On Thursday evening, September 1, participants gathered in “confessional meetings” – an opportunity to meet as members of the same church family for prayer, fellowship and reflection on their contribution to the possible outcomes of the assembly.
Disciples: “God speaks before we ever do”
About 30 people from the family of churches known as Disciples of Christ/Churches of Christ gathered, celebrating that the group is growing with at least a quarter present being young adults and seminarians. The Disciples church family grew out of an early 19th century movement with origins in both the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Identity and ecumenism were key topics in their discussion.
The spirit of encounter was expressed by Rev. Allison Bright, currently studying at the Bossey Ecumenical Institute: “The most moving part of ecumenical work here is that these stories have faces now. They are real and they are tangible, and they are heartbreaking. I don’t always know what to say but I know that God speaks before we ever do.”
Historic Peace Churches and Moravians: “Our work [for just peace] is not for nothing”
Reflecting that they were still quite an “ecumenical” family gathering, the three Historic Peace Churches - Church of the Brethren, Mennonites, and Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) gathered with Moravians and Waldensians. With over 50 participants – their largest at these assemblies – they had a spirited discussion on the importance of working for “just peace” in the midst of violent conflict in countries around the world, and in respect to the creation.
Baptists sing together, “God makes us laugh”
Some 40 Baptist participants from around the world gathered for fellowship and to articulate their expectations and concerns for the work of the WCC. They valued the assembly as a mutually enriching context in which Christians from a variety of traditions can share. They considered how the WCC might be more effective in conflict situations, and the need for Baptist churches to engage in ecumenical witness in their respective countries. True to a tradition affirming that the voice of the Church is heard in singing together, participants celebrated their fellowship with a Nigerian song, ‘God Makes Us Laugh’.
Anglicans: “We are coming together as a family”
Almost 100 Anglicans participated in their gathering that discussed “decolonization” within the denomination and ecumenical movement as well as throughout global movements and society. They also highlighted the importance of strengthening youth engagement, within Anglican leadership and in the WCC. From a church family formed in the 16th and 17th centuries in England, Scotland and Ireland, the Anglican Church today has over 80 million members in over 165 countries around the world.
Orthodox: respect and understanding
The confessional meeting of the Orthodox Churches emphasized the importance of the participation of the two Orthodox families, the Eastern Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox, in WCC work and assemblies. Almost 180 representatives from two Church families had the opportunity to come together and renew their willingness to complete the fruitful theological dialogue between them and reach the desired eucharistic unity.
In particular, the call was for all representatives to offer the Orthodox witness with respect and understanding towards other Christian traditions, contributing to the theological discussions and common actions from the spiritual wealth of Orthodoxy, which needs to be more widely known.
Reference was made to the importance of the WCC Orthodox pre-assembly in Cyprus, May 2022, as the forum that currently expresses the positions of the Orthodox for the suffering churches around the world, starting with Ukraine.
African Independent and Instituted Churches: offering leadership on care for environment, peace and reconciliation
Fifteen leaders and members of different African Independent and Instituted Churches (AICs) met to share and reflect on the assembly’s theme from their own perspective. Taking to the floor one by one, they acknowledged that the assembly theme compels them to act for care of environment; promote peace and unity and reconcile the church with God.
AICs are African homegrown churches, founded originally during the colonial period. Deeply inspired by a vision that is both Christian and African, AIC’s are characterized by indigenous forms of worship, theology and social organization.
Old-Catholics: sharing communion
The Old Catholics held a small gathering next to the Assembly prayer tent. They expressed thanks to God that they were able to meet in person for the first time since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic early in 2020. People spoke about other churches with which they share communion, including with the Mar Thoma Church which was meeting in an adjacent room, and the two confessions’ members met together later. Old-Catholics are a group of national churches which at various times separated from Rome. The term "Old-Catholic" was adopted to mean original Catholicism. The Old-Catholic Churches are members of the WCC.
