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Tenth General Assembly of the Middle East Council of Churches

WCC general secretary addressses the Tenth General Assembly of the Middle East Council of Churches

29 November 2011

Your Holiness and Beatitudes,
Your Eminences and Graces,
Reverend Fathers and Pastors,
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

“And the multitude of them that believed was of one heart and soul”

(Acts 4:32)

It is a privilege, as general secretary of the World Council of Churches, to address the work of your tenth general assembly, and to extend my deepest greetings to you in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom we have all believed so that we become of “one heart and soul”.  During the first years of my ministry as general secretary of the WCC, I have been honoured and encouraged by meeting many of you at different occasions offered in your own churches.  I have expressed my calling to be with you and accompany you in your many struggles; and, I have received strong support from the WCC governing bodies to make this work a priority.

You are gathering as Churches from a multitude of Christian traditions in the region where all the salvific events took place, and from where the apostles brought the good news to the whole oikoumene. The community of believers in Jerusalem was also a “multitude” as is your gathering here. We know from the Pentecost event (Acts 2: 1-13) that the word of God proclaimed by the disciples was understood by the multitude coming from all nations, each in their own language. The believers, in their diverse multitude, “devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” as is narrated in the book of Acts (Acts 2: 42). This diversity in communion is in the very nature of our triune God and consequently in the nature of his church that took shape in the Pentecost event.

In these critical historical moments in which your region and churches are going through, you could not have found a more pertinent and inspiring theme for your assembly than the one you have chosen, which expresses diversity in unity; a unity that is communion in its essence; a communion that is shaped through prayer; a communion that implies a courageous proclamation of the word of God and an evangelical sense of solidarity in sharing what we have with the community for its benefit. This is very clear from the verse that you have chosen as theme for the assembly when completed and read with the one that precedes it: “And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness. And the multitude of them that believed was of one heart and of one soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things in common” (Acts 4: 31-32; cf. also Acts 2:45).

Speaking the word of God with boldness (Acts 4: 31) when you are facing unprecedented challenges now demands of you new forms of witness. It becomes more than ever crucial that you express together a common vision about your role in society and deliver a unified message. The ecumenical family, who has always regarded your region with a special interest because the faith that it holds has its roots here, will then listen better to your voice and your presence and impact in your societies will be more appreciated. Your continuous presence and active participation in the life of the different societies to which you belong have been a remarkable witness to the Christian faith.

During its last meeting in February, the WCC Central Committee regarded with great esteem the role many Christians in the ME have played in their countries to bring more justice, and to defend the fundamental rights of all people and the respect of human dignity. They admired the specific role of Palestinian Christians, who have expressed a common word of “faith, hope and love” from the “heart of their suffering” in a “Moment of Truth” document that challenged the ecumenical family to help put an end to the Israeli occupation. They saw signs of hope in the involvement of the Egyptian Christian youth in Egypt, who were part of the struggle for dignity and freedom and who remained resolute to make their presence felt through acts of service that are life transforming for individuals and Egyptian society. In a country destroyed by invasion and wars, where Christians probably paid the highest price of insecurity, Iraqi Church leaders have come together and constituted a “Christian Council of Church Leaders in Iraq” with a vision that is unequivocally committed to the advancement of all Iraqi citizens. And here you are today to reaffirm and consolidate the role of the Middle East Council of Churches so that it continues to be your privileged tool that can mobilize churches in the region and provide genuine perspectives to the relations between churches in the region and the rest of the world. This ecumenical tool in your hands is more than ever needed by the whole ecumenical family.

You are gathered here to renew your commitment to continue to be of “one heart and soul” and to seek new ways and structure for the MECC, as your common ecumenical tool to work for peace and justice through reconciliation and inter-religious and cultural dialogue. Be sure that the WCC, together with the wider ecumenical family, prays for you and for the success of your endeavour, looks at you with great hope and expectations, and assures you of its continuous support.  We as a global fellowship pray that the MECC can offer the leadership to your churches and the whole ecumenical community that is needed more in these times than ever before.

Your committed and humble brother in Christ,

Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit
WCC general secretary