the Assembly. It is the time to share our reflections about the Assembly theme, the business and fellowship of the Assembly, and the work together in the period beyond Busan. We will do this by discussing how we develop what I have called a strategic plan for the whole council, at least for the next four years.

 

Somebody has asked me to join them for a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela to prepare my mind before the Assembly. That might be a good idea. Regardless, I want to see this meeting in the same image of pilgrimage, but as one taken together to where I believe we should be in our common ministry in the years ahead of us.

 

To address you, the representatives and leaders of those working with the WCC as specialized ministries, makes me humble and proud. We are proud of being your partners, knowing a lot about your many highly skilled and resilient efforts to care for life and promote justice and peace where it is threatened. I am also humble as we recognize the enormous amount of work and resources you have invested in the work of the WCC over many years. We all know that you are providing a major part of the budgets for the operations of the WCC, and we want you to be properly recognized for that contribution.

 

Your encouraging presence here today is another visible sign of your support and your willingness to find new ways forward together, even when you have your own challenges for your future work. Speaking with you means sharing common values and calling, and therefore also sharing the resources given to us for proper stewardship for the benefit of those who need what we are able to do together. We do this, as we also witness what we are harvesting from our common efforts and resources in the period now behind us.

 

Speaking with you these days about my vision for the years ahead of us, I believe, will make me believe that dreams can become true.  There is a deep sense of being together when we imagine what we may be able to do together in the next years if we develop our objectives, strategies and plans together.   We are able to fulfill our goals in the next period, through a common effort. I want to see us succeed in our plans and initiatives; I do believe that you share the same hope with me.

 

You have been and we expect you to be the major donors to the work of the WCC also in the years to come, even as we also search for more partners to support us. However, you are much more than our donors, you are our committed partners.  You belong to the legacy and to the life of the ecumenical movement.  I would even say that you belong to the identity of the WCC. Even if some of you for some reason could not support us financially in the years ahead, you are our partners in our work. The amendments of the rules for the WCC about your participation in the governing bodies are also made to ensure that to happen.

 

Your vocation as specialized ministries for international diakonia is deeply rooted in the basic vocation of the WCC: being church together. We need you to show that being church together is to pray and proactively work for justice and peace for all. You have many of the financial resources, the logistical instruments, the human resources, experiences, professionalism and commitment available for the churches in the world today to make that happen.

 

Dear friends, this is our time of leadership of the ecumenical movement. This is our assembly. This is our chance to be led by the God of life with this amazing instrument of the WCC in our hands.

 

«God of life, lead us to justice and peace!» We could hardly have an Assembly theme closer to your agenda.  By defining the gift of life in relation to the qualities of justice and peace we are at the heart of the mandates of your organizations. Even more, I believe it corresponds to, even expresses, what is on your hearts. This first pre-assembly for specialized ministries is your time to discuss with us what the ecumenical movement should do for justice and peace in the world in the coming years. We will listen carefully.

 

In making a prayer our theme, we are involving more dimensions of our lives than our professional commitment; we involve our longings, our hopes, our faith, and we include our communities of believers in a common vision. We do this not against our professionalism, not in contradiction to our formulated objectives for our work, but making our goals even more significant and our professional contributions to achieve these goals even more meaningful.

 

So what can we do together to show that praying this theme makes a difference, believing that prayer and work are two dimensions of the same calling?  How can we make this image of a pilgrimage together for justice and peace a meaningful concept?  Let me share some of my visions for the WCC in the years ahead of us.

