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Dear sisters and brothers,

It gives me great honor to address you today to add a word of thankfulness on behalf of the World Council of Churches to Brot für die Welt for 70 years of service to the church and ecumenism through its interchurch scholarships programme.

Looking back at roughly 3,500 alumni and beneficiaries since 1952, one quickly realizes how many lives were touched, and changed by the fact that they had access to means that would allow them to enjoy their right to a good education.

Education is a basic human right that works to raise men and women out of poverty, level inequalities, and ensure sustainable development. Education is a steppingstone to other fundamental human rights.

For the ecumenical movement, a scholarship is not only a bridge between the student and wider, deeper knowledge and formation. It is also a bridge between the present and the future of the church. Scholarships have helped to equip churches and ecumenical bodies for several decades and we hope and pray that this continues.

In the WCC we have so many examples of scholarship beneficiaries that later played leading roles on many levels. From former WCC general secretary Rev. Emilio Castro, to former WCC deputy general secretary Prof. Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri, the list is long and includes many bishops, ecumenical officers, scholars, and WCC staff.

The motto “churches helping churches” resonates loudly on many levels of the life and work of the WCC. One of them is our ongoing efforts of highlighting how much we can continue to achieve together in the ecumenical movement when we walk, pray, and work closely.

Over the last 75 years, several assumptions have governed the WCC’s work in education. One is that all of life is a learning experience – from the cradle to the grave. This has tended to produce a proliferation in the work of the WCC sector dealing with education. Another is that education in the church context should be not only learning about the faith but also discovering its implications of the faith for personal and social ethical attitudes and decisions.

For a number of years beginning in 1978 the WCC’s Church-Related Educational Institutions Programme evaluated the role played by church-sponsored schools, colleges, universities, and institutions, including in human development and nation-building. Among the issues it grappled with were elitism, the influence of governments on Christian education, the relationship between institutional church and private Christian institutions, and the access to education of racial and religious minorities.

Another concern was the churches’ development of leaders for church and society. This concern became a growing emphasis in WCC circles, as it sought increasingly to ensure that the provision of ecumenical financial support for the advanced education and training of individuals took account of the need to meet the future human resources requirements of the churches from which the recipients came.

More recently, the WCC and its member churches and partners have developed further the understanding of ecumenical diakonia and its impact in today’s world. The complex realities of today’s polarized and fragmented world reinforce more strongly the need to confront and transform structures that perpetuate injustice, suffering, oppression, and exploitation of humanity and creation. Witness and service are crucial for the church: mission, diakonia, and ecumenism belong together and to the heart of what it means to be the church. In this area, good and inclusive formation is also decisive.

Ecumenical formation creates opportunities for developing ecumenically-oriented leadership within churches through theological dialogues in the context of learning that enhance theological engagement and mutual understanding, thereby contributing towards visible unity. In the WCC 2023-2030 strategic framework, ecumenical formation is envisioned as ethos and as programme. As the former, it invites the ecumenical family to adopt an ‘ever-learning’ posture, and as the latter, it calls the fellowship to a commitment to specific formation activities that will continue to deepen and sustain the ecumenical vision.

We give thanks to God for the 70 years of the interchurch scholarship programme, for it has been a bridge builder. It represents a crucial contribution to the work on reconciliation ecumenical rapprochement after World War II, an expression of “lived ecumenism” supporting so many churches and institutions in the region.

We extend our gratitude also to the German National Committee of the Lutheran World Federation for its support to this initiative.

Many thanks for this invitation to share this moment with you. I leave you with the words from Proverbs 4:13:

“Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life”.

Rev. Prof. Dr Jerry Pillay

General secretary

World Council of Churches