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Kobia calls for risky, change-provoking ecumenism

01 April 2005

The ecumenical movement must remain a ferment of change, recovering the spirit that led it to take risks, World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia told a gathering of Asian church leaders.

"The need for the ecumenical movement to maintain its character of supplying the ferment of change" in spite of "recent preoccupations with internal institutional challenges," was stressed by Kobia speaking on Friday 1 April to representatives of over 100 Asian churches gathered in Chiang Mai, Thailand, at the 12th general assembly of the Christian Conference of Asia.

Kobia affirmed that the ability "to read the signs of the times, often ahead of member churches and society in general" had been at the root of the ecumenical movement's "stirring achievements" in the past. Among them he highlighted its "bold and prophetic involvement in the struggles against apartheid, military dictatorship and the suppression of human rights".

But today, he said, "we seem to have lost some of the spirit that led us to take risks". Among the reasons for this he mentioned the preoccupation with "self-preservation", which leads organizational structures "to be embroiled in the task of taking care of internal, institutional and programmatic survival".

To reverse the "inwardly-directed obsession with our own structures," the WCC general secretary proposed an "active encounter and creative engagement with the issues and challenges facing our world of today".

Among the current trends the ecumenical movement cannot ignore is the "contemporary yearning for more experiential dimensions of faith," which he sees especially among the younger generations. They are "crossing boundaries of tradition and forming new spiritual and moral networks", he said.

Another equally relevant trend is the "spirituality of life as experienced among the poor and the social movements that support their cause." This is bringing about "new alliances for life, […] coalitions of resistance to injustice, oppression and exclusion."

"We need to draw these two streams together into a creative dialogue," Kobia stated.

Kobia advocated an active search for "new meaning and new ways of being the ecumenical movement," highlighting Asia's contribution to ecumenism. That has been, he noted, the conviction that its purpose "is not to serve its own interests and those of the institutional structures of the churches, but to serve the causes of justice and peace in the world."

The full text of the WCC general secretary's keynote speech is available upon request.

For additional information see WCC press releaseof 23 March 2005at:

www2.wcc-coe.org/pressreleasesen.nsf/index/pr-05-08.html