Written by Gregg Brekke
Norwegian theologian and pastor the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, 48, was elected 7th general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Thursday, Aug. 27, during its Central Committee meeting. Tveit will be the youngest general secretary since Willem A. Visser 't Hooft who had led the WCC while it was in process of formation and following its founding assembly 61 years ago.
"This task I really feel is the call of God. I feel that we have a lot to do together", said Tveit in his acceptance speech before the central committee. He stressed the spirit of unity that dominated the whole process and expressed hope that it will continue to reign in the common journey. Tveit encouraged the committee members to continue praying for him: "Please do not stop!"
Tveit emphasized unity as a core tenet of God's purpose and an imperative for the WCC. "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," he said. "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."
Yet Tveit, aware of the needs of such a diverse communion, provided a model for accountability and sharing of ideas between ecumenical and interfaith bodies. "We need a World Council of Churches providing ecumenical space where we can give account of our concerns, our positions and our intentions," he said "I am sure we can find common goals, even when we disagree on some."
"I am pleased by Rev. Tveit's election. He brings significant global ecumenical experience both in the arena of faith and order and in matters of justice," said UCC general minister and president the Rev. John Thomas. "His presentation to the Central Committee was theological informed, ecumenically visionary, and evangelically engaging."
Since 2002, Tveit has been the general secretary of the Church of Norway Council on Ecumenical and International Relations. Tveit is a member of the WCC Faith and Order Plenary Commission and the board of directors and executive committee of the Christian Council of Norway.
Tveit was one of two candidates standing for election to the WCC's highest administrative post. The other candidate was Rev. Dr Park Seong-won, a Presbyterian theologian from South Korea. Tveit will replace outgoing general secretary the Rev. Samuel Kobia who in February 2008 informed the Central Committee, the WCC's highest governing body, that he would not seek a second term in office. Kobia has served as general secretary since 2004.
"We entered into this process with most of us not knowing Rev. Park or Rev. Tveit", said Fr. Leonid Kishkovsky, ecumenical officer of the Orthodox Church in America and a Central Committee member. "In the end, I was impressed with both of their speeches. I'm happy with the outcome." Kishkovsky said he believes Tveit brings a "good balance" of skills in a variety of areas. "It seems to me the blend is a good one", he said.
"The atmosphere after this election is one of hope", said the Rev. Emilio Castro, who was WCC general secretary between 1985 and 1992. "I am certain that in this process there were neither winner nor losers, but the ecumenical movement has been strengthened. I am convinced that the best years of the WCC are ahead of us."
"He impressed me very much with his speech to us," said Dean Anders Gadegaard, a Central Committee member from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark. "It was both pastoral, personal and political at the same time, and that gives me much hope for the future." Gadegaard said he sees Tveit's election as part of an opportunity for the WCC to "have a kind of shift in generations in leadership".
The UCC is an active participant in the World Council of Churches.