Simon is managing editor of the “International Review of Mission,” one of the WCC’s three academic journals, and recently earned a habilitation in Interreligious Studies and Intercultural Theologies from the University of Mainz. He also coordinates the WCC COVID-19 support team.
Below, Simon reflects on how he views his role as a bridge-builder for WCC member churches, the challenges 2020 brought, and his feelings about the 11th WCC Assembly being held in his hometown of Karlsruhe, Germany.
You have been teaching at the WCC Bossey Ecumenical Institute since 2016. What most inspires you about your new role as WCC programme executive for Church Relations?
Dr Simon: I see myself as an interface between member churches and also between WCC staff and colleagues—a bridge-builder and a networker. It’s actually all about strengthening the one ecumenical movement. This is the forward direction in which we have to move, one of ecumenical cooperation. I see this as a kind of ecumenic notion of conviviality. It is about learning from each other, sharing amongst each other, celebrating with each other. Those three pillars are very helpful to bring the worldwide fellowship forward towards unity.
We are able to learn from and to share amongst the member churches the experiences they are having. And we are able to come together to find ways to celebrate and connect as people. This notion of ecumenic conviviality not only helps me define my role but also shows how we can grow together towards unity as a WCC fellowship.
This means we are able to share resources—such as the COVID-19 support team. We have received questions ranging from how to lead a liturgy to how to provide good pastoral care. We found that we can learn from each other far more than we previously realized.
Please, share with us some details about the new academic degree you recently earned from the University of Mainz. What inspired you to pursue it?
Dr Simon: Well, on the one hand I am very much into academic theological reflections and on the other hand the topic of my thesis deals with a religious group I am familiar since my childhood: The Kimbanguist. By analyzing their history, theology and ecumenical orientation, I developed six steps that a religious group takes when it breaks away from a larger one to form its own religion. For sure highly interesting for all those who deal with the increasing phenomenon of “misleading theologies.”
By handing in this book at the University of Mainz, I was “habilitated.” The habilitation is the highest academic degree you can earn in German-speaking contexts, in Scandinavia and in France. It might be compared with a “second book.” But on top one has to pass an examination and such a book needs to be an outstanding contribution to the academic world.
Being “habilitated” gives you the permission to teach courses at universities, to supervise doctoral theses and to be included in doctoral exams. You are, so to say, specialized in a certain academic field. I was honored with the teaching permission (venia legendi) for Interreligious Studies and Intercultural Theologies.
You moved to Karlsruhe, Germany as a teenager. The 11th WCC Assembly will be held there in 2022! Does this have special meaning for you?
Dr Simon: Karlsruhe is absolutely my hometown. It is where my wife comes from, and where our five children were born. It’s a great feeling to have the WCC Assembly coming to Karlsruhe. It’s really an international place and a place of historical importance. In 1948, as an ecumenical fellowship we decided to stay together. In Busan, during the 10th WCC Assembly, we said we want to move together. I actually hope an outcome of the WCC 11th Assembly in Karlsruhe is that we say that we are ready to transform and to be transformed. The world needs a transformation like we have never had before. Transformation is really, for me, a central term, and Karlsruhe can be a place where we can get that input, that push forward we really need to make a change.