 

 

 

  1. 1. Being churches as servants for justice and peace

 

What does it mean to be church, and moreover, to be church together? This will be the underlying theme of many ecumenical discussions in the Assembly. The best way to answer this question is not to look to ourselves, but to those who need the church to be a just and inclusive community, to offer a witness about Christ, to show courage and give hope. WCC as a fellowship of churches has a mission to help the churches to be more authentic and more strategic servants in the world, together. The quest for unity, the call to mission, the public witness and the diaconical ministry are integrated dimensions of being church. Our two sectors of programme work are now named after these dimensions, and I believe that this is indeed also what you can help the churches and the WCC to be. You should be aware that we are developing into a remarkable consensus of how the call to justice and peace belongs to the core of our Christian faith and being Church, changing the paradigms of many ecumenical discourses, also moving the demarcation lines in the ecumenical landscape. This became also quite clear in a brainstorming conversation about the joint advocacy work in the ecumenical movement here yesterday, discussing the future of EAA.

 

As we discussed one day in March in our Staff Leadership Group how to establish a sense of joint pilgrimage as uniting dynamic throughout the many elements of the assembly, I shared an image of a mosaic of St Francis, in whom I see a model for our ecumenical pilgrimage for justice and peace, shared by the whole ecumenical family. Even protestant children in the secular school of Norway learn his prayer, Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.This particular mosaic from the church in Plateau d’Assy, France offers an image in which every colour and every shape fits into a holistic vision.  The same evening we saw the new Pope, the bishop of Rome, calling himself Francis, after this saint known as the servant and prophetic witness to the poor, the pilgrim praying for peace, renewing the church to serve those who are in greatest need. For this we need to walk together, even to kneel together, united in prayer for and with one another. This is also the message he conveyed in his installation, in the short conversation I had with him the next day and in a personal letter I received this week.

 

The unity statement now prepared for this Assembly offers a new reflection on how the churches share the hope and despair of the world, and how the ecumenical movement must do the same. As a fellowship of churches we both receive the fruits of the work for unity and share in the pain of division and even conflict. In the light of the theme of the Assembly, we also see in this unity statement a new emphasis on how any unity is conditioned by and must serve justice and peace.

 

This perspective of the church as being a servant to the world is also emphasized in the more and more significant document from Faith and Order: The Church - Towards a Common Vision. This convergence text is one of the fruits of the many years of ecumenical reflections and shared challenges to the churches.

 

The church is both at the centre and the margins, and should be so. However, the changing paradigm in mission emphasizes the significance of those who often are seen to be in the margins, actually as belonging to the definition of the centre of the church. Therefore, the mission of the church is from the margins, not to the margins as often said before.  The powerful reflection on this theme in the new Mission document of the WCC, Together towards life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes, shows another shared approach of mission among many churches, also beyond our membership constituency, but also beyond that, including the Roman Catholic Church and evangelical movements. I am curious to hear how you read this text into your contexts and your understandings of your mission.

 

My vision is that the WCC continues to be a major promoter of this change of paradigm, developing in the years ahead  a new common commitment to be church together, with a common shared witness for justice and peace, focusing on those who need the church and the fellowship of churches the most. (I believe we will see that somehow that is all of us, in different ways. But that is exactly the character of the Gospel!) In this picture your particular contributions are welcome and belong to the heart of the work.

 

 

  1. 2. Religion and churches in new paradigms for development

 

There are also paradigm changes in development, which are relevant for the tasks of the WCC in the next years. We hear that there is a shrinking state support for development work done by civil society in many countries, and more space given to private actors. The methods of development work are also changing, and you can help us these days to better to understand what is going on. As an example, I recently talked to the leadership in the Global Fund who ask for our support for a proposal where all countries are called to fund the basic medical treatment for all citizens. This means that they become independent of church aid from national and international partners. I also learned that several governments in Europe offer more of their development aid for state to state grants, or supporting private businesses.  These and other similar changes prompt new questions about the role of churches and church based organizations in development work, clearly of great significance for our roles as WCC and ecumenical partners.

