The 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) begins at the end of October and promises to be one of the most diverse gatherings of Christians in the world.
The assembly will be an opportunity for renewing the worldwide ecumenical movement – infusing it with honesty, humility and hope, according to the WCC general secretary.
As to why this is the case, the Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, WCC general secretary, and a Lutheran pastor from the Church of Norway, says, it is “through humility, honesty and hope that we can live together as humanity and as church in a world where justice and peace are fundamental initiatives and not mere words.”
The theme of the WCC assembly is a prayer “God of life, lead us to justice and peace”.
The assembly will take place from 30 October to 8 November in Busan, Republic of Korea.
It will bring around 3,000 participants from Asia and the Pacific region, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, North and Latin America and the Caribbean, including a large number of young people and several thousand Korean Christians.
In the assembly, Tveit finds the foundation of his hopes in the legacy of the WCC which began in 1948 and has continued to work for Christian unity during the past 65 years. In Busan, Tveit says, the member churches will be harvesting fruits of the work of the WCC since the last WCC assembly in Porto Alegre, Brazil, 2006, while setting directions for a new ecumenical vision for the future. There are 345 member churches in the WCC and all but a few will be represented at the assembly.
Tveit expects the WCC assembly to be an opportunity of learning.
“Churches will engage in open and accountable conversations,” he said, about issues important to the church today such as mission and evangelism, faith and order, justice, peace and unity. This dialogue is significant for the WCC assembly as “justice and peace imply effectively addressing core values of the kingdom of God, the will of God, the creator,” he says.
The proposal made by the outgoing WCC Central Committee that the assembly initiates a pilgrimage of justice and peace can unite Christians in a unique way, according to Tveit. This aspect, he says, is also echoed in a recent call from Pope Francis in which he has proclaimed that the church is here to serve, for justice and peace.
“This call makes us look beyond our boundaries and limitations journeying towards being a church together. The assembly will bring a realization of what we have received. But, we are not finished with our tasks and we have to continue our work and prayers for the Christian unity.”
The WCC assembly will feature varied spiritual expressions from churches around the world. The participants will share these reflections of Christian unity through celebration, Bible study and prayer.
Having the assembly in South Korea is significant, Tveit says. “The assembly will be a place for the global fellowship of churches to express solidarity with the Korean churches, which have suffered separations and are calling for the reunification of the divided Korean peninsula,” he said.
Simultaneously, Asia being among the rising economic powers in the world, Tveit sees a great potential for the assembly to provide a critical and hopeful voice on the reality of globalization and a development paradigms that needs to change to be just and sustainable. “The WCC assembly is a place for the churches to gain a deeper understanding of the Asian contexts through sharing, caring and dialogue,” he said.
“Praying that this is an assembly where we all meet the God of life, we also look to move forward together in a pilgrimage for justice and peace,” he concluded.
The 1st WCC Assembly took place in Amsterdam, Netherlands in 1948. Since then assemblies have been in held in Evanston, United States, 1954; New Delhi, India, 1961; Uppsala, Sweden, 1968; Nairobi, Kenya, 1975; Vancouver, Canada, 1983; Canberra, Australia, 1991; Harare, Zimbabwe, 1998; and Porto Alegre, Brazil, 2006.