WCC acting general secretary Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca situates the consultation in what has been a deeply challenging time of global pandemic, but also sees an opportunity to take stock and learn from the lived experiences of people and churches around the globe in view of the upcoming assembly.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the critical role of churches on health in all parts of the world, and we see that it has increased churches’ awareness and interest in health matters,” Sauca reflected.
“We find ourselves at a point in time now, when we need to reflect on how we can strengthen and upscale the ecumenical health response,” Sauca continued and went on to stress the importance of taking the perspective of service as a starting point moving forward.
“As the WCC, we wish to serve the churches in this time and support them in their ministry, so that the current ‘health awakening’ is not lost but strengthened. As people of faith, even in this time of crisis and tragedy, we wish to see what from this experience we can harness and what positive change we can help inspire through our ministry in the future,” he said.
Health ministry at a pivotal point in time
With the upcoming assembly in Karlsruhe less than one year away, a key objective of the consultation is to reflect on ways in which the churches’ health ministry can be consolidated as the ecumenical movement journeys together in the future.
Moderator of the WCC central committee Dr Agnes Abuom stressed the fundamental question of what makes churches unique in the context of health and healing.
For an ecumenical movement that has been engaged in health work for more than 50 years since the Christian Medical Commission (CMC) was formed in 1968, connections between history and present context are ubiquitous.
“What are the lessons that we can build on, which will inspire and engage the churches in health ministry? What is it that we can add to this landscape?” Abuom asked.
As the world continues to grapple with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, churches have been widely recognized as having much to offer, not least in view of their experiences from past pandemics and epidemics such as HIV and AIDS, and the Ebola health crises.
“I believe we need to review what resources we already have available, and to learn from the lived experiences of people and churches in our different regions,” says Annie Solis, who joins the consultation from the Methodist Church of Peru and who has formerly been part of the WCC’s engagement for youth in the ecumenical movement.
“But in the future, we should also advocate in and among the churches, to foster engagement for health and healing and position it also as a part of mission,” Solis adds.
Christoph Benn, director of Global Health Diplomacy at the Joep Lange Institute continues: “We need to think carefully now, how to shape a future that is as inspiring and effective for the churches in the years to come as what has been there in the past. Because the churches absolutely need to be a voice at the table, of the WHO and other international bodies in the future.”
Moderator Dr Agnes Abuom underscored the critical role churches have played during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the importance of a faith-based approach alongside scientific and medical aspects in coping with health issues.
“We need faith communities and faith-based organizations in this work. The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us this. We need faith communities, and not just as a complement, but as actors in their own right,” Abuom said.
WCC hosts interface conference in Berlin on role of churches, faith communities in health and healing (WCC press release of 13 October 2021)