Pillay recognized and thanked the retirees for their many years of service to the WCC spanning anything from 8 to 40 years. He shared how the WCC continues to harvest the fruits of their labour. Pillay also spoke about the directions given at the WCC 11th Assembly, and presented an overview of the WCC Strategic Plan for 2023-2030, highlighting regional relations, justice issues, peace-building, health, climate, and youth, as well as finding new ways of communicating to keep the fellowship together in a very polarized world.
The retirees also enjoyed a multimedia presentation on the history of the WCC, and then each briefly shared their memories and time with the Council over the years, and offered their perceptions on the changing dynamics over the last 75 years.
Hubert van Beek worked at the WCC from 1992 to 2004 in the office of Church and Ecumenical Relations, which at that time was new. “I had several responsibilities, and one was to continue to begin to develop relationships with non-member churches, particularly with the Evangelical and Pentecostal churches,” he said. “In my opinion, it is a healthy practice for an organization like the World Council of Churches to devote a certain amount of energy, staff, and money to nurturing the fellowship, the community of the churches”, added van Beek.
Nicole Fischer, who worked with the WCC Commission on World Mission and Evangelism, reflected on why gender justice should still be an important concern today.
“We have all been made by the hand of God, and we are one,” she said. “Gradually women have come into their full being and their capacity to speak.”
Baldwin Sjollema, who worked with the WCC Programme to Combat Racism, spoke of the challenges facing the programme at the time. “All we tried to do was to give the powerless a voice,” said Sjollema. “Racism was something that the churches had difficulty with because it meant that they had to inspect themselves and say, where is the whole question of power with us in the church?”
Sjollema recalled being in touch all the time with people who had no power, people who were victims, and people who were oppressed. “And to tell them you are not a victim, you are somebody who is fighting for your future, for your children, for your family, and your place,” he said.
Sjollema recalled the feeling of doing something very revolutionary. “In my time, churches did not want or were afraid to have such discussions,” he added.
As this marked the first gathering of retired WCC staff since the COVID-19 pandemic, they expressed collective joy and voiced plans to gather in the future.
Pillay described the gathering as “a most enjoyable experience of gathering the retirees, sharing stories, preserving institutional memories and talking about our life together over the past 75 years. Indeed, it was a fantastic and meaningful way to celebrate the WCC milestone birthday.”