I first met Dr Philip Potter in 1972 when, as the new class of Frontier Internship in Mission, we paid him a courtesy call in his office at the Ecumenical Centre. Having read about him in some of my theological courses in College, I was exceedingly excited that I would now be meeting the new WCC general secretary in person. Two things struck me most about him: his humaneness in terms of character and mannerism on one hand; and, on the other, his depth of understanding of the mission and calling of the church, the topic on which he addressed us. As we left his office I wished one day I would have the privilege of working under him!
When I introduced Philip as an honoured guest to the WCC assembly in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2006, it was the ninth time he had attended, the only person there to have been at the 1948 inaugural assembly and all the subsequent ones. The long-standing ovation he received was a tribute to the then 85-year-old great son of the Caribbean island of Dominica, and citizen of the world.
Philip was God's precious gift to the Ecumenical Movement at the time both the movement and the world were in need of a leader with the special attributes his Maker so graciously blessed him with: pastoral skills, servant leadership ability, good mind, wisdom, courage, selflessness, foresightedness, oratorical skills, sociability, mindful of the needs of the least in the society, good humour.
Philip Potter was an eloquent and forceful speaker who seldom avoided the controversial nature of the biblical concern for the world and its suffering people. In a resolution honouring his retirement as general secretary, the central committee identified some of the main thrusts the Council owed to Potter's influence: "the insistence on the fundamental unity of Christian service which the gospel commends and makes possible, the correlation of faith and action, the inseparable connection between the personal spiritual life of Christian believers and their obedient action in the world." For that, and a great deal more besides, the ecumenical movement in general, and the World Council of Churches in particular, will remain forever grateful for Philip's ecumenical ministry.
To Philip, the eminent ecumenist, mentor and friend: I say fare thee well, and may your memory be eternal.
Former WCC general secretary
18 May 2015