 

Another significant paradigm shift is the new role of religion in international politics and in multilateral institutions. We could say a lot about how or if God is back in politics. In this context I would point to the fact that in many states in the world the role of religion is taken for a given, not only as a phenomenon for private persons and faith communities, but also as a basis for values in public life and in government. I can offer numerous examples. This fact challenges how the WCC develops a common understanding of what our shared values and objectives are in this fellowship of churches, e.g. in our commitment to human rights, care for the creation, in reflections on the financial architectures of the world.

 

Moreover, in my discussions with the leadership of several UN institutions, and with several diplomats, I get clear signals of their wish that we actively participate in the discussions about the role of religion in public life. They ask for our values, particularly our commitment to the human rights conventions, founded in our faith traditions, Mrs Pilly, the UNHCHR, commented on our theme for the Assembly to me: “So you belong to those who still believe that justice is needed for peace?” The leadership of the UN Women asked for more public knowledge about our positions on why the states have to make progress to stop violence against women. This is unfortunately not something which all voices from faith communities are sharing.

 

In this setting, I see the role of advocacy emerging out of who we are and what we are doing, but also out of changing religious landscapes and changing landscapes in international politics. Under these circumstances, we need to proactively use our capacities in diverse contexts and discussions, being relevant through our competencies and relations, but also by involving our member churches in their national contexts. This was exemplified in the recent campaign on ATT, in which we saw that our legitimacy is strengthened by representing the voice of the churches through their knowledge of the different contexts. The campaign was strongly supported and even implemented by you as specialized ministries.  The credibility of our advocacy work is quite often linked to the churches’ ability to make their contribution through words and actions grounded in their own contexts. The connection between the local, national and the global level is getting absolutely pivotal to the advocacy role of churches together.

 

In the understanding of what our role is, we have a long tradition of discussing the prophetic ministry of the church. The critical voice of the churches is needed. The voice is stronger and the listeners are even more engaged when we also can offer ideas about how the people in power can address the challenges of our time. We need to see that no institution knows the solutions for the political problems of the world today, but we can as churches contribute new insights and valuable perspectives.

 

To be equipped to fulfill this role, the WCC needs the support and access to the human resources of the specialized ministries. Even more, in many cases our contribution to advocacy issues will only make sense when we are able to refer to what the churches are actually doing or what you as specialized ministries are able to do in your joint efforts.

 

The need for coordination of our advocacy initiatives in the ecumenical movement is more and more urgent, stewarding our resources better and strengthening our common voice. My vision is that we all can use better the WCC and its instruments for this purpose, as they originally also were established for this. The convening role, giving coherence and mutual accountability in the ecumenical movement, belongs to the core roles of the WCC. We need to develop together what that means in practice in the next years.

 

  1. 3. Christian solidarity

 

The attempts to remove religion from public life and from politics have been partly successful in some countries, but not at all in others. In others, we see that religion might cause another set of problems and even conflicts, quite often due to political use or abuse of religion.

 

In a post-communist era we can and should develop a Christian understanding of solidarity, building on the best of the traditions using this term. We also face a new reality of difficulties and challenges for many of our churches, due to situations where living together with other religions is not peaceful. Quite often this happens for reasons that go far beyond the religious dimension of the conflict. Nevertheless, the situations call for a renewed exercise of Christian solidarity.

 

The combination of the legacies of the WCC, through advocacy, accompaniment and inter-religious relations can in several cases become a quite relevant and unique approach to some of these conflicts. We see that we are credible in many circles, representing a significant part of Christianity in these efforts. We are working to address the situations in Pakistan and Nigeria. I am visiting Egypt and Sudan next week. Our approach of really supporting one another as churches, combined with the openness to address the needs for justice and peace for all, make us mutually accountable in different ways. This is our only possible approach. The cross is the sign that unites us in our Christian faith, knowing that the cross proves the loving presence of God in all circumstances of life, pointing to the resurrection and hope of something new to happen. The cross is never to be used as our uniting symbol to initiate conflicts with peoples of other faiths or to condemn the others, rather a sign of the all-encompassing love of God in Christ.

