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Ecumenical institutions are not eternal, but new ways of working together are possible, WCC general secretary says

24 October 2005

Free photos available, see below

"Today's constellation of ecumenical organizations is not immutable," according to the World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary. Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia suggested that for this reason, those involved in the ecumenical movement have to seek new "ways of working together in more suitable patterns".

Although "the ecumenical movement has produced a number of institutions through the years" in order "to meet the needs of a particular moment," and although many of them "have adapted to address changing needs," "yet none of these institutions - not even the World Council of Churches - is eternal," Kobia noted at a symposium in New York on 22 October.

According to the WCC general secretary, "the ecumenical movement is not ultimately about such instruments", but "fundamentally about faith in God, proclamation of new life in Christ, confidence in the Spirit to lead us into visible expressions of the unity we possess as God's gift to the church".

It is because of the conviction that the ecumenical movement will only "prosper through God's grace", that "ecumenical institutions are freed to exercise discernment as to whether our own agencies remain instruments relevant to the demands of this hour - or if God is calling us onward into other manifestations of Christian ministry," Kobia said.

Noting that the map of Christianity "is being radically redrawn", Kobia suggested that "new configurations of the faith community will require a re-conceptualization of relationships". This should, in turn, help to reveal "ways of working together in more suitable patterns, more creative environments, more faithful ministries of service".

The WCC general secretary went on to suggest that this search for new relationships should be characterized by the "imperative of learning to listen", in order truly to "understand the weight of the burdens carried by others, and also to discover their capacity to care". It should likewise be marked by a "spirituality of engagement" that links "things of the spirit with action for liberation, justice and peace".

In order to achieve renewed relationships, Kobia highlighted the need for "multilateral dialogues among the churches" that allow a "universal sense of Christian identity" to be established, as well as the "unavoidable necessity of engaging ecumenically in what some call 'a broader ecumenism', that of inter-religious dialogue".

The WCC general secretary shared these considerations in his keynote speech at a 22 October symposium on "Challenges facing the ecumenical movement in the 21st Century" at the Interchurch Center in New York.

Jointly sponsored by the Armenian Apostolic Church of America, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, and the WCC, the symposium was organized in honour of Aram I, Catholicos of the Armenian Apostolic Church (See of Cilicia) and moderator of the WCC central committee, who is marking the tenth anniversary of his election as Catholicos.

<span style="font-weight: bold; "» Tribute to His Holiness Aram I

In a tribute paid at a banquet celebrated on 23 October, Kobia highlighted three areas in which Aram I had made a "prophetic contribution of immense value to ecumenical thought".

Through his "remarkable reflection on catholicity as an alternative reality to contemporary globalization," Aram I offered "hermeneutical keys to an authentic and fresh approach to 'being church'" to the ecumenical movement, Kobia said.

Secondly, Aram I brought inter-religious dialogue and relations "to the forefront of our ecumenical life". According to Kobia, this area is all the more important since "historical circumstances and tremendous changes taking place in our societies call all religions to engage in a critical process of self-understanding".

Finally, Aram I shared the "rich theological, spiritual and cultural heritage of the Armenian people, this small nation that was privileged to receive the gospel so early" and which witnessed faithfully to it "up to the point of becoming the victims of a cruel genocide". The central committee moderator's particular contribution here was to suggest "restorative justice" as a possible "model both for the Armenian genocide and for other crimes against humanity still awaiting justice".

Free photos are available at:

www.wcc-coe.org/wcc/photo-galleries/meetings/symposium05/symposium-ny-oct05.html

See also our press release of 12 October 2005

www2.wcc-coe.org/pressreleasesen.nsf/index/pr-05-60.html

Media contacts:

- Caroline Hennessy, 212-870-2192 917-407-6172 (mob.)

- Philip E. Jenks, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, 212-870-2252

- Armenian Apostolic Church of America, 212-689-7810