“People came together in Amsterdam in 1948 with a clear purpose of leading the churches of the world together and making them an instrument of peace,” the moderator of the WCC’s central committee, Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, from Bavaria, Germany, said in his sermon at the service on 25 June.
“They clearly declared that war is against the will of God and that our task as Christians is exactly to overcome nationalism and other forms of division between peoples, which had just resulted in this terrible world war with so many million victims,” he continued.
“Reconciliation was from the very beginning of its existence, part of the very DNA of the WCC,” said Bedford-Strohm.
The cathedral was packed for the commemoration at which its congregation was joined by members of the WCC’s central committee, currently meeting in Geneva, and ecumenical guests.
Prayers were led by the WCC presidents and leadership, as well as cathedral clergy.
“It is a joy to be with you on this day and especially during this time of praying together at this very special time in the life of this central committee and in the life of the WCC as we celebrate our 75th anniversary,” said the WCC’s general secretary, Rev. Prof. Dr Jerry Pillay, as he thanked the cathedral and its pastors for their welcome.
In her greeting, the president of the Protestant Church of Geneva, Eva Di Fortunato, welcomed the congregation to the celebration to mark the WCC anniversary.
To be the church, she said, “means singing together, praying together, journeying together, and above all recognizing and valuing the diversity of traditions within our communities.”
The WCC’s 1st Assembly in Amsterdam from 22 August to 4 September 1948 gathered 351 delegates from 147 churches of different confessions and traditions.
Today the WCC brings together 352 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican, and other churches representing more than 580 million Christians in over 120 countries, and works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church.
The WCC has a close historical connection with St Pierre Cathedral, which became Protestant during the 16th-century Reformation.
A marble plaque at the cathedral commemorates the ecumenical service held there in February 1946 with members of the provisional committee preparing for the founding of the WCC from countries that only months before had been at war with each other.
In his sermon, Bedford-Strohm said that as a German he felt shame at the failure of Christian witness in his country in the face of the war that led to 60 million deaths and six million Jews murdered in concentration camps and gas chambers.
“The Christian churches in Germany had not spoken up against this war,” he said. “Most of their representatives followed and religiously legitimized a state ideology, which was in deep contradiction to Christian faith.”
Bedford-Strohm recalled how delegates in Amsterdam committed themselves to put Christ before all other loyalties in the world.
“Where are we now? Have we lived up to the legacy of Amsterdam? Are we, as churches, really an instrument of peace in all the armed conflicts on this globe?” Bedford-Strohm asked.
“I wish the answer was a clear ‘yes.’ But it is not. Too often, we still put our national or political loyalties before our loyalty to Jesus Christ, and sometimes we don’t even notice it,” he warned.
“That is why we have to listen to the biblical witness about Christ again and again,” he said.
“Christ is present in our WCC Pilgrimage for Justice, Reconciliation, and Unity,” said Bedford-Strohm. “He will not leave us alone. He is, and will be, in our midst. He is with us always to the end of the age.”