Dear Professor Jerry Pillay, our simple message on this occasion is that “WE ARE HERE!”
We are here in the first instance, to congratulate you and to celebrate your installation.
We are here as witness together with the leaders of your church, representatives of the global church, your family and your dear twin brother.
We are here to bring the congratulations and encouragement of the South African heads of churches, on whose behalf our President Archbishop Thabo Makgoba says,
“Rev Pillay, you’re an extraordinary pastor, a theologian with a heart for both God’s people and the sanctity of creation. You will now serve the broader church with distinction, for you eat and sleep ecumenism, and are enveloped by a solid prayer life.”
We are here above all, because this is the World Council of Churches; the global organisation of Christian disciples that was there for us as South Africa in our darkest days.
We are here because, as Archbishop Tutu said before the Eloff Commission, “we belong to the Church of God, a Church that is found universally, spread out throughout the face of the whole inhabited universe”.
We are here because it is this organisation that responded to the Sharpeville massacre in 1960 and convened the Cottesloe Conference that became the Kairos moment for our dear Beyers Naude and the vision of the Christian Institute.
We are here because it is this organisation that recognised for what it is, the inhuman bane of apartheid and racism in South Africa and elsewhere in the world, and with much courage of witness, established in 1970, the Programme to Combat Racism.
Yes, we are here because it is that programme that enabled us to believe in the living God, and I personally was able to answer the needling question I lived with - “what does it mean to be created in the image of God if you are black in Apartheid South Africa”. It is a question that is asked by many oppressed and marginalised people in the world the Rohingya of Myanmar, the children of Palestine who along others who get born to grow up knowing life only as oppressive war, such as in Syria, South Sudan and Somalia; women in our patriarchal world; and people with diverse sexual orientations.
We are here to charge you to help all these people to answer for themselves through the WCC of your stewardship, to believe that they are in the image of God who is Love, Creator, Holiness, Freedom, Justice, and Righteousness.
We are here to say you are our thank you as South Africans, to all the previous General Secretaries and Moderators of the Council whose early morning walk has beaten down the wetness so you can walk dry.
Yet Paulo Freire says we make the road by walking; that leaves you with enough real estate to thread. In that real estate there will be the times promised in Amos, when “the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.” (Amos 9:13)
But there too will be the Gethsemane moments to endure. The blessings you’re given today will be your provision for the road, umphako wendlela.
We bless your family for offering you to this ministry; and with them, say to you today, “We are here!”
And with the traditional blessing of President Thabo Makgoba I say,
“Go into the world in peace, fight the good fight of faith and finish your course with joy. And the blessings of God Almighty, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit be with you and remain with you now and always.” Amen