Maryland-based, Ghanaian-born Rev. Dr Casely Essamuah was in February selected as secretary of the Global Christian Forum (GCF). Originally ordained in the Methodist Church in Ghana, he began his work officially in July. This week he made a study visit to the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva and the WCC was able to converse with him.
Q: What is the mission of the GCF?
Rev. Dr Essamuah: The Global Christian Forum (GCF) brings together a very wide range of Christian communions and confessions. These range from the Orthodox, to the Roman Catholics, to mainline Protestants, the Anglicans, the Pentecostals, the Evangelicals, the charismatics, and the African Independent Churches. And we do that to create an open space, so that a broad range of Christian churches and inter-church organizations, which confess the triune God in Jesus Christ as perfect in his divinity and humanity, can gather to foster mutual respect, to explore and to address common challenges together. So, our main mission is to bring people together who would otherwise not encounter one another or have a relation with one another, so that they can have a conversation with one another. And we do that through prayer and through faith sharing.
The self-understanding of the Global Christian Forum, which must be emphasized, is that we are not an organization; we are not an institution; we are a platform, we are a forum. Our greatest strength is the convening power that we have so that we can bring people together and, in a sense, trust the Holy Spirit, to guide and to implement the next steps. It is not the duty of the Global Christian Forum to implement but to convene.
Q: How would you describe your leadership of the GCF?
Rev. Dr Essamuah: I am very humbled and very privileged to be serving in this role having come after Hubert van Beek, and Larry Miller who established a very strong foundation for this platform. If there was ever a place where the term “servant leadership” is relevant, this is what it is. Because I am not the general secretary; I’m not the CEO. My title is just secretary and that is intentional. I consider myself more of an orchestra conductor than a CEO. I come alongside and indeed even underneath the other churches to ensure that we can convene together and that we can have conversations. So, my approach to leadership is just how can I serve the various Christian communities, the global church in this area.
Q: What are the biggest gifts the Global Christian Forum could bring to the ecumenical movement?
Rev. Dr Essamuah: I think the Global Christian Forum allows Christians to discover the extended family. We are all in our confessional communions and doing very significant work. But we don’t usually relate to those who are a bit outside of those communions. The Global Christian Forum allows us to see there are others who are part of this extended family. We have positional unity in Christ Jesus and the Global Christian Forum makes us aware of that and makes us discover that anew. When you pray with someone, it’s very difficult to then fight them. And that is what the Global Christian Forum enables; that we have opportunities to hear each other’s story; to discover the work of God in each other, and we can by God’s grace collaborate, or partner for the sake of the Gospel.
Q: In times when we start to lose hope, how important is the “small step” we take?
Rev. Dr Essamuah: It is very important, that small step. It might start with a smile. It might start with a handshake. It might go on to sharing what it is that is happening in one’s personal life, and then one’s ecclesial communities, and then onto prayer. Each step is building bridges and you are tearing down the walls that have separated us for centuries. So those small steps are very important in coming together in a place where we can work together.
Q: In what ways was your study visit to the WCC and the Ecumenical Centre a sign of hope for you?
Rev. Dr Essamuah: This was my first visit to the WCC here in an official capacity. Personally, I have cherished the time I have spent here because the Global Christian Forum cherishes the legacy with the World Council of Churches. Twenty years ago, we were just an idea in the minds and hearts of the leadership of the World Council of Churches. They felt that they needed a place and space, safe and open enough for Christians to come together. So, this is in very many respects our birthplace; and it is good to be here. But, I also cherish the autonomy that the WCC has given to the GCF, so that we are not a sub-division, but we are autonomous; we are not an alternative; we are a platform; we are a network, we are a forum. The WCC is one of the four pillars of the GCF. The others are the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA); the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU), that is the Vatican; and the Pentecostal World Fellowship (PCW). And these four together ensure the GCF is a strong enough platform that is always asking the question, who is not at the table? How can we ensure that the younger in terms of ecclesiology, in terms of history can be part of this table, so that we can more and more represent the whole body of Christ? It has been a sign of hope and encouragement to be here and to interact with the leadership and to learn a lot about the significant transformative witness of the WCC.
Q: Can you say a little about the GCF’s gathering held in Bogota in April?
Rev. Dr Essamuah: The GCF has had three global gatherings, one at Limuru in Kenya in 2007, one in Manado in Indonesia in 2011 and one in Bogotá, Colombia in 2018. At Bogotá, we had more people in terms of diversity and spread. As much as possible we try to stick with the 50/50 principle – 50 percent coming from the older and more established churches that have had an ecumenical engagement and history – and 50 percent coming from the Evangelical, Pentecostal, the charismatic African Independent Churches tradition that are sort of new to the table. This is to make sure that the table is set by all of them, and they all feel welcome at the table.
Q: A short message that you have?
Rev. Dr Essamuah: I am trained in mission studies, so I come to this from a mission perspective. I think what the GCF is doing, is to actualize the prayer of Jesus Christ, that they may all be one. Part of that prayer is so that the world may believe. Our attempts at unity are all for the greater glory of God so that a world that is so desperately in need of the Gospel can hear the Gospel, and that is why we do what we do.
Take up the challenge of ‘Mutual Love’ urges Global Christian Forum (WCC feature of 1 May 2018)