News Archives

World’s churches will focus on transformation at assembly

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
Photo courtesy of the World Council of Churches

Bishop Carlos Poma, Evangelical Methodist Church of Bolivia, speaks at a World Council of Churches pre-assembly meeting in Brazil.
Jan. 24, 2006

A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*

Transformation — of the earth, of society, of the church and of individual lives — will be the focus of the World Council of Churches’ 9th Assembly Feb. 14-23 in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

Up to 1,200 “core participants” — such as church delegates and representatives of related organizations — are expected to attend the event at Catholic Pontifical University, along with about 1,800 others. The United Methodist Church is sending an official delegation, and other United Methodists and Methodists from around the world will take part.

Norman Shanks of Scotland, moderator of the assembly planning committee, said the theme, “God, in your grace, transform the world,” reflects both the global and individual need “for healing and change, recognizing our dependence of God, acknowledging that we all have a part to play in the process of transformation.”

The idea of transformation involves both church structures and sociopolitical systems, according to the Rev. Larry Pickens, chief executive of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns.

“My sense is that the World Council of Churches and the ecumenical movement face a time of transition and, yes, transformation,” he said. “As the church’s witness to the world develops, the assembly is an opportunity for us to sharpen and focus our mission as God’s people.”

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS file photo by Tim Tanton

The Zimbabwe Council of Churches Choir leads opening worship at the World Council of Churches’ 1998 assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe.
Each day will begin and end with prayer, drawing from a range of church traditions, with additional services offered during the day. Bible study will follow morning prayer.

On most days, plenary sessions are planned in late morning and late afternoon and will address general topics such as economic justice, youth overcoming violence, Christian identity and religious plurality, and church unity, along with discussion and action on reports later in the assembly. During three mornings, “ecumenical conversations” are planned on topics relating to the life and witness of the church in today’s world.

Assembly planners have chosen a Portuguese word, “mutirao,” to describe the midday activities of the assembly. An informal time to gather and share together, the mutirao will include workshops, cultural offerings, and displays and exhibitions.

“One of the major features of the WCC Assembly will be a multimedia exhibit entitled, ?Keeping the Faith,’” said Lois Dauway, an executive with the Women’s Division, United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, and a member of the assembly planning committee. “It seeks to examine how one maintains a belief system in the midst of such crushing social ills.”

She also pointed to a process called “AGAPE — A Call to Love and Action,” through which the assembly will address “issues of rampant and sinful poverty” from a faith perspective.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
Photo courtesy of the World Council of Churches

The World Council of Churches will meet at the Catholic Pontifical University in Porto Alegre, Brazil.
A six-page AGAPE document, summarizing work done by the WCC and its ecumenical partners on issues of economic globalization since the 1998 Harare assembly, will be presented in Porto Alegre.

The document invites participants to recommit toward “the eradication of poverty and inequality,” to seek justice in international trade, and to advocate “for responsible lending, unconditional debt cancellation, and the control and regulation of global financial markets.”

Participants at the assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe, decided that “the logic of globalization needs to be challenged by an alternative way of life of community in diversity.” Since then, the WCC has held wide-ranging consultations on that statement. The process came to be called AGAPE (the Greek word for love) — “alternative globalization addressing peoples and earth.”

For the first time at a WCC assembly, delegates will make decisions by consensus rather than by parliamentary majority votes. A manual and training will be provided to help guide delegates in the new method. During discussions, indicator cards can be used to signal “warmth” (orange) or “coolness” (blue) towards an idea.

The Board of Global Ministries will sponsor or co-sponsor workshops on issues related to youth and women during the mutirao period of the assembly. Roseangela Oliveria and Doreen Boyd, board regional missionaries, will help lead a workshop on gender and human rights. Tamara Walker and Marcia Florkey, board staff, will help lead the youth-related workshop, in collaboration wit the World Student Christian Federation and Martin Luther King Center of Havana, Cuba.

The ninth assembly is the first to take place in Latin America. Many visitors from the region are expected to participate, and a “Latin America Day” will be celebrated Feb. 19 with prayers, presentations and a cultural evening.

Latin American churches held a preparatory event last October in Mendes, Brazil, and released a letter calling the assembly “a significant moment in the history of our journey on this continent” as well as an encouragement for youth participation in the continent’s ecumenical movement.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
Photo courtesy of the World Council of Churches

Porto Alegre has more than 1 million trees, some of which are planted along main streets such as Borges de Medeiros avenue.
Nelida Ritchie, bishop of the Evangelical Methodist Church of Argentina, suggested that the Latin American churches should look beyond political correctness and instead speak from the heart “from experiences of suffering but also (of) the dignified resistance.”

Bishop Carlos Poma, Evangelical Methodist Church of Bolivia, spoke about how the Bolivian indigenous people need solidarity with the churches.

Pickens believes the Latin American setting is significant as delegates address issues of poverty, globalization and North-South relations.

“One has to also recognize the explosive church growth that is taking place in Latin America and realize that as the world population centers of Christianity shift, significant theological discussions will take place concerning faith experiences that are not centered in the United States and Europe,” he noted.

In addition to Pickens and Dauway, the official United Methodist delegation to the assembly includes Bishop William B. Oden of Dallas, ecumenical officer for the United Methodist Council of Bishops; Bishop Ann Sherer, president, United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns; and Bishop Sally Dyck of Minneapolis.

Also, the Rev. R. Randy Day, chief executive, United Methodist Board of Global Ministries; Jan Love, chief executive, Women’s Division; and the Rev. Chester Aumua of Tacoma, Wash., Pacific Islander National Caucus of United Methodists.

Young adult delegates are Jennifer Irvine Goto of San Ramon, Calif.; Jay Williams of New York; Christine Danielle Sanchez of San Antonio; Tara Fitzpatrick of Norman, Okla.; and Motoe Yamada of Almeda, Calif.

Central Conference delegates are the Rev. Forbes Matonga of Harare; Jonathan Ulanday of Tagum City, Philippines, a director of the Commission on Christian Unity; and Ulla Skodlt Jonsson of Emmaboda, Sweden.

The alternate delegate is the Rev. Paul Barton, assistant professor of Hispanic studies, Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas. Clare Chapman, a Commission on Christian Unity executive, is serving as adviser.

Other United Methodists participating in the assembly in various capacities include the Rev. John McCullough, chief executive, Church World Service; the Rev. Bob Edgar, chief executive, National Council of Churches; the Rev. Paul Dirdak, chief executive, United Methodist Committee on Relief; and Jorge Domingues, Board of Global Ministries.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or

Audio Interview with Betty Thompson
“Methodists have been prominent in the WCC.”
“The Women’s Division has been one of the principal educating forces.”
Related Articles
Over decades, Methodists make significant contributions to WCC
Church members can follow WCC assembly from home
WCC assembly will signal ?life in the ecumenical movement’
United Methodists to join 3,000 at 2006 WCC assembly
WCC 9th assembly
Past assemblies