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Launch of the ACT Alliance

Speech of WCC general secretary Olav Fykse Tveit at the formal launch celebrations of the ACT Alliance in Geneva.

24 March 2010

At the public reception on the occasion of the launch of ACT Alliance, in the Visser t´Hooft Hall at the Ecumenical Centre, Geneva, 24 March 2010.

Your excellencies, dear colleagues in ACT Alliance! This is a great moment in the history of the ecumenical movement. The humanitarian assistance and development work done in and with so many churches, specialized ministries and ecumenical organizations throughout the world is now brought together in one worldwide alliance: the ACT Alliance, Action by Churches Together. This is a blessing, not only for the different actors of the ecumenical movement.  We hope and pray that ACT Alliance will become a blessing to all of those in need of a safe and secure life based on dignity, justice and peace.

I want to congratulate all those who have worked so hard in the last few years to make it possible that the two existing organizations, ACT International and ACT Development, could merge into one new alliance. WCC was asked to play a key role in this process, and we are happy that we were able to play this role.  Up to the first ACT Alliance Assembly in October this year WCC will continue co-moderate the governing board.  Personally I feel honoured to moderate this first assembly. We have heard the image of parenthood used to describe the relationship between the WCC and ACT Alliance, and it is quite relevant.  For me personally, I would prefer to see myself as a godfather, since I have only been part of this relationship for two months.  As such I will be supporting and participating in the new life.  Since the baby is already some months of age perhaps this is more of a baptismal feast than a celebration of birth?

It is the right moment in the history of humanitarian assistance and development cooperation to have a more coordinated approach.  Experiences from disaster relief, for instance following the Tsunami in 2004 or more recently after the earthquake in Haiti, have proven that relief and development need an interrelated approach.  Immediate relief is crucial but should be followed up by long-term support in building up economic sustainability.  A global platform which can coordinate such a coherent approach, with full participation of those who provide the means and those who implement, can become an effective and efficient instrument.

Such a coherent approach, in which all partners participate on the basis of equality, is in my opinion rooted in an understanding of what it means to be churches together, to be one. This is an expression of a dynamic ecumenical understanding of unity. As all of you know, the primary purpose of the World Council of Churches is to promote unity among the churches worldwide.  However, to be one means to stand up for one another, to work in solidarity for the wellbeing of all humanity and caring for our common creation. Unity of faith leads to our commitment to work for peace, justice and reconciliation. Unity, which acknowledges and appreciates diversity is therefore the most urgent need in a world which is divided by political, economic, and socio-cultural tensions and conflicts.

This ecumenical understanding of dynamic unity expresses our call to worship God in words and acts together.  We can see our common work through ACT Alliance as worship to God the creator of all human beings and the whole world.  In the Song of Mary at the Annunciation, in the Magnificat, the church expresses how God can be worshipped and magnified through the acts for justice, peace and sharing, through giving dignity to every human being.  Your work is rooted in the heart of Christian faith.  This I offer as a perspective for our common work of ACT Alliance today.  This work can also be seen in other perspectives, as human solidarity and work for better world, and that is quite adequate, as well.  But let us today be inspired by the perspective of how God can be worshipped through the acts we do together.

At the same time this experience of a dynamic unity around the cross draws our attention to a number of challenges which ACT Alliance will face in the coming years. The launch of the alliance does not mean that the formation of the alliance has been completed.  The statutes and the logo, even the organization might be ready for a launch – the actual work still has to begin.  I see the following challenges ahead of us:

  • In the alliance how can the members coming from contexts with different economic and political opportunities be strengthened? This is an old question – but it will always be a relevant one for us, and it shall never be answered completely.  Precisely by intentionally addressing this issue, the alliance can make a difference in the world of humanitarian assistance and development cooperation.  I was encouraged to read in the alliance’s founding document that this issue is fully on your agenda.
  • The second challenge is how to assist and empower churches to participate in these actions of churches together?  How can we involve churches which do not have the tradition of professional humanitarian and development work, as defined by the donor community?  Churches have done this work for centuries, long before the terminology of humanitarian assistance and development cooperation was invented and special development organizations existed.  They have a long history of indigenous forms of local diakonia, using their own limited means of ‘loving their neighbours’.
  • The third challenge which I see, relates to the question of religion and development. An ecumenical alliance cannot bypass the fact that religion plays a crucial role in the lives of more than 90% of the world’s population.  What does this mean for the way in which humanitarian assistance and development cooperation are shaped?   What does it mean for the way in which the alliance works in multi-faith contexts?

Let us be joyful and celebrate today, and let us explore how and where WCC and ACT Alliance could work, or let me say have to work, together in the coming years.  Our two organizations have different functions and roles in the ecumenical movement as well as the wider global community.  Let me give you a copy of the Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement as a symbolic gift today, to remind you that in the next edition there shall be an article about ACT Alliance.

I wish ACT Alliance God’s blessing and a bright and meaningful future in the service for those who need it most of all.