As WCC moderator Bishop Dr Heinrich Bedford-Strohm opened the session of greetings, he thanked the wide community who took time to be present, both in-person and online, and particularly thanked Pillay’s family.
“It’s wonderful that you are here as the family of Jerry, and that you will carry him through this time,” said Bedford-Strohm.
Rev. Dr Sipho Mtetwa, moderator of the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa, expressed his feelings of honour that Pillay has come from his church.
“We are very, very humbled that we are here to deliver the general secretary,” said Mtetwa. “He’s not only representing the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa, he’s also representing the Southern African tip of Africa and the whole of Africa.”
He noted that Pillay, who was brought up coping with a fragmented world, is well-equipped to lead the WCC in today’s fragmented world. “We are going to pray with you,” said Mtetwa. “You are not alone. If, over time, you look back when the going gets tough, you will find us behind you.”
Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana, general secretary of the South African Council of Churches, described Pillay as an extraordinary pastor. “We are here because, above all, this is the World Council of Churches, a global organization of Christian disciples that was there for us in South Africa in our darkest days,” he said. “We are here to charge you, dear Jerry, to help all these people answer for themselves, to believe that they are in the image of God who is love, who is creator, who is freedom and justice and righteousness.”
The blessings Pillay receives on this special installation day will be a provision for the road ahead, added Mpumlwana. “We bless your family who offer you to this ministry,” he said. “With them, we say today, we are here.”
Rev. Rita Famos, president of the Protestant Church in Switzerland, welcomed Pillay and his family to the country. “Your position as general secretary of the World Council of Churches will place many demands on you,” she said. “We are looking forward to the development of the programmes that will follow on the decisions taken in Karlsruhe.”
She added that she hopes Switzerland and Geneva will provide Pillay with the inspiration, strength, and refreshment he needs to meet his demanding tasks. “I wish you every success for all your endeavours and tasks,” she said. “Feel lifted up by our prayer for you.”
Archbishop Fortunatus Nwachukwu, permanent observer of the Mission of the Holy See at the United Nations, also offered congratulations. “The Permanent Mission of the Holy See in Geneva has always enjoyed excellent relations with the WCC since we are all brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour,” he said. “My prayer this day is that Rev. Prof. Dr Pillay’s ecumenical witness of love may be a source of unity for the entire world.”
Rev. Dr Hanns Lessing, acting general secretary of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC), expressed joy at being present at the installation ceremony of Pillay, who is a former president of the WCRC.
Lessing recalled many meetings in which Pillay would say: “As a church, we are called to communion and committed to justice – and that one may never be without the other. Both must come together.”
Lessing expressed appreciation for the way Pillay consistently asks: What does the Lord want? “We are called to stand with the poor, the marginalized, the suffering,” said Lessing. “You have spoken about the spring of ecumenism, and I think we are at the end of winter. As the World Communion of Reformed Churches, we pledge our loyalty and our friendship.”
Olivier Coutau, delegate to International Geneva, described the WCC as an esteemed member of the International Geneva community. “International Geneva is a unique gathering of some 650 entities and 36,000 staff,” he said. “It has never been so strong. International Geneva is not about Geneva but about the world.”
The connection between Geneva and the rest of the world is crucial, added Coutau. “This is extremely precious,” he said. “You are most welcome in Geneva and I sincerely wish you a successful tenure.”
Prof. Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, a close friend of Pillay’s, expressed appreciation for the honour of participating in the installation ceremony.
Sookhdeo spoke of Pillay’s ability to discern the times. “I found him a person of deep compassion,” said Sookhdeo. “He cares very much.”
Carla Khijoyan, WCC programme executive for Peace Building in the Middle East, spoke on behalf of the WCC staff. “On behalf of the entire staff community, I would like to extend a warm welcome,” she said. “We commit to you ecumenically and we commit ourselves to God so he guides us and blesses us all.”
Pillay’s twin brother, Jace Pillay, offered a special greeting on behalf of Pillay’s family, particularly his mother, who was watching online.
“The past couple days I have been engaging with people, and I can see they want to know more about Jerry,” he said. “They want know something personal.”
Jace Pillay said that his brother, from very early in his life, appeared to know that God would bring him something great. “As soon as we became Christians, Jerry – as young as eight years old – would be standing and preaching to the people,” he said. “That’s how Jerry was, even in the young days.”
Jerry Pillay has always believed that God comes first, his brother said.
The family has no doubt that Jerry Pillay is going to do his best, concluded Jace Pillay. “We now hand him over to the family of God."
After the greetings, the new WCC general secretary expressed gratitude. “There are so many people who have come from different parts of the world to be present, and you have touched me on a very personal level,” Jerry Pillay said. “Thank you to my wife and my children for your constant support and the sacrifices that you make.”