By Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit
Moderator, members of the Central Committee, dear sisters and brothers in Christ!
You have invited me to come to speak with you about my vision for the World Council of Churches. I’m honoured by your invitation. It is my joy to be here with you today.
I still remember how moved I was when I first entered this significant room nearly two decades ago. Here I saw the vision, written on the wall. And if we turn that way we can all see it. Hina pantes hen åsin. That they all may be one! This prayer of Christ is transforming us, in our personal relationship with the triune God and with one another. Every vision for the WCC must have the aim to make us one. So that the world can believe – that God loves our divided humanity and wounded creation.
When I stand here, looking at you, my vision of the World Council of Churches is of a unique gift from God to the churches and to the world. Every one of you brings to this room the wisdom of the one Christian Tradition as lived in the many traditions. As women and men from all over the world you have different experiences from your contexts and cultures, and some costly experiences of the cross and of the hope of the resurrection. Some Christians carry these experiences in their bodies.
I hear the words of Christ’s prayer for us today: That they may be one, as churches, to serve the one humanity in God’s one creation, and to pursue these goals as one, united organization.
The formation of my vision has come through relations, studies and experiences. One is a perception of a rope in my hand. Five years ago in Johannesburg, South Africa, together with five others from all over the world, I was carrying the simple coffin of Beyers Naude. By God’s humour, as Desmond Tutu said, he, the white Reformed pastor became one of the strongest leaders in the struggle of black people against apartheid. For him it was a matter of faith, we are all equally created by God. The funeral took place in the local church Naude was forced to leave because of his call to justice - and which he had come back to after apartheid. It was a moment of truth and reconciliation, a moment of being one. The South African Council of Churches asked me to be one of his pall bearers as a representative from their ecumenical partners in the struggle. This gesture was also a sign of being one between the South and the North, a sign that empowered me.
Some months later, in the ecumenical chapel next to this hall, I saw a picture on the wall of Beyers Naude, pushed in his wheelchair by Nelson Mandela. And I recognized that the event in South Africa was an experience of the World Council of Churches and of our vision.
What does it mean to be one? To be one is to stand up for one another; to step out of our own interests - for the other, for a higher cause of unity; to stand together in the whole mission of God. We are so much stronger together. The agenda for justice and peace demands that we are one; the agenda for unity theologically implies that we care for peace, justice and the creation.
As member churches, together with our networks and partners, we can bring our human, spiritual and financial resources together. To be one requires uniting and transforming leadership from the WCC.
In an organization based on the prayer of Christ that we may be one, we must find ways to pray together, and to pray for one another. In ways with which we can all be confident.
The best way to take care of this gift of the WCC is to use it, and use it well in the challenges we are facing the next years. Our churches need it. The world needs a global body of churches as a sign of the one humanity. One example is when we respect women as equal with men.
This world is torn apart by injustices and violations of human rights. The financial crisis makes the injustice worse. The poorer gets even poorer. We must powerfully address the greed and its consequences in this globalized world as they appear in the North - and the South, in the East and in the West. Together we shall respond to what people from Kiribati or from Greenland and others tells us about the effects of climate changes going on, hurting the indigenous peoples and the most vulnerable first and most. We will counteract the destructive powers of stigmatization of peoples with HIV/Aids and other burdens of so many today.
In these and many other issues I am inspired by the work and the name of the ecumenical Norwegian youth movement “Changemakers”. Younger people have a lot of potential and insight. We can all be changemakers, in all generations. We all need that something is changed - also with us. This organization needs, as well, constantly renewal, as every living body does. To renew we must also go back - to our call to be one, to our common sources.
The churches still have a way to go before we have a full mutual recognition of one another as churches. This is separating and hurting Christians on all continents, and weakens our witness. We are closer in respect of mutual recognition of one another’s baptism, the spring of living water. Thanks to the hard work in ecumenical dialogues by the Christian World Communions and Faith and Order, much more can be shared today than could be in Amsterdam in 1948. I believe we can and we must get further, for the benefit of local churches divided, and not to mention for families divided as they worship.
To be one requires sensitivity for the other churches, particularly for those in minority situations. It is time for more solidarity between Christians. We hear how urgent this is, in Iraq, in Pakistan, in India and other places. This solidarity we are also exploring in the Palestine/Israel Ecumenical Forum. This means accompanying and advocating with one another, being warm in our love for all, both the Jewish and the Palestinian people, and clear in our speech about sin, particularly when our Christian faith is abused to defend injustice.
Almost 100 years after the meeting in Edinburgh where the churches agreed to be united in mission, we still have the same call to share the Gospel. Today, however, we must also consider together, and with peoples of other faiths, how we can avoid our mission creating conflicts between human beings who have lived together and who must live together. In our important efforts to build new bridges to other churches in the Global Christian Forum, we share a goal of holistic and healing mission. As a sensitive, global council of churches we have much to say about how we fulfil our call to mission, and how we do not.
The WCC plays an important role in the relations between world religions. One of our added values is a multilateral approach to other faiths because we are coming from so many contexts. Another is our common Christian ethos to be good neighbours to all peoples, no matter their faith, locally, nationally, and globally. And together we can ask peoples of other faiths to be good neighbours to our Christian sisters and brothers, where they are so needed.
Let us listen carefully to God’s call as it comes to us in the Bible and through the face and the need of our neighbour. In Jamaica 2011 we will gather to work for a just peace, against the misuse of military, political, financial or even religious power. Whether it is in Palestine, in Darfur, in Congo or in many other places you know so well. In the WCC/LWF conference in Bangkok we were reminded that no place is really a safe place for a Christian Dalit woman. We must speak clearly and strongly of justice for them and other groups discriminated against.
The WCC is a natural partner to global organizations, the Roman Catholic Church, the UN and with politicians who listen to the WCC and want to collaborate with us. We need to continue the efforts of Sam Kobia to provide leadership to develop the ACT alliance, so that the churches and their partners are able to do their diaconical work together for the dignity and rights of all.
We need a World Council of Churches providing ecumenical space where we can give account of our concerns, our positions and our intentions. I am sure we can find common goals, even when we disagree on some.
Mutual accountability is for me not only the title of my doctoral thesis but a vision for this council as to how we work together, being one. You are exercising this when you are visiting one another as living letters, and when you develop your methods of consensus building. It means reliability, a commitment to listen, and a willingness to criticize and to hear criticism constructively.
You have called for a General Secretary serving the wholeness of our work. From my experience in leadership nationally and internationally I know this requires accountability to all of you and your priorities as a governing body. Good management is good stewardship of the resources already entrusted us. Our most valuable resource is the multi-cultural and very competent staff. Its diversity is at the same time its greatest potential and challenge. Therefore, from my experience of management of this type of work, I believe the style of leadership must be transparent, involving and motivating, through delegation giving clarity of the tasks and responsibility of each staff member. The only way I can succeed is that they succeed. Not least in a time of serious financial restraints it is so important what a leader does and how it is done.
I like to combine visions and practical work, creativity and realism. The most demanding tasks are quite often the most important ones. But my deepest joy is to follow a call and do what is really important for others. That is why I have made myself available for you and for this position. If I am elected, I cannot do it alone, but only with the help of God, together with you and the whole staff.
The hall is renewed, the vision is the same: That they all may be one!