World Council of Churches

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Epiphany letter

15 January 2007

 This message in Epiphany Season 2007 is going to member churches and ecumenical partners of the World Council of Churches to mark the beginning of a new period for our fellowship. Please share it within churches and related ministries.


Each of us knows what it means to have the support of others. We also know at home, at work and in our churches that we are stronger together than we can ever be alone.  

Yet how are we to live out the promise of unity within a Christian fellowship that encircles the globe? How will we use the generous gifts that God has given us? 

My hope for the coming years is that we who are part of the WCC will discover the strength that comes with unity (Psalm 133) and use it according to the will of God. It is a hope rekindled daily in worship with others. It is a hope that was palpable last year at the WCC Assembly in Brazil as participants made confessions, asked forgiveness and sought renewal, and as we prayed the Assembly theme, "God, in your grace, transform the world". It is also a hope for our future. This Epiphany message is an invitation to learn about and to participate in plans for the years 2007-2013, the period until the next Assembly. 

Surely it is together that we find our place in the world, and it is in unity that we hear God's calling for this fellowship (Ephesians 4:2-16 ).

. . .


Ecumenical Christianity for the 21st century stands on the twin pillars of a common experience of Christ and a common understanding of a world shared with all of humankind. On those pillars we must build the World Council of Churches that is needed for the years ahead.  

"From the beginning, my ecumenical experience taught me that I cannot be a Christian without being ecumenical," a colleague said recently on finishing her service with the WCC secretariat. Ecumenists for the 21st Century sound a similar theme. They stake our future on churches experiencing Christ together and daring to live for God in the world. This fresh appreciation of our Christian identity is developing not in a vacuum but through engagement with, and at times confronting, the world. It is clear, for example, that today we require new and healthier relationships within the religious and secular mosaic of societies.  

Our calling is to be a people who seek and serve Christ together, to be churches alive in the promise of God's world-transforming love (Romans 8:35-39). We experience cultural differences and may respond to challenges variously, but our hearts must be strong together. The last Assembly of the 20th century in Harare, Zimbabwe, referred to this as the ecumenism of the heart. Our meeting took place in Africa, where people affirm the importance of life in community by saying: I am because we are. Thanks to the progress made in our worldwide community, ecumenical mission and service are now carried out close to the people it most concerns. Whole fields of common action have been dispersed from international organizations to national and local bodies.  

Dispersal is not appropriate or possible, however, in all areas. A globalized world carries global challenges. It is sobering to see injustice, hatred, greed and idolatry unfolding in new forms and on a new scale. A reign of fear and campaigns of terror and reprisal seem to hold sway in the realm of geopolitics.  

The church must respond to the best of our abilities. Take one area of long ecumenical experience—the goal of serving people and nations with international norms and laws. Can we as people of faith come to new understanding of the common good? If morality is weak, what international church actions will strengthen it? If all people are created in God's image, can churches do more to achieve equality for all under the law?  

The possibilities must provoke us, in this and other fields. Imagine if public opinion around the world came to regard local churches as places that actively care about the earth, its water and atmosphere? Church networks that now reach every corner of the globe can support more organic ties to local parishes, and vice versa. In this age of global angst, imagine local parishes as places where people glimpse the fullness of Gods' love for the world.

 Or consider whether churches historically identified with "just war" can now become known for something as different from warfare as the concept of "just peace". The burden of a century of world wars and world conflicts gives us little choice but to seek a new vision.

. . .

A new chapter in our history begins as we breathe life into the mandate of the Porto Alegre Assembly. For that to happen, churches in many places will have to find new ways of witness in the world. We will have to pray for unity and seek it, perhaps especially in working for justice and reconciliation and in developing inter-religious partnerships for joint action on difficult issues. Your representatives in WCC meetings believe the ecumenical community is being called to focus more on collaboration and outreach in the years ahead, and less on institutional questions.  

Making good on work done here and in member churches, the WCC community is ready to face contemporary challenges. New and more focused priorities will guide us. The WCC secretariat is positioned to serve as the focal point for churches and ecumenical partners in global networking and common action. It is time to look outward, not inward. We are embracing new opportunities that arise with change while holding to values that endure. 

As the global instrument of this fellowship, the WCC has a leading role in promoting coherence and collaboration among churches and ecumenical partners. Guided by WCC governing bodies the secretariat is convening members to foster co-operation among people of different religions, to overcome violence in various forms, to advocate for peace and justice with governments and multilateral organizations, to address inequality in society and destruction of God's creation, and to contribute to the healing of HIV and AIDS and other pandemic disease.  

These challenges are reflected in new constituency-based programmes:

  • Ecumenism in the 21st Century does ground work for the ecumenical movement of tomorrow

  • Unity, Mission, Evangelism and Spirituality is about churches becoming the church for today

  • Public Witness addresses structural violence, inequality and the unjust distribution of wealth, seeks accountability from those in power, provides a platform for promoting peace in the Middle East, and sets the profile of the WCC in international affairs

  • Justice, Diakonia and Responsibility for Creation generates credible responses to systemic threats to life

  • Education and Ecumenical Formation nurtures people for the ecumenical journey

  • Inter-Religious Dialogue and Co-operation activates a key issue for the future of humankind.

. . .

New potential is built on an ecumenical legacy that empowers us for engagement in the world. At the core of our faith is Jesus Christ as the way of salvation. Yet we understand that it is not for us to set limits on the saving power of God and know that God can accomplish more than we can ask or imagine. We keep the faith as a global body of witnesses to the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of life, the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We seek to live in just and loving relationships with others and to take the risk of counting on God's presence under all circumstances. We see the oikumene, the whole inhabited earth, as the common home of humanity and of other communities of faith. 

There was never a time when such shared hopes and common needs could simply be addressed to a distant organization for solution. We will rise to meet our challenges in the years ahead only in so far as we act together. While much in our world pulls us apart, the opportunities to find strength in unity today may be greater than ever before.  

God's horizon is our reference point. The koinonia of the Holy Spirit comes alive in insights and convictions that point far beyond the prevailing logic of our time. Life is given to us not for domination or self-centeredness, but for sharing, thankfulness, conviviality and joy. We are to find our place in the world together, as believers in God and as churches for the world.  

Inspired by St. Paul's words in Ephesians (see above reference), my prayer is that in growing together the gift of God's grace will transform us and give us the courage to hope and the capacity to understand and help one another. May we grow together toward that light that the Epiphany illuminates in our hears and in our lives.

Yours in Christ, 

Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia
General Secretary