 

For this work of Christian solidarity we need to develop our competence and capacities in the next years.  Some of our member churches are paying a lot of attention to how the WCC can fulfill this role, with some of them also financially supporting these efforts. Other sources for support might also be available. However, we find that the relationships to local contexts also are served by the knowledge and work of you as specialized ministries, and that there is a demand for coordinated efforts. Your ability and willingness to address inter-religious conflicts are also a common ground for us, that should be further explored.

 

4. Diakonia as the body language of the church

The approach of the WCC to the discussion on the churches’ role in development and the changing world is located within an ecclesial framework.  It is vital to highlight that our ministry in acts of compassion, caring for creation and struggling for justice is based on critical analysis of the context and deep theological reflection. Thus, our ministry of diakonia is a holistic concept rooted in the Bible and faithful to the ministry of Christ. Diakonia is inseparable from actions of solidarity in response to the needs of people, and is therefore an essential part of the mission of the churches, locally, nationally and internationally. This mission was already instilled in the early church and is grounded in the great commandments of love for God, and love for one’s neighbour.

 

Faithful to this call, members of the ecumenical movement have always served human needs, focusing on the marginalised, the “least of these”. The transformative and prophetic diakonia of the ecumenical movement not only comforts the weak and marginalised but also works to address the root causes of their pain, sorrow and scarcities. Ecumenical diakonia, therefore, seeks to confront the powers of this world which lead to violence, exclusion, death and destruction, and calls for the transformation of unjust structures and practices, proclaiming fullness of life for all by promoting God’s kingdom of justice in our communities.

 

The WCC acknowledges that the diaconal ministry of the churches has grown and developed as an essential aspect of Christian witness in many churches throughout the world. Within the WCC it first took the form of ministry to refugees and prisoners of war, then moved on to the idea of social advancement or social action. Widening the concept of social relief work and service finally led to the promotion of ecumenical sharing of resources, which has become an important concern and practice of the global ecumenical movement.

 

We should never forget that the ecumenical concern about the diaconal mission of churches in contexts of extreme poverty was positively enhanced by the involvement of the relief and development agencies of the churches in the global north, now referred to as specialized ministries. For several decades, the specialized ministries and the WCC have worked in close partnership in delivering significant financial resources to partners in the global south through varied programmes.

 

Developments in both the diaconal activities and the context in which these are conducted have been influenced by a number of significant changes in global Christianity and the ecumenical movement. One of them is the change in that most specialized ministries in the north are less able to direct financial resources to support the diaconal ministry of the churches in the global south through the WCC.  While the WCC is no longer in a position to grant “silver or gold” the Council can offer what the fellowship of churches has: the encouragement “in the name of Jesus Christ to stand up and walk” (Acts 3:6-8) in order to transform this world towards the values of the kingdom. The WCC has thus moved from being a grant- channelling organisation to one that creates spaces/platforms to support the churches in their theological reflections and actions on diakonia.

 

These trends call for new reflections on the role the WCC can play to enhance the ministries of the churches in this area. How can member churches, from their own Christian perspective, continue to participate in the struggle against poverty and advocate for justice and sustainability, complementing the development and humanitarian work of specialised ministries, NGOs and governments? A related concern is how churches can best engage in diaconal ministries ecumenically to serve the needs of the people in and around their own communities and with their own resources and experiences. We ask also, how can the WCC contribute to building and strengthening the capacities of the churches in this field of diakonia? And further, how can the specialized ministries support the WCC to help the churches to be churches together in developing their diakonical reflection, strategies and practice, as significant contributors to justice and peace in their local contexts? I believe we can and should do so.

