Churches must build unity, reach young people, WCC leader says
|A Web-only photo courtesy by Paulino Menezes, WCC
Brazilian dancers add color and movement to the opening plenary session of the World Council of Churches assembly.
Feb. 16, 2006
By Linda Bloom*
PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil (UMNS) — Churches have new opportunities to
influence global policies and “bring a moral voice to the world,” but
that cannot happen unless they relate to each other more closely,
according to the leader of the World Council of Churches.
“We can no longer separate ethics and ecclesiology, the search for
unity of the church and the unity of humankind,” said the Rev. Samuel
Kobia, a Methodist pastor from Kenya and the WCC’s chief executive.
“They are closely intertwined with each other.”
Kobia delivered his report Feb. 15 to participants at the World
Council of Churches’ 9th Assembly in Porto Alegre. Besides the 18-member
official United Methodist delegation, a number of United Methodists are
attending the assembly as participants in the “mutirao” — an informal,
mid-day gathering of workshops, discussions and exhibits — or are
present in some other capacity.
During the Feb. 14 opening worship, Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana
and All Albania took up the assembly’s theme of transformation and noted
the “transformative journey (of) our church communities cannot occur on
the basis of criteria occasionally proposed by fashion and vogue, but
through the guidance of ?the gospel of grace.’”
In Kobia’s opinion, an ecumenical movement that is open to signs of
God’s transformative grace must be grounded in spirituality, take
ecumenical formation and youth seriously, work for transformative
justice, take risks to develop new and creative ways of working, and
firmly put relationships at the center.
He considers the spiritual base of the ecumenical movement to be the
“festa da vida, the feast of life” — a grace and invitation from God.
“The wonder of grace is that it is a gift, which we don’t deserve, a
reward which we don’t earn, but it is freely given and is ours for the
|A Web-only photo by Paulino Menezes, WCC
Members of the 9th Assembly of the World Council of Churches gather in prayer on the opening day.
Kobia issued a strong call for the nurturing and involvement of young
people in the ecumenical movement. Just as an earlier generation of
young adults created today’s movement, so must that opportunity for
participation be transmitted to future generations.
“Young people need opportunities to experience the joy of working and
praying with others from different traditions and different contexts,”
he said. “They need support and mentoring to participate fully in
ecumenical gatherings with their sometimes intimidating elders.
“We need to go out to where young people are, to schools and
universities. We need to be willing to change to respond to the demands
of young people. We must offer opportunities to know and learn from
others through scholarships and travel. At a time when information
technology is forever advancing, we must enable our youth to interact
more deeply and to discover creative ways of using virtual spaces for
|A UMNS photo by Paulino Menezes, WCC
The Rev. Samuel Kobia speaks at the World Council of Churches' assembly in Porto Alegre, Brazil.
Kobia noted that while some young people may reject traditional
church structures, they still have a hunger for spirituality. He told
the story of a WCC colleague who, out of desperation, enlisted the help
of her 22-year-old daughter to format the mutirao schedule for the
assembly on Excel spreadsheets. The daughter was so intrigued by the
workshops being planned that she wanted to attend the assembly herself.
“I had no idea that this was what ecumenism is all about,” she told her mother. “It makes me want to get involved.”
Young people are attracted to the issues engaging today’s ecumenical
movement, according to Kobia, “but they need to be invited in. And they
need to be equipped and supported to participate.”
Some of those issues — hunger, poverty, violence and economic and
social inequalities — are issues of transformative justice. “As
churches, we are called to plan together, to speak together and to take
action together in the face of conditions that we know to be wrong in
this world,” Kobia said.
|A Web-only photo courtesy of the World Council of Churches
"Mutiraos," informal gatherings of workshops, exhibits and discussions, are offered daily at the assembly.
Today’s biggest challenges — for both the world and for churches —
have root in “the lack of human capacity to relate to each other, to
creation, and to God as we ought to,” he said.
“We will be best equipped to promote human relationships in the world
around us if, as churches, we shall learn how to share with one another
all the gifts of grace which we have received from God,” Kobia told
participants. “To a very large extent, our disunity as churches is due
to our incapacity to practice this genuine sharing of gifts.”
More than 3,000 participants — representing nearly all Christian
traditions and all geographic regions — are expected to attend the
assembly, which ends Feb. 23.
Continuing information about the WCC assembly and its actions can be found at www.wcc-assembly.info, the official assembly Web site.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759; Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470; or email@example.com.
|Video Highlights from WCC’s 9th Assembly