Representatives of the United Church of Christ returning to the United States from the World Council of Churches 10th Assembly have new and renewed aspirations for their ministry after they spent two weeks walking alongside their Christian brothers and sister in hopes of finding a path toward justice and peace. Three of those participants from the UCC – the Rev. Diane Christopherson, and the Rev. Marvin and Shelia Silver – spent time during the Assembly learning about and advocating for the role of those marginalized in the church.
Christopherson is a veteran of two previous WCC Assemblies in Harare, Zimbabwe (1999), and Porto Alegre, Brazil (2006), as a participant of the most diverse gathering of Christians in the world. Marvin and Shelia were both first-timers to the WCC Assembly, which concluded on Friday, Oct. 8 in Busan, South Korea.
Marvin and Shelia confess that the trip was life-changing, educational and unforgettable.
"As a local church pastor and justice advocate, the assembly has provided me a space away from my normal routine to read, study scripture, reflect, and hear different perspectives on the theme of justice and peace," said Marvin, a part-time pastor at Jubilee UCC in Washington, D.C. "I really appreciate the fellowship time with Christians from around the world and learning from their ministry context [about the] challenges impacting their people."
"At moments I could only express pure tears of sadness and other moments some joy because of what I was experiencing and seeing beyond the struggles of people in the U.S.," Shelia said. "As I reflect upon the biblical principles from bible study, I know that we serve one almighty God through many different cultures. We speak many different languages but we all understand the same word of God."
The WCC Assembly addressed a range of issues, such as climate change, violence against women and children; cultural conflicts; economic globalization; indigenous and non-indigenous reconciliation; and advocacy for persons with disabilities.
"The consideration of such immense issues of injustice invites me to reflect anew on the need to create, sustain, and expand strategic partnerships in, through and beyond the church," Christopherson said.
There were several take-aways for the Silvers, particularly the need for women in ministry as ordained ministers. Marvin also added that women's issues have evolved into men's issues, since men can longer remain silent and must be advocates for women.
The personal testimonies they heard were both powerful and helpful in realizing the issue is more prominent in several parts of the world. The program events on women in the church were an eye-opening experience as Shelia listened to somber stories from women that saddened her.
"One testimony was when a woman gave a very heart-felt prayer of lament and pleading to God for answers of why such tragedy as human-trafficking could come to women and children," Shelia explained. "A women sitting beside me said 'Women cannot be ordained in my church, let alone speak in the pulpit.' There were so many issues that it was overwhelming to the point I felt helpless."
The WCC Assembly theme, "God of life, lead us to justice and peace," served as a unifying prayer for Christopherson, as she and other participants heard stories from different cultures that guided the ways they might work with each other and God. Christopherson was part of conversations "that advance the ecumenical journey toward full inclusion and justice for LGBT persons in church and society."
"I will return to the U.S.A. with the assembly theme and stories of the people I've encountered incubating in my mind, heart and spirit," she said. "I am praying that our Still-Speaking God will make clear to me the specific, concrete actions I can take in collaboration with global ecumenical partners to expand God's realm of justice and peace."
The UCC is one of the 345 members of the WCC, with a team of almost two dozen representatives from across the life of the church at this gathering. The WCC assembly, which occurs once every seven years, took place from Oct. 30 through Nov. 8 in Busan. The assembly is the highest governing body of the WCC, and is a moment when member churches come together for prayer, celebration and to set the future agenda for the council. There are more than 4,000 delegates, visitors, event staff and media members from more than 100 countries in South Korea for the assembly.