Joint Assembly of the Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada
Archbishop Fredrick James Hiltz, Bishop Susan Johnson, and brothers and sisters in Christ,
I greet you on behalf of the World Council of Churches. You meet here in Ottawa as members of a great fellowship of 345 churches in all corners of the globe: Anglicans, Lutherans, Orthodox – Eastern and Oriental, Reformed, Old Catholics, Baptists and Methodists. The WCC is its member churches; who you are and how you witness to the gospel is reflected in that fellowship. The value you place on unity, common service and mission inspires and strengthens the whole council of churches. You have two significant staff of the Anglican Church working in Geneva – John Gibaut, Director of Faith and Order, and Natasha Klukach, Programme Executive for Church and Ecumenical Relations, here with me today. The ministry happening in your parishes is mirrored throughout the world by other Christians sharing in those very same values.
Your churches have been on an important journey together, marked by mutual learning, faithful witness to the gospel and a shared Eucharistic table. You have refused to say ‘I have no need of you,’ but rather have said that with the other you can better live out your calling as churches here in Canada and the world. You do this in the context of belonging to a much bigger Christian family, therefore the efforts you make have the potential to transform beyond yourselves.
When churches come together in full communion, there is an important element of mutual accountability. The Waterloo Declaration anticipated this particularly well, outlining commitments between the churches, a means of determining the strength of the relationship. You prove today in meeting together that these commitments were not ends of themselves, but led to the possibility of even greater sharing in ministry within the Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. Mutual accountability necessitates first of all a spirit of humility, a willingness to learn from the other even while reminding each other of the commitments of common life. It means emerging from our own perspectives, problems and prayers to not only consider those of the other church, but enter into them with love. In this way it is possible to call each other into deeper fellowship and even to imagine new possibilities not anticipated when you began this process of full communion.
The WCC moves towards its 10th Assembly to be held in Busan, Korea later this year. Our theme, "God of Life: lead us to justice and peace", invites us to investigate how a special kind of journey, a pilgrimage of justice and peace might transform us as a council, as churches, as individuals. As you meet “Together for the love of the world” you inspired me to reflect on our theme from that perspective.
God of Life
In Genesis we read about how people seek God in a challenging reality, how they learn to recognize limits and possibilities. The creation account is written by those who understand the reality of good and evil in the world, but see there is hope for fallen humanity and know that God moves with and through all of creation and not just in one place or with one people. It is in this context that humans are called out of their own, into a communion with the God of life, into a balanced life with creation, into a community that seeks justice and peace.
We see in this perspective that God comes to us in creation and in Christ, always opening a new door, a new hope, a new relationship, a new spring. In seeking to know the God of Life we must turn our gaze outward, to shift our perspective from our own experience of creation to see the experience and needs of others, also of nature itself. By seeing what kind of justice is needed by others, we more fully enter God's life, God's movement in the world, God's compassion, respect and love.
Discrimination, unequal treatment of people based on who they are, what group they belong to, their background, is the most powerful attack on the confession of the God of life. You are learning this through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission here in Canada. These days we keep Nelson Mandela in our thoughts and prayers. In the Programme to Combat Racism of the WCC had a leading role in mobilizing the churches to fights against apartheid. When Mandela visited our office in Geneva in 1998, he said he would never have been there as a free man without the WCC. He will remain an inspiration always for us to continue work against all discrimination. Romans 2:11 tells us that God “shows no partiality.” Belief in the God of Life, participation in that life, demands that we, too, show no partiality, that we not only say but show through our actions that all of the Christian family, all of humanity, all of creation is created for goodness.
We rightly ask ourselves what it means to be a church in the world today, just as Christians in past centuries have done. Indeed we need to understand what confronts us now: politically, socially, economically, and environmentally. We need this understanding in order to participate in God’s mission in an informed way. This mission in which the church participates demands that we speak to each other, and that we listen to each other in a world wide ecumenical family. Our common pilgrimage is determined more by what we bring and what we seek than the end of our journey. How can we share our testimony, how can we live in solidarity with those who suffer, and with all creation that groans for redemption, for justice and peace?
Church is something we are together, as human beings. If there is anything the ecumenical movement has contributed, it is the understanding that no church is church alone. The Church is a community of people under completely different conditions of life - in all parts of the world. You cannot pretend that you do not need the other. Thus, the God of Life does not lead “me" but leads “us."
Being companions on a pilgrimage can be a witness to unity. You know this well these days together. When we act together, we contribute more for the love of the world. We offer a sign in a world too often marked by division and individualism that it is possible, despite difference, despite tradition, to visibly reflect the unity for which Jesus prayed: “that all may be one.” We offer credibility to our faith and witness and we better serve those to whom God calls us.
To Justice and Peace
Last year on a visit to the churches in the United States I was stopped by an immigration officer. He looked at my passport for a long time, scrutinizing every stamp, flipping through the pages more than once. As a Norwegian, there should be no problem entering the United States as we are seen as allies. But this examination went on and on. Finally the officer looked at me and said, “Sir, why do you go to all the wrong places?” I tried to explain that the work of the WCC demands that we go to places where there is injustice and conflict to be in solidarity with the churches living there.
But this somewhat trivial incident has given me much pause for thought since. Why do we go to all the wrong places? In fact, these “wrong places” defined on geo-political and social terms are precisely the right places for Christians to be. We must, in turning our gaze outward, in coming together to serve, find ourselves in those places in our communities where injustice and conflict are present. We must be in solidarity and accompaniment with those who find themselves pushed to the margins. Even more, we learn in our pilgrimage that the church is living and vital in the margins – and that the mission of the church often comes from that place. We must always pray that we will be led more and more to be agents of justice and peace wherever we are, with whatever gifts we are given. This is what it means to be on a pilgrimage to justice and peace.
And so this is our pilgrimage as the World Council of Churches. And it is your journey also. As you seek to be church together, not alone, as you demonstrate your willingness to follow the cross in a sign of unity and as you engage in mission for the love of the world, you define your way forward together in a profound way. May God bless you – your churches, your relationships, your ministry - for the love of Canada and the world!
WCC general secretary
Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit