Four pre-assemblies—Women and Men, Indigenous Peoples, People with Disabilities, and Ecumenical Youth Gathering (EYG)—will take place in the days just before the full assembly. Taking into account COVID-related restrictions and changing situations, the planning groups have been meeting both in-person and online for separate and joint discussions.
The 11th WCC Assembly will mark the first time that pre-assemblies will share joint sessions for orientation, worship, networking and sharing common concerns.
What’s a pre-assembly?
Pre-assemblies offer delegates and assembly attendees an opportunity to meet others with a similar interest, delving deeper into the issues of concern. Pre-assembly participants will take their learnings into ecumenical conversations and other deliberations in the full assembly.
THE EYG incorporates the youth pre-assembly as well as Stewards Programme and other activities for young people.
Who can attend?
Assembly participants, when registering, will be asked whether they wish to participate to a pre-assembly. Once they select a pre-assembly, a coordinator will confirm participation.
At this stage, registration for delegates and advisors to the delegation is open, and registrations will open to the next categories at a future date.
If you are coming to a pre-assembly, come eager to listen, said Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, Geneva secretary for the World Methodist Council. "Come eager to share your personal story, your faith journey, your struggles in your life. Come and expect the Holy Spirit at work,” she said.
About the pre-assemblies
Women and Men, 29-30 August. Starting with the WCC 2nd Assembly, there has been a women’s pre-assembly that afforded specific reference to women’s participation, thus calling for special focus on women’s concerns, struggles and contributions in church and society. In Busan, for the WCC 10th Assembly, it became a “women and men’s” pre-assembly focusing together on gender equality.
Andrea Quesada, from YMCA Perú, a pre-assembly planner, said that gender justice shouldn't be an issue that only is important to women. “I think we're both invited to fight against injustice in whichever form it is presented to us,” she said.
Maha Milki, from the Antiochian Orthodox Church in Lebanon, also reflected that, in the past, while such gatherings were more focused on women alone, “we are privileged for this pre-assembly to have men among us to have a new masculinity where they share with us our issues on gender.”
Rev. Dr Anders Göranzon, a Thursdays in Black ambassador from the Swedish Bible Society, agreed that women and men have to work together to achieve gender equality—but that in previous pre-assemblies women appreciated “safe spaces” where they could share their concerns. “We as men—we need safe spaces where we can talk,” he said. “So we are interested in working together but also, from time to time, as separate groups just to create those safe spaces.”
Wenner, a Thursdays in Black ambassador, said she hopes for a transformational experience.
"So those who come will hopefully come with this spirit: an expectation they will hear things that are new, that are challenging, that are also inspiring,” she said.
Indigenous Peoples, 28-30 August. The theme will be “Reconciliation and Restoring Wholeness in Creation,” with at least 75% of participants being Indigenous People.
The Indigenous Peoples pre-assembly seeks to challenge and critique notions of reconciliation that are too eager to gloss over the wrongdoings and violations of the past without addressing the ongoing systemic and structural causes of oppression and injustice of the past and present. Reconciliation is an intentional commitment to restoring wholeness in all creation. Indigenous Peoples bring many insightful perspectives, wisdom and knowledge from their experiences, cultures and contexts that will enrich the ecumenical dialogue on reconciliation and the broader assembly theme.
The Most Rev. Mark MacDonald, national Indigenous Anglican archbishop for the Anglican Church of Canada, and WCC North American president, said that Indigenous People are dealing with the crisis of climate change as well as an ongoing, almost complete eclipse of indigenous rights by historic colonisation and neo-colonisation. “This is a critical issue for Indigenous People facing climate issues but it is a larger issue for the planet in that somewhere between a third and a fourth of the world’s usable land is now under the protocols and the administration of Indigenous Peoples,” said MacDonald. “An estimated 80% plus of the biodiversity that's left on the planet is in the hands of Indigenous People.”
Rev. Mari Pauliina Valjakka, a Sami pastor with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Finland and moderator of the WCC Indigenous Peoples Reference Group, agreed with MacDonald that Indigenous Peoples are really facing climate issues on the frontline. “And also many Indigenous Peoples are going through the truth and reconciliation processes in our own context,” said Valjakka.