 

 

5. A pilgrimage of justice and peace

 

We have a momentum now, focusing on the ecumenical contributions to justice and peace, also to the concept of just peace. How shall we build on this?  Interest in a pilgrimage on justice and peace was first indicated by some participants at the IEPC in Jamaica in 2011. The idea was brought through the programme committee to the Central Committee which met in Crete in August/September 2012. When commenting on the document Economy of Life: Justice and Peace for All and the recommendation “Peace and justice in the context of climate change” (EKD), the programme committee report strongly affirmed the call to action as the result of a six-year process of consultations and regional studies connecting the areas of poverty, wealth and ecology.

 

The report says in part: “During the discussion the necessity of a holistic approach was underlined. The analysis of the different crises (global financial, socio-economic, ecological) should be perceived as intertwined. The WCC should offer a spiritual approach arising from the alternative visions and powerful language of our faith.

We also recognized a need to be attentive to a variety of perspectives in this work: voices from people of the margins and victims of different crises; people seeking justice in different contexts; and churches which are interested and would be willing to work in these areas be asked to do so on behalf of the WCC.”

 

Two of the recommendations from the programme committee were relevant to the pilgrimage of justice and peace. These were:

 

  1. That the World Council of Churches launch a pilgrimage of justice and peace based on the basic parameters found in the “Economy of Life, Justice and Peace for All” (GEN Pro 06), Commitments and Call, para. 21-26 at the assembly in Busan (until the 11th assembly) for and of the churches to focus on faith commitments to economic justice (poverty and wealth), ecological justice (climate change, etc.), and peace building. The WCC should “set the table” for the churches (as well as other organizations and communities including the Christian world communions, specialized ministries, interfaith organizations and social movements) to share spirituality and practice developed in their search for transformation for justice and sustainability.

That the World Council of Churches initiates a broad theological study process of the issues related to the pilgrimage of justice and peace in order to connect to the theological work on ecclesiology (undertaken by Faith and Order), unity, mission (CWME) and others within the member churches.’

 

Let me at this stage in the process of developing this concept share the following:

 

The strategic plan of the WCC that we are to develop needs to facilitate these ideas. It should be the overall perspective to the whole plan. All programmes and projects in the matrix to be developed between core areas and work and crosscutting perspectives need to define themselves according to this overall perspective. This should be possible in the light of what I have said about changes of paradigms and perspectives in our work. This is for me not to leave the call to unity, but to find our particular contributions to move towards visible unity in the next years. This can be done in different ways, as you might see from other presentations here in this meeting.

 

The image of pilgrimage corresponds better to the identity of the WCC than decades, and can also better fit into the eight year cycles of the assemblies. It should be a fully integrated perspective in our programmes, not something besides it.

 

As I have strongly emphasized, the image of a pilgrimage as the framework for many of our projects for justice and peace offers a link between spirituality and work that is urgently needed. Furthermore, it conveys a spirituality defined neither by triumphalism nor fatalism. We are on the way, with one another, with the God of life, with a clear purpose: To be a foretaste of the kingdom of God and to serve humanity and the whole of creation. The humility of being pilgrims together is also our strength.

 

The task of the assembly is to fill this plan for a pilgrimage with ideas, visions, directions and inspiration. The task of making this into concrete plans and budgets belongs to the staff and the governing bodies of the WCC immediately after the assembly. The task to make sure that this is feasible, realistic, helpful and filled with substance is ours now in the preparations of the assembly. Together with other pre-assemblies around the world we should now develop ideas and commitments to this pilgrimage, what to do and what to focus on.

 

I believe that we need to discuss particularly our advocacy work, our commitment to gender justice, the involvement of younger people, the work for economic justice, the continuation of the work on ecology, the contributions to peace processes and more. I have already touched significant dimensions of our work.

 

Being together means also finding the way together. We are who we are, in our different roles, we are here and able to do something together if we are committed to do so.

 

We are moving, only if walking, not sitting still. Different routes are possible. But we will find our way to cooperation, to share our tasks, our resources and our dreams if we are focused on the objectives, not ourselves (which might be a temptation for tired pilgrims).

May the God of life grant us vision to see and strength to go forward!