Mar Thoma Church: taking global issues back to local contexts
Twenty participants from the Mar Thoma Church, which traces its tradition to the Saint Thomas Christians of the first century, met together reflecting on the history of Mar Thoma Church membership in WCC since the founding assembly in 1948. They spoke together about the global issues and the relevance of the assembly theme, and ways in which these could be brought back to the various missions and ministry of the church. They also identified a rising need to develop and expose the next generation of clergy and lay leaders in the Mar Thoma Church to continue the legacy of active involvement in the worldwide, regional, national and local ecumenical bodies and as well as interfaith networks.
United and Uniting Churches: what it means to be united in the body of Christ
About 100 participants from United and Uniting churches gathered as a family which, as the Rev. Dr Karen Georgia Thompson of the United Church of Christ said, bring the commitment to the ecumenical movement of what it means to be united in the body of Christ.
United and Uniting churches form one of the most diverse family of churches worldwide, having been formed through the fusion of two or more separate churches. There are more than 40 such churches, found in all regions of the world.
They include the Protestant Church in Baden, where the assembly is being held, and which celebrated its 200th anniversary of being a united church in 2021. Several other churches are also celebrating anniversaries: the United Reformed Church (formed by Presbyterians, Congregationalists and Churches of Christ (Disciples)) in the UK this year celebrated its 50th jubilee and in 2025 the United Church of Canada (grouping Methodists, Congregationalists and Presbyterians) celebrates 100 years.
Lutherans: Sharing gifts
The Lutheran meeting gathered over 250 people. Facilitating the conversation, Rev. Anne Burghardt, the general secretary of The Lutheran World Federation (LWF), quoted the former LWF president Josiah Kibira, stating, "There is no church so big and so rich, that it wouldn't depend on the gifts of others; there is no church so small and so poor it wouldn't be able to enrich others."
Representatives from Brazil, Togo, Germany, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Israel, India, Norway and Romania shared key common issues being faced by the Church around the world. Speakers talked about increasing secularism, tribalism and challenges with navigating multi faith spaces. Affirmations were spoken about the relevancy of the Gospel, the church and the denomination despite growing challenges keeping people engaged and informed.
Methodists: concerns for the world
About 100 people from the Methodist church family gathered for a time of fellowship at the United Methodist Church of the Redeemer. Concern over the war in Ukraine was a dominant topic of conversation. The group affirmed that Methodists are committed to acting for climate justice. Education was also lifted as a priority, especially among delegates from Africa.
The participants agreed that it was important to ensure that younger people are elected to leadership positions in the WCC and the World Methodist Council.
Reformed: churches as a positive force in the world
The largest confessional gathering at this Assembly was the Reformed, in which about 500 members were led in discussion led by leaders of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC).
Reformed is a name given to members of churches bearing the names Reformed or Presbyterian as well as to those national, united, uniting and additional churches which have been significantly influenced by the Swiss theologian John Calvin.
Delegates and other actors in the Assembly described hopes and expectations for the assembly including a call for churches to prove themselves as a positive force in the world.
At the conclusion of the gathering, former WCRC president and WCC general secretary-elect Jerry Pillay was called forward. He was invited to be “commissioned” to this office with a “laying on of hands”, sending him to his vocation at the WCC with the blessing of his Reformed family worldwide. The current WCRC president, Rev. Najla Hassab Abousawan of Lebanon, led the ceremony, presenting Pillay with a Bible and praying as members of the WCRC executive committee and general secretariat laid their hands on his head and shoulders in the New Testament custom of sending.
Roman Catholic Church: “We have to collaborate, we have to work, and we have to pray together”
While not members of the WCC, more than 70 assembly participants from the Roman Catholic Church gathered and were addressed by Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. He noted that divisive issues facing the WCC are also issues for Roman Catholics. He spoke about how Roman Catholics see ecumenism: "As Pope Francis has always said, we have three things to do. We have to collaborate; we have to work, and we have to pray together," said Koch.