Taking the pulse of the ecumenical movement
World Council of Churches - Feature
TAKING THE PULSE OF THE ECUMENICAL MOVEMENT
For immediate release: 11 May 2010
Church ecumenical officers play a key role in the advancement of ecumenism
at a time when resources are scarce and inward-looking tendencies thrive.
"I regard you as the group that is closest to us in our daily work", the
World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit
told a gathering of church ecumenical officers on Tuesday, 4 May.
A former ecumenical officer himself, Tveit emphasized the crucial relevance
of the ecumenical officers' work: "Serving the churches in their response to
the call to seek Christian unity, nurturing opportunities for the churches
to be one in faith, prayer and service, encouraging their witness for
justice and peace - these are indeed huge tasks, sometimes quite demanding."
Some 55 ecumenical officers from as many churches and all over the world met
at the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey, near Geneva, 4-6 May. The network of
ecumenical officers of WCC member churches meets once every year,
alternating global and regional gatherings.
Walking the paths of ecumenism
The Rev. Grace Moon, from the Presbyterian Church of Korea, found the
encounter with fellow ecumenical officers "amazingly helpful". Being her
first meeting of this kind, she discovered a rich of insights on a number of
issues. "I've been able to learn ecumenical methodologies to address, for
instance, gender issues", she said.
Although "most Koreans are unaware of the ecumenical movement and the WCC,
they live out the three dimensions of the WCC's ecumenical vision - unity,
witness and service - in their daily church life", Moon pointed out. The
Presbyterian Church of Korea is a member of the National Council of Churches
in Korea, which will host the WCC 10th Assembly in Busan, Korea in 2013.
For Moon, the ecumenical movement is not structures but an ongoing process:
"It has to do with the life of the churches", she said. One of her
challenges as ecumenical officer is to convey to faithful and leadership the
view that ecumenism "is not about an agenda to fulfill or outcomes to
achieve, but about embracing the diversity of Christian traditions". "This
is the most valuable insight we gain from the WCC", Moon added.
The meeting was also a first for Metropolitan Mor Eustathius Matta Roham,
from the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East.
Although as a member of the WCC central committee he is well aware of the
discussions held at these gatherings, he found it very useful - in
particular, he appreciated the sharing of information about the upcoming
International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (Link:
http://www.oikoumene.org/index.php?RDCT=8f8f7e11dd36e6a48e8d ) to take place
in Kingston, Jamaica, from 17-25 May 2011. The Convocation will be the
climax of the WCC's Decade to Overcome Violence 2001-2010 (Link:
The four themes in which the Convocation is to focus - peace in the
community, with the Earth, in the marketplace and among the peoples - are
very relevant for the Middle East context, said Matta Roham. "For instance
when we talk about peace in the community, we are talking about neighbors,
and from a Christian viewpoint, that is a concept which embraces all human
beings, all communities, not just those who are closer to me or live near by
Peace among the peoples also translates very concretely in the Middle East
context. "We see war between nations and competition for nuclear weapons",
Matta Roham said. "However, we need not nuclear weapons in any Middle
Eastern country, but to develop technologies that serve the common good."
For the Rev. Juan Abelardo Schvindt, from the Evangelical Church of the
River Plate (Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay), participating at the
gathering of ecumenical officers allowed him to gain insights on the ongoing
efforts of the WCC to refocus its programmatic work and redefine its agenda.
"We learnt how the WCC is trying to find its place in a world and church
landscape that have changed", he said.
One of the biggest challenges Schvindt faces as ecumenical officer is the
need to "rebuild trust" amongst ecumenical actors in order to achieve a
renewed agenda. The vitality of the ecumenical movement of the 70s and 80s
has suffered under the pressure of inward-looking tendencies in the
churches. "The goal isn't to suppress the churches own identities, but to
find a space of convergence where they can cooperate and express their unity
in a visible form", he said.
Another challenge is the scarcity of resources, said the Rev. Dr Gail Allan,
from the United Church of Canada. "Everybody is struggling to work with
reduced capacity", she said. In part, the decrease in resources is due to a
growing conservatism that affects the Canadian society and impacts the
funding not only of churches but also NGOs.
This scarcity "may actually be an opportunity", said Allan, "as it is a
challenge to strengthen our joint prophetic witness, which may become
stronger at the end." This view, together with a number of hopeful signs,
like the growing membership of the Canadian Council of Churches, justifies
Strong denominationalism is the biggest challenge for the ecumenical
movement in Ghana, said the Rev. Dr Samuel Ayete Nyampong, from the
Presbyterian Church of Ghana. "This tendency to see ourselves as different
from others divides us", said Ayete. "We need to build stronger ecumenical
ties so we can sacrifice our self-interest and pull resources and ideas
together; we ought to see ourselves as belonging to one fellowship in
Encountering fellow ecumenical officers allowed Ayete to hear other
churches' stories and learn from their challenges. "I can bring home
information my church wouldn't have received if I hadn't been here", said
Ayete. "Learning that others are going through similar struggles makes us
Africans to feel we are not alone."
WCC's Decade to Overcome Violence (Link:
International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (Link:
The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and
service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical fellowship of churches
founded in 1948, today the WCC brings together 349 Protestant, Orthodox,
Anglican and other churches representing more than 560 million Christians in
over 110 countries, and works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church.
The WCC general secretary is Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, from the [Lutheran]
Church of Norway. Headquarters: Geneva, Switzerland.