Can you tell us about the process of being selected as a lay canon?
Dr Abuom: I came back from the WCC 11th Assembly in Karlsruhe, and while I was recuperating, I was called by the office of the archbishop and told that I was being considered as a lay canon. There were seven of us. I was the only lay woman, and I see this as a new chapter in my journey.
It’s also giving back to my church. It is a new chapter in my personal Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace, with a great emphasis on the ministry of reconciliation. It is an honor.
On 4 December, at a service at All Saints Cathedral, I became one of seven lay canons. I want to say that the lay canons have a critical day-to-day role, and they are important in the life of our church in terms of advising, and in being available to be called upon.
How is serving as a lay canon a continuation of your own pilgrimage?
Dr Abuom: It is believed that this is bestowed on one after assessing their contribution, their commitment, their faith in the life of the church. Of course I did serve in my church for a long time in the area of development. I’m looking forward to this new role, in the sense that, as much as this is not a full-time job, you will be called upon when you are required. Through the function of lay canon, I will bring back to my church, in Kenya and in this region, a sense of direction on consensus decision-making, I think the this is the way forward in resolving a lot of our issues because it puts the will of God at the center, and our personal interests at a more subdued level. I will be bringing back what I have learned, what I have gained at the World Council of Churches. I see this as a new opening in which I will be able to use my space, my time, myself as a bridge between my communion and our churches with the wider fellowship. Remember, our communion is still struggling and we need bridge-builders and common grounds.
How does it feel to be able to look back on your years of service with the ecumenical movement?
Dr Abuom: As I’ve said in the past, I’m a child of the ecumenical movement. In the fellowship, I was picked rather at a time when issues of justice and peace were so critical in my country and in my region, and at a time when the Cold War was raging quite high. At the age of 25, I joined the fellowship and the movement, thanks to my bishop mentor who became the chair of the communications committee in the World Council of Churches. But I’d like to focus on my last phase of the journey because it is a time when consensus decision-making really became a reality and, as I leave the movement, it lingers in my mind.
Of course, I am also now speaking as an Anglican, which is quite parliamentary and hierarchical in its own communion, particularly when it comes to contentious matters. I think as I left the council after the 11th assembly in September 2022, I left with this very important experience of consensus building, consensus decision-making, and discerning the will of God. That resonates so much with me. Of course when you are in the business of reconciliation, mediation, and peace-building, what else do you anchor your work on?
It has been a very, very exciting and challenging but fruitful experience. Just to remind us that I was the first female moderator from the African continent, a layperson, and so in many ways when you look at the professional, ecclesial point of view, you might think, “how would she do that?” But the structure is such that you have other people to support you, and to teach you, and show you the ropes.
In what ways was the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace at the heart of your journey?
Dr Abuom: The Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace resonated very much with my own work, but more than that it was a challenge to the communions, to the membership, and it became successful in rallying the work from past, present, and focusing into the future. The whole Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace became a tool, such an umbrella, that it became a household communion for men and women of faith. It also helped the programmatic work and program coordination, and this was important.
How did the COVID-19 pandemic change your ways of working?
Dr Abuom: Despite COVID, to a very large extent, we realized that our members, and the fellowship were experiencing different challenges but coming together from different angles. This meant that we had to deepen the spiritual life in terms of the structure of the ecumenical movement—deepen our spiritual life of sharing, of prayer. This was manifest at the assembly in Karlsruhe, where during prayer we saw the different communions taking part in prayers. In this history of 70-plus years, we finally got to see the Pentecostals lead prayer! That is fantastic! COVID meant that the communions had to find different ways of conducting business, and here I want to emphasis my learnings about the intergenerational work because we needed technology, and as the seniors and who else would we turn to but the young men and women?
What are some of the documents that mean a lot to you?
Dr Abuom: I thank God for the resource document “Ecumenical Diakonia” because it brings together different theological perspectives. A second document of course is related to the whole issue of human sexuality. Human sexuality has been with the council for as long as I can remember, and it became a very dividing issue in the body. This document brought us through this process of discerning. There is also the unity document, and the Faith and Order document on moral discernment.
How important was communications to you?
Dr Abuom: The role of the communications department cannot be underestimated or overestimated. During this period we have seen the pivotal role that communications really can play in any fellowship, in any organization. and of course through communications we have been able to realize and to improve the work of the council. The use of social media became very important.
What are some issues you consider vital for the WCC as it moves forward?
Dr Abuom: Number one, I think for me as we move forward, the WCC must seriously address the issue of young people. Busan was poor. Karlsruhe was even poorer. Number two, we need to engage with other religions with a lot of wisdom because, yes, it is a new method of collaboration but then we need to deepen—as the Bossey Ecumenical Institute is doing—our own of faith so that we engage confidently.
Finally, I’d like to say that the issues of violence, of climate change, that we have tried to tackle. Brothers and sisters in Christ, we have to repent, we have to act. I thank God that we have so many groups working no on this. It’s a matter of coming together with men and women of other faiths and I’m hoping that the next assembly will bring a better report.
We must get out of the quagmire. We need a vital, effective, and more focused UN on life and justice. The ecumenical movement and the WCC are very much a needed too, a needed organization, a needed group of men and women to resuscitate the values.
What gives you hope about the ecumenical movement?
Dr Abuom: That there is no ecumenical winter. It is summer, and it is summer with green and fruits. I thank men and women who have served in this movement, who have stood so closely with me in prayer. I experienced beautiful team spirit and collegiality in our work. May you all have a beautiful, blessed Christmas.
We extend our heartfelt appreciation to you, Dr Abuom, for your deep commitment and all your expressions of faith and hope. Warmest congratulations on your new appointment as lay canon!