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WCC general secretary address to colleagues after the tragedy of air crash in Ethiopia and the loss of Rev. Norman Tendis

Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, addressed the community of the Ecumenical Center, in Geneva, on the morning of 11 March 2019, on the news of the air crash in Ethiopia that took the lives of 157 persons, including WCC staff Rev. Norman Tendis.

11 March 2019

Monday March 11, 2019 - the Ecumenical Chapel, Geneva, Switzerland.
Address to the colleagues after the tragedy in Ethiopia and the loss of our colleague, Reverend Norman Tendis, by WCC General Secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit

Dear colleagues, dear friends, dear sisters and brothers,

We are together this morning to pray, to sing, to be silent, to listen to the Word of God, to strengthen one another on our pilgrimage of justice and peace, responding together to God’s call to serve God’s church in God’s world, to support our fellow human beings and all of God’s creation. Today we do so with a very heavy heart and with many questions in our minds, tears in our eyes - and cries and prayers to God.

Yesterday we were shocked and saddened to read early in the morning the news that an aircraft from Ethiopian Airlines had crashed shortly after take-off from Addis Ababa heading towards Nairobi, and that none of the 157 on board had survived. All the victims, and their families, colleagues and friends were in our thoughts and prayers the whole morning - and still are. Later in the morning I was informed that one of our colleagues in the World Council of Churches, Reverend Norman Tendis, was booked on this flight. Later in the afternoon it was confirmed that he was among the passengers. Among many others who have lost their lives, he was one of us, one dear to us. Therefore, it is particularly hard to share this news this morning with you all. It is a hard shock for all of us who had the privilege to be his colleague and friend, and particularly those of us who worked closely with him in The Economy of Life Program of the WCC. This morning we think particularly of his colleagues Athena Peralta who is in Nairobi now, Sophie Dhanjal here in Geneva and Henrik Grape in Sweden.

Reverend Norman Tendis was on his way to the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi this week. He had worked very hard together with colleagues to present the “Roadmap for Congregations, Communities and Churches for an Economy of Life and Ecological Justice”. This had been his compassion and vision for years.  He was particularly inspired to do this as a local Lutheran pastor in Austria. Now he was seconded by his church, The Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Austria, to work 50% for the WCC to share his experiences and vision with the wider ecumenical family. His focus and enthusiasm was how each local church can contribute to just peace with one another, in the marketplaces, in the communities, among the nations, and with the Earth. This presentation was planned to happen this morning in Nairobi.

We learn that there were many on board from other organizations, the UN and NGOs, headed for the same Environment Assembly. The loss of Norman is a great loss for his family, his church, for the WCC colleagues and fellowship, and for the urgent work to protect and care for God’s creation. This event is also a great shock for many colleagues in organizations we work closely with. It is a loss of many of the experts and those most committed to work for the sustainability of the whole world.

Norman was a very committed pastor and colleague, and he shared his vision and calling with joy and love. He was not here in the house all the time, but when he was here, we could sense his strong spiritual integrity and his care for all of God’s creation. His work was shorter than we hoped for, but it has not been in vain.

Our condolences, thoughts and prayers are with all those who have lost their dear ones in this terrible accident. We pray for the family of Norman, his wife and three daughters who have lost their dear husband and father. We pray for his congregation who has lost their caring and enthusiastic pastor, and for his church.

I talked several times to his bishop, Michael Bünker, yesterday, and together we are coordinating a public announcement of this tragedy today – in agreement with his family. We will organize a memorial service here in the chapel later, when the colleagues in Nairobi are back, and in agreement with his church. Announcements will be made later about that. Today we are here to support one another, to express our thoughts, feelings and prayers, in the chapel and during the day.

You are welcome to light a candle afterwards – as we share a moment of silent prayer.

We say with the Apostle Paul, Romans 14:7-8: “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or we die, we are the Lord’s.

Let us pray:
We pray with Psalm 130: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice!”

O God, our Creator, we come to you with all our grief and sorrows us we learn that we have lost our colleague, brother and friend, Norman. Our Lord Jesus Christ, you have been through death for us, and you are with us in times like these, even in death. Your love is stronger than death. Holy Spirit, come and comfort us and all who have a broken heart today.

O God of life, we do not understand why, and we do not grasp the dimensions of this tragedy of the many who lost their life in the air-crash in Ethiopia yesterday. We mourn for them all, and we pray for their souls, for their family, friends and colleagues

Now we come to you and pray for the bereaved after our dear brother and colleague Norman, for his wife, his children, his family, friends and colleagues. We pray for our colleagues who worked closely with him. We pray for his congregation and his church.

We thank you for everything Norman gave them - and to us and the churches in the world. He was a servant to you and your righteousness, your care and your love for your Creation. Let the fruit of his work bear much fruit.

We know that our life is fragile and accidents can happen beyond all our control and what we do to take care of the lives of others and ourselves. We have to trust our lives in your hands, O God.  In this moment we pray for all who have to travel in their service for you and for the common good. We thank you also today, for every day we graciously have experienced your protection and guidance on our common journeys around the world.

We pray for the sister organizations in the Geneva and around the world who also lost colleagues in the air crash.

Give us strength to continue the holy work for our common home, your creation. We pray for the work at the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi this week, give them wisdom and courage in their efforts.

We pray all this in your Holy name. Amen.