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Address to the United Protestant Church of France synod

Greetings from the general secretary of the World Council of Churches to the first synod of the United Protestant Church of France

14 May 2013

Dear members of the National Synod and of the National Council of the United Protestant Church of France,
Dear Council President Laurent Schlumberger,
Minister of the Interior,
Excellencies, Eminences, Ecumenical guests,
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

It is a pleasure and honour for me to bring greetings as general secretary of the World Council of Churches to this historic first synod of the United Protestant Church of France.  It is good to be in Lyon on this occasion, where the Rhône which also flows through Calvin’s (and the WCC’s) Geneva, meets with the Saone. This is a good symbol for a church which is united from two traditions.  We also remember the pre-Constantinian witness of the early Church in this city. The work of St Ireneas, one of the most celebrated of these early witnesses and martyrs, still inspires scholars and the faithful across confessional divides. From later times, we remember others persecuted, imprisoned and even martyred, resisting and refusing to recant their commitment to their faith. It is important not to gloss over the complexities and pain of the past. As we move to the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017 it is important to learn ways to heal the memories of the past and to move from conflict to communion in the name of the Gospel. In the Reformed tradition, there is also the strong legacy of courageous witness to the Gospel of Jesus which leads to justice and peace. This is a legacy that you are called to spread through word and action in the present realities of this complex and secularized French society.

On this day of celebration, I have three things I would like to share with you: gratitude, encouragement, and an invitation.

Gratitude: We acknowledge the ecumenical pioneering work in the process leading to the Concord of Leuenberg in 1973supported by the WCC’s Faith and Order Commission. Forty years later your union is one of its direct fruits. My gratitude to those past workers in God’s vineyard of unity gives me cause to hope and trust in our ecumenical work today. I am also grateful to those in your own Church who have dared to take on the huge task of rewriting statutes, presenting proposals to synods, transforming structures – it reminds us that the Unity to which we are called in Christ can be hard work as well as joyful. For many of us in places far away from France your union gives hope that our own work may also bear fruit.

Second, a word of encouragement: As your new church is a fruit, a harvest, of ecumenical work in the past, I want to encourage you to continue to be generous in taking up your ecumenical role locally and nationally in the sometimes quite complex ecumenical landscape. This is just the beginning of the strong story of bearing witness to Jesus Christ from your context as an ecumenically committed minority church. The way Christians here in France – Evangelicals, Roman Catholics, Lutheran-Reformed, Orthodox, Pentecostals - manage to work together across the different confessions can also inspire and challenge Christians elsewhere. I am also encouraged by how your church, now united, has been so well-represented also by lay people and women in many ecumenical gatherings. I hope that over time other denominations may be inspired to join you in your united church. So I want to encourage you to invest in our common ecumenical future. No one confession can be Christ’s Church on its own.

Thirdly, an invitation: I want to invite you to remain connected internationally. In this age of globalisation it is particularly important for our churches to connect to our fellowship in mutually accountable ways. At the end of October the WCC holds its 10th assembly in Busan, South Korea. The delegates of your new church will sit alongside delegates from nearly 350 other churches. Not all of you will be able to come to Busan but you can all take part in the pilgrimage and process through study material available online through reflection and prayer. This invitation to be in relationship with other churches internationally does not apply only to the WCC. It is also about remaining connected within your Reformed and Lutheran Christian World Communions as well as through European ecumenical structures.

And finally a word of prayer, which I have had the privilege to share in recent weeks with the newly formed Council of Christian Churches in Egypt, at the Kirchentag in Germany, with the Middle East Council of Churches and in Ethiopia “God of life, lead us to justice and peace”. May God richly bless your church and your witness to Jesus Christ.

WCC general secretary
Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit