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Utrecht and Uppsala in communion – a WCC-perspective

Speach of the World Council of Churches (WCC) president for Europe Anders Wejryd in Utrecht, Netherlands, congratulating the Old Catholic Church and the Church of Sweden on entering into a communion.

19 January 2018

Utrecht January 19, 2018

(Utrecht and Uppsala on the way to communion, is the title of the document that led to the decisions which make it possible for me to speak today about Utrecht and Uppsala in communion.)

As World Council of Churches president for Europe I have been invited here to represent the World Council, as the general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit was bound by other promises. I very much appreciate your invitation, as this is a dialogue that I have been personally pushing for. To continue on the personal line, I want to share that when I have taken part in mass in your tradition, I have felt a familiarity that goes beyond what I have ever experienced outside my own Swedish-Finnish tradition. I should perhaps also mention that when the dialogue started and ended I was the archbishop of Church of Sweden. In 2014, before the final decisions were taken in Church of Sweden, I did, however, go into retirement. I also bring personal and fresh greetings to all of you involved from the former bishop of Strängnäs, the Rt. Rev. Dr Jonas Jonson, who was the Swedish co-chair all through the work on the report.

But now, to my main task:

A most important document for the ecumenical movement is the Toronto Statement from 1950.

According to the statement, the WCC "is not and must never become a super-church". It does not negotiate union between churches.

This could of course give reasons for me or any other WCC-representative not to be here. The WCC is not a super-church and it does not negotiate union between churches. No, it does not, and it doesn’t even negotiate communion between churches. But an agreement of this kind is indeed in line with the ethos of the World Council of Churches. An agreement like this makes visible and public what the ecumenical movement is about.

What the Constitution of the WCC says about the purpose of the WCC has developed over time. Seventy years ago, here in the Netherlands, at the Amsterdam Assembly 1948, it was expressed: "To carry out the work of the world movements for Faith and Order and Life and Work.” In 1975, in Nairobi, it was expressed far more clearly by speaking of calling "the churches to the goal of visible unity in one faith and in one eucharistic fellowship expressed in worship and in the common life of Christ, and to advance towards that unity in order that the world may believe". At the Harare Assembly in 1998 the formulation appeared even more detailed: "The primary purpose of the fellowship of churches in the World Council of Churches is to call one another to visible unity in one faith and in one eucharistic fellowship, expressed in worship and common life in Christ, through witness and service to the world, and to advance towards that unity in order that the world may believe".

The aim of the WCC has never been successfully pursued by activities limited to the Geneva headquarters. It is when processes in the member churches and surrounding societies have been picked up, visualized, made clear and expressed in relation to and together with the member churches that things have moved. Both the Old-Catholic churches and Church of Sweden, or for short Utrecht and Uppsala, have been active in the Faith and Order movement and in the Life and Work movement. Especially for Faith and Order you can clearly see how the important steps forward are always linked to specific churches and church-traditions relating to and incorporating and expressing ecumenical achievements.

The document which has made the decisions to enter into communion possible has obviously been much helped by the WCC-process on Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry as well as the still on-going process within Faith and Order on ecclesiology. Both churches have also been early active participants in the Life and Work-movement. The Old-Catholics were present at the Stockholm meeting in 1925 and there are several traces of correspondence between the then archbishop of Church of Sweden, Nathan Söderblom, and the leadership in the Old-Catholic tradition. They saw and acknowledged each other and wanted to come closer to each other. Through the Life and Work-tradition, channeled through the WCC from 1948 and onwards, both churches have been strengthened and inspired in their self-understanding as serving and servant churches and churches living in constant reciprocal relationships with society.

The pressure on churches to somewhat withdraw from active commitment with societal affairs is felt all over Europe. The pressure comes both from the outside and from within. Religion is seen as a field of its own, aside from politics, economy and everyday life. In the ecumenical tradition however, faith is something that inspires and guides each individual when she or he leads her life and makes her choices. The Christian faith and tradition also provide basic standards for acceptable politics. These two churches have ambitions not to give in to this pressure to withdraw from the issues of society to resort to a safe side-field. This is an ambition to be shared with and strengthened in the ecumenical movement.

The two churches also share a commitment to uphold good theological standards for their clergy. That is also a commitment under pressure, not only from the so-called outside, and it is good for the ecumenical movement that two churches with this shared ambition are in communion.

From an ecumenical view-point this communion builds an interesting bridge between churches which sometimes have been seen as representing two traditions, one catholic and one protestant. As all of us know very well, this is not true, and through this dialogue, this document and the decisions to enter into full communion, this is now made manifest. They both are catholic and they share the destiny of being true bridge-building churches.

An agreement like this strengthens the ecumenical fabric also in another way. That fabric is weaker than what might be seen to be at first, because ecumenical agreements of communion are non-transferrable. Now, finally, Anglicans, the Philippine Independent Church, Old-Catholics and Church of Sweden, all have agreements of communion with each other, all with all.

Let us post signs about that at our churches located where people of different origin come by!

On behalf of the World Council of Churches I congratulate you to your decisions and call for God’s blessings over it.

Anders Wejryd