The pastor of a Protestant congregation in Geneva is excited that Pope Francis has accepted the invitation to join in celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the World Council of Churches.
“This is a pope who is open, inclusive, and engaged and speaks about things that are important to Christians and all humanity. His visit encourages and supports unity in the body of Christ,” says Rev. Andy Willis, pastor of the English-speaking Evangelical Lutheran Church of Geneva. “I am personally profoundly excited by what he represents.”
Willis serves a congregation in Geneva’s historic Old City whose membership includes people who come from 40 countries and from many Christian traditions. A number of members work with the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Lutheran World Federation.
“The visit by the pope to the WCC is high-level affirmation of what we experience on the ground – a wide number of traditions under one roof. What we have in common is more important than what divides us,” says Willis.
On Thursday, 21 June, Pope Francis will participate in activities in Geneva related to the 70th anniversary of the World Council of Churches. The day will begin with an ecumenical prayer service in the chapel of the Ecumenical Centre and will include time with students at the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey, as well as an exchange of messages with the WCC general secretary, Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, and the WCC central committee moderator, Dr Agnes Abuom.
Willis is pleased to be one of the many volunteers who will be helping out that day. But most of all, he hopes the event will add momentum to the spirit of unity that the World Council of Churches and Pope Francis embody.
“I believe this encounter is an affirmation of ecumenical commitment on the ground. I hope it gives renewed energy for collaboration to our congregation,” Willis says.
The Lutheran pastor’s congregation has already engaged with the English-speaking Roman Catholic parish in Geneva, St John XXIII, around a shared interest in the Pope’s encyclical, Laudato Si’, published in 2015. During Advent 2016 members of the congregation met to discuss the encyclical each Sunday before the worship service and invited members of St John XXIII to join them. This led to an invitation for members of the Lutheran congregation to take part in a workshop on creation and ecology organized by the Catholic parish.
Willis says interest in the encyclical brought the two groups together: “What the Pope wrote heightened our sense of belonging to the same family. It expresses a broadly Christian perspective on ecology and on humanity’s place in the wider web of creation.”