As moderator of the WCC it is a great joy for me to bring you the greetings and good 60th birthday wishes from this ecumenical body. The WCC itself celebrated its 75th birthday and now represents 352 churches from 120 countries with about 600 million members, many of them from Africa. Due to the meeting of our executive committee meeting here in Abuja, I have now had the privilege of enjoying African hospitality already for 10 days. And I cannot express how moved and impressed I am with the generosity, the friendship, the cordiality and, above all, the great spiritual inspiration we have experienced from our host churches here in Nigeria. I dare to speak for all members of the executive committee if I say that we will never forget this experience. And as a German used to quite sober worship services I add that I have probably never experienced so much passionate singing, so much ardent preaching and so much joyful dancing in such few days as in this past week. I will bring all of this home and tell people about the missionaries of joy that I have been blessed to meet during my time in Nigeria.
Having heard so much about what Nigerians have to struggle with, above all poverty, corruption and violence, I have been humbled to experience this joy, in this firm faith, in this inspiration and in the resilience that comes from it.
Such resilience has maybe never been more important that just now. In my lifetime I have not experienced such a density of fundamental challenges in the world. In addition to increasingly polarized societies with racism, internet driven hate speech and xenophobia on the rise, and terrible disaster caused by climate change, we have gone through a pandemic, which – among many other things - had detrimental consequences for overcoming poverty and hunger in so many countries of the global south. Then came the Russian invasion in Ukraine with its rise of food prices and huge amounts of money put in weapons, which bring death instead of in efforts fostering life. And now we witness an outbreak of violence in Israel and Palestine which I wouldn’t have expected in my worst dreams.
Where can be sources of hope in so much despair?!
For me, ecumenical gatherings like our executive committee meeting last week and now the All African Conference of Churches are such sources of hope. The reason is simple: Because when we come together from completely different contexts and yet are one in Christ, we are witnesses of Christ – to this man who died with a cry of despair on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” We hear these words from Psalm 22 in these days in many parts of the world from women, men and children who go through terrible suffering. We are touched by their suffering. We feel with them. We stand by them. And we trust that this suffering is not the last word. That the last word is resurrection. The last word is justice, reconciliation and unity.
“Christ’s love moves the world to reconciliation and unity” – this was the motto of the 11th assembly of the WCC in Karlsruhe/Germany last year. It wasn’t just words. We experienced it. We have experienced it at our meeting last week. And I experience it now here at this assembly.
Yes, also as ecumenical bodies we do not live in an ideal world. We have different opinions, we have struggles, we have even divisions. But the love of Christ is stronger, so that we listen to each other, we bear with each other, we pray with each other and for each other and we act with each other.
We might have many loyalties. National loyalties, cultural loyalties, denominational loyalties, political loyalties. all these loyalties can, however, never be primary loyalties. Our primary loyalty is always our common Lord Jesus Christ.
Let us never forget it. Let us always put Christ first. Let us always strive towards being what we are called to be: salt of the earth and light of the world.
The AACC, together with the WCC and other ecumenical bodies, has been one of the forerunners in this effort. Now already for 60 years. Please keep running! You will always have the WCC at your side!
Bishop Dr Heinrich Bedford-Strohm,
moderator of the World Council of Churches central committee