You have recently returned from a conference organized by the International Society for Research and Study for Diakonia and Christian Social Practice. Would you like to reflect on that experience?
Rev. Ross: The conference was organised by the International Society for Research and Study for Diakonia and Christian Social Practice – known as “ReDi.” The World Council of Churches is a corporate member of ReDi and I was delighted that Rev. Prof. Dr Jerry Pillay, general secretary of the WCC, made time to come to Oslo to be the keynote speaker at the conference. This was extremely important in reaffirming the importance of ecumenical diakonia. Prof. Pillay’s speech was very well-received and posed powerful questions about the future of diaconal service and mission in today’s world.
The ReDi conference also heard contributions from academic researchers and experts from across the world, with a notable number coming from South Africa. Such an opportunity to come together, share, and discuss these issues in person is of crucial importance and simply cannot be replicated on Zoom or other online platforms.
What aspects of the document “Called to Transformation—Ecumenical Diakonia” were most well-received?
Rev. Ross: There were many positive and appreciative comments about the comprehensiveness of the document “Called to Transformation – Ecumenical Diakonia.” The fact that it looks into history, offers suggestions for the future, is rooted in contextual practice, and offers insights from differing geographic and confessional experiences were all commented upon favourably. The fact that it is already being used as textbook in several diaconal colleges shows how important this document is. The document’s addendum on COVID-19 is a powerful reminder of the fragility of human life, with the importance of diaconal care in addressing human needs.
Perhaps the most significant issue is the importance of articulating the distinctiveness of faith-based diakonia (compared with secular forms of social care), yet the faith-based and rights-based approach can work comfortably together.
What are the future steps you are seeing?
Rev. Ross: Diakonia is the biblically-based care of humanity in Christ’s name. There is no more important or urgent task for the church. As I prepare to leave the WCC at the end of June, this work will continue to be important and relevant within the WCC. By its very nature, ecumenical diakonia is a wide-ranging discipline and must respond to contemporary contexts and challenges. Some aspects of diakonia will inevitably become of greater urgency in the coming years – particularly “ecodiakonia” in response to climate change, which will inevitably hit the poor hardest and create an existential crisis for some low-lying island nations. In May, I was in Jakarta – a city facing serious problems due to land sinkage and rising sea levels. The question of how to care for those affected people is a vital one.
As you leave the World Council of Churches, any final reflections?
Rev. Ross: I have loved working for the World Council of Churches. It has been an enormous privilege, made even better by having such fantastic colleagues. After five years in Geneva it is now time for me to go home to Scotland, in part for family reasons. I look forward to continuing to use the skills I have learned with the WCC as I start doing consultancy work, plus part-time ministerial duties with a congregation of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh. Having spent 15 years working full time in ecumenical relations at the Scottish, European, and global levels I very much hope that I can continue to support and contribute to the work of the WCC and diaconal care. May God’s grace and peace guide us all.