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Dr Agnes Abuom’s Welcome Remarks WCC Executive Committee, Geneva, 22-28 May 2019

Brothers and sisters, welcome to the Executive Committee meeting. It is a joy to see each one of you. A lot has happened both positive and not so good, since we last met at the stop in our pilgrimage together in Uppsala, Sweden; this stop for was a moment to learn and be exposed to the Swedish ecclesial landscape and we are grateful to the Church of Sweden for their support and solidarity.

22 May 2019

Brothers and sisters, welcome to the Executive Committee meeting. It is a joy to see each one of you. A lot has happened both positive and not so good, since we last met at the stop in our pilgrimage together in Uppsala, Sweden; this stop for was a moment to learn and be exposed to the Swedish ecclesial landscape and we are grateful to the Church of Sweden for their support and solidarity.

Expectations: We come with many expectations and the desire to share our experiences in our churches, communities and countries. It is my hope that these will be realized formally and informally during our time together here at Bossey. May I on behalf of the leadership express our gratitude to you Executive Committee members for taking your pilgrimage of serving the wider ecumenical movement seriously. Many of you left important tasks in your churches and workplaces, not least the family, to come to these meetings. Be assured that your commitment is not taken for granted. From the leadership we hope that we can continue to build and strengthen our community as we seek to fulfill the mandate bestowed upon us by the Central Committee. It is expected that during this meeting we shall:

  • Revisit the ethos of the consensus decision making process;
  • Seek members’ active participation throughout the meeting;
  • Strengthen our community life together by praying, sharing and discerning the will of God for our work;
  • Receive reports of program work as part of our monitoring role; and
  • Give guidance and make decisions.

Issues: I would like to lift up a few issues for our continued reflection and action.

  1. The Just Community of Women and Men - Gender justice … I shared at the last Executive Committee meeting briefly on the state of gender violence against women, men, boys and girls which continues to be a global concern insofar as peace and security are concerned. While we have made gains regarding the role of women in church and community, some of the gains were being reversed e.g. ordained women face challenges in some churches.  The Mar Thoma women celebrated their centenary in February and I had a chance to join 100,000 women; these great servants of God continue to be the engine of evangelism, revival and renewal in the church.

The Gender Policy is in place and many may ask why such a policy. Gender is a transversal in the WCC approach to program. It cuts across the different programs. As we build and strengthen just communities of women and men, the policy is an instrument to guide our work and it is a collation of past decisions. But we need to move beyond policy to lift up issues pertaining to gender justice and determine appropriate strategies and approaches to bring to the fore lessons learnt, ongoing challenges in churches and communities; as we seek to use the convening role of WCC to create space and momentum towards the assembly and beyond.

2. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child -CRC (30 years).  This year 2019 marks 30 years since UN member states ratified the Rights of the Child Convention. While many nations/states ratified the convention, their accountability –reporting back has been on a voluntary basis.  It is also evident that some of the religious communities still have ongoing questions and doubts regarding aspects of the convention. The WCC Child friendly Churches program in partnership with UNICEF on a pilot basis is a way to lift up the place of children in our communities and churches. Perhaps we need to establish how our governments and churches are performing in regard to the rights and place of children. Some of us attending the CWME meeting in Finland, had a chance to worship at the Orthodox Church in Helsinki and in this church; there was space for children to participate. There was a place in the church where they could draw, children could walk around in an orderly manner. It was a reminder that we do not need extraordinary activities for children to participate and to be heard. The question is: How should we as WCC mark the 30 years of CRC if at all?  In many places children can be considered as the “margins” within the margins of the church and community. Their presence is neither felt nor is their voice heard

3. Intersectionality of the WCC three pillars – The identity and foundation of WCC rests on three pillars or African cooking stones. These are Faith and Order, Mission and Evangelism and Justice and Peace (Life and Work).  Unfortunately the history of these streams is characterized by a perception that one or the other stream is favored at the expense of the others. We need to recall that the council has come a long way in addressing such perceptions but unfortunately they persist. There was a time in the life of the WCC some programs were so powerful and lived their own lives in silos. How can we ensure that the process started by the commission leadership attending each other’s meetings and sharing information continues and respective areas of convergence between the three streams are highlighted as individual commissions make their valuable contributions to the wider ecumenical movement? There is a saying that: “Never be a prisoner of your past. It was just a lesson, not a life sentence”. How can we overcome this in our work and interaction?

4. Assembly Theme and preparation I have been closely accompanied by the South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC) - As we reflect and prepare for the assembly, we need to discern how we might bring to the surface the pilgrimage of churches and communities towards overcoming institutionalization of negative ethnicity, xenophobia, hatred, racism.  I am reminded of the campaign by the SSCC in 2018-2019 on “the Power to Forgive” stemming from the Power of Love.

5. Eco-Justice - “Only when the last tree has died and the last river has been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realize we cannot eat money” Cree Indian Proverb. The urgency of climate change is at the doorsteps of the church. During the launch of the Road map, it became evident that churches and communities can become “green churches” by doing simple but important and life changing actions as illustrated by the church in South India.  As WCC governing bodies we called to live out our policy statements, for example, ensuring a “Blue Community” approach. Perhaps an area we need to revisit is travel. Let us walk the talk.

 

God bless