People with Disabilities, 29-30 August. Organised by the Ecumenical Disabilities Advocates Network with the theme “Embracing diversity and gifts toward inclusion,” this pre-assembly will be celebrating the gifts of persons with disabilities; visit the past and present wounds; and come up with steps of how to transform the injustices.
The gathering will also prepare persons with disabilities to take the opportunity through their participation at the assembly to remind the churches that their Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace is not only a God‐given demand and obligation, but also a matter of credibility in the world. The churches can only be faithful to their mission by giving a common witness to Jesus Christ in witness and service, respect for people's dignity and solidarity with those on the margins like those pushed to the margins due to their disability.
Rev. Kathy Reeves, from the United Methodist Church in the US, is part of the Ecumenical Disabilities Advocates Network. “Everything that affects all of humanity affects people with disabilities because we are a part of humanity,” she said.
Fabian Corráles, from the Baptist Church in Costa Rica, said he is praying for people to come together as one body of Christ. “I want the church to understand that it is hard for a person with disability to have faith in God when they feel like their own church is rejecting them,” he said. “So my dream and my prayer is for the church to build a much more inclusive home.”
Ecumenical Youth Gathering (EYG), 27-30 August. The EYG weaves together three tracks over four days for delegates to the assembly; stewards; and representatives from WCC member churches and ecumenical partners.
The aim of the EYG is to invite young delegates into in-depth discussions and to prepare them for their roles and responsibilities during the assembly. Young delegates – some of whom have little or no previous experience at ecumenical gatherings – will acquire the necessary tools and insights to contribute meaningfully to the life of the church.
Sr Sandrine Nourry, Chemin Neuf community, a Roman Catholic community with an ecumenical vocation, said participants are bound to disagree on many things but that challenge is itself a gift.
The variety of subjects, she said, will include, “our history, our mental health, gender equality, sexuality, stories between our countries and denominations, environment and creation, and how the pandemic is affecting us and our relationships.”
Olivia Vakacegu, from Fiji and the Pacific Conference of Churches, reflected on how important it was that the youth discuss climate change. “Pacific people are at the forefront of climate change,” she said. “I think it's important that our leaders listen to the voice of young people and also, at the same time, provide space for these young people to be part of the process.”
Ramy Hanna, from the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt, shared a vision in which the youth gathering draws participants from all over the world.
At the Ecumenical Youth Gathering, said Hanna, “we are welcoming youth from all over the world from different cultural backgrounds, different confessions.”
As they get to know more about each other, people from different churches and different backgrounds will be “trying to create this safe space for each one of the youth to express their feelings, expectations and pose questions about how can we as youth can have a leading role in the ecumenical movement.”
Samson Waweru Njoki, from Kenya and the African Orthodox Church of the Greek Patriachate of Alexandria, is ensuring that the youth gathering will link with issues related to persons with disabilities. “I think by the time the gathering will be over the young people will go back feeling that they are agents of change in every aspect of their society and communities that they come from, and they will also seek to represent the voiceless—all those people who are not in a position to speak for themselves,” he said. “I believe this is what the youth can do best, because God has given them their abilities and proactiveness to push for such positive things in the society.”
Unity in the midst of diversity
There is no doubt that the WCC pre-assemblies bring inspiration as well as challenges when people come from all over the world, from different churches and different traditions.
As Philip Champion, a member of the WCC Youth Commission from the Russian Orthodox Church and part of the joint planning for the pre-assemblies, said, I think that in the 21st century it is crucial for Christians of different traditions, denominations, organisations to get together and work together to try and make the world a better place.”
“Christian unity in the midst of diversity can be challenging,” he continued. “In the Orthodox tradition, the answer to the question ‘Who is my neighbour?’ is very simple - every human being, especially the ones who are in need, the ones who are suffering, the ones who are going through a difficult time. So I think this is what unites us because we are trying to serve our neighbours, especially those who need us the most.”