UCC sends ‘strong contingent’ to WCC General Assembly in Germany

This week, the United Church of Christ will be well represented in Karlsruhe, Germany, as the World Council of Churches gathers for its 11th General Assembly

“The UCC has a strong contingent of folks attending, including staff and others with interest in the work of the WCC,” said the Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson, associate general minister and a current member of the WCC Central Committee.

She is one of seven national staffers who will be joined by a half-dozen Conference and congregation representatives participating in the Assembly. The event runs Wednesday, Aug. 31, through Thursday, Sept. 8. 

Thompson is also taking part in a pre-assembly on Aug. 29 and 30. 

“I am looking forward to contributing there in ways in which we can continue to raise awareness and be strong advocates for women’s issues globally, as a part of the global church,” Thompson said. “The elevation of women’s issues continues to be of importance, even as we also speak to the current contexts where women cannot be ordained and continue to call for the ordination of women and the presence of women in church leadership.” 

At a WCC pre-assembly session on the Thursdays in Black campaign — for a world without rape and violence — a quilt tapestry representing a waterfall of solidarity is launched to gather personal testimonies from around the globe. Photo by Albin Hillert / WCC

‘Reconciliation and unity’

Originally planned for 2021, the gathering, which happens every eight years, was postponed by one year because of uncertainties related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The event’s theme is “Christ’s love moves the world to reconciliation and unity.” 

“One of the things the church can do to alter the future is advocate for more peaceful resolution to conflict, both at the interpersonal and at the national level,” said the Rev. John Dorhauer, UCC general minister and president. “There is also a resolution from South Africa calling Israel an apartheid state and asking for justice for Palestinian peoples. We will give our full support to that, though I have no allusions about that passing at the convention.” 

The Rev. Mark Pettis, the UCC’s ecumenical and interfaith relations manager, will represent the denomination on a panel related to the action the General Synod took last summer regarding Israel-Palestine. He’s also coordinating the delegation, functioning as the “communication hub for those from across the UCC who will be attending.”

Other national staffers in Germany include Joshua Baird, team leader for Global H.O.P.E., representing the UCC’s specialized ministries in response and development, Derek Duncan, Global Ministries executive for East Asia and the Pacific, and the Rev. Mike Neuroth, policy advocate for international issues, who will speak on behalf of Just Peace churches. Jessica Quinn, another member of the UCC Office of Public Policy and Advocacy in Washington, D.C, will serve on the WCC editorial team as a senior communicator for the Assembly. She will cover her assignments remotely.  

An opening celebration takes place at the Global Ecumenical Theological Institute in Karlsruhe, Germany, in connection with the World Council of Churches’ 11th Assembly, bringing together some 200 young and emerging ecumenical theologians and educators from a spectrum of Christian traditions to engage with one another on critical contemporary themes. Photo by Albin Hillert / WCC

Issues on agenda

Dorhauer and Thompson serve as the UCC’s two delegates. They will join others from the WCC’s 352 member churches to deliberate on the actions and statements brought before them, wrestle with policy issues and choose the next Central Committee, the governing body of the WCC. The organization represents more than a half-billion Christians around the world.

“We’ll be setting the programmatic direction for the next eight years,” Thompson said. “The business of the WCC and the direction will be most important for us.” 

Dorhauer hopes to speak to the direction around environmental justice, with a presentation on how militarism impacts climate change.

“Some information I will be sharing includes the fact that the single largest producer of carbon emissions anywhere on the globe is the U.S. military,” he said. “One fighter jet alone consumes 23,000 gallons of fuel per hour, or about 365 gallons per minute, when operating at its highest level.

“With over 750 military bases around the world, just transporting food and ammunition to those bases burns massive amounts of fossil fuels. These and other facts will be a part of my presentation.”  

LGBTQ hopes

Thompson’s agenda is full. In addition to her work as a delegate and on the WCC governing body, she chairs the continuation committees for the United and Uniting family of churches and serves on the leadership team of the program committee. “As the rapporteur of the committee, I will be responsible for keeping track of our work and finalizing the set of recommendations for the programmatic work.” 

Thompson has been immersed in the work of the WCC and attended previous assemblies formerly as the UCC’s ecumenical officer. This will be Dorhauer’s first General Assembly.  

“Among the many hopes I have for this meeting is that the global church goes further than it ever has in advocating for LGBTQ rights,” he said.  

The Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer, who leads the UCC Health and Wholeness Advocacy office, has long been working with the WCC on that issue.  

“Since 2014 I have served on the Reference Group on Human Sexuality, which was re-established as recommended in the last Assembly in Busan,” he said. “We have reached a momentous, culminating stage in this work with the publishing of “Conversations on the Pilgrim Way, Invitation to Journey Together on Matters of Human Sexuality.

“This document is not the end all, be all on human sexuality — that would be Our Whole Lives — but it is ground-breaking for a body like the World Council of Churches. Because of this publication, there will be safe spaces created for conversations about human sexuality that could not have happened otherwise.

“It is our hope is that through the many ecumenical conversations and meetings at the Assembly, a strong recommendation will come forth to sustain and advance the HIV and human sexuality work.” 

Importance of relationships

But the General Assembly is not all about work and business. It’s also about relationships.  

UCC participants will come together as a group a few times during the gathering and plan to take a group picture. There will also be time to reestablish important personal connections with people from around the world.

“I value the opportunity to see and meet with colleagues as we discuss the bodies of work we carry and the ways in which we can support the work we do as a part of the ecumenical community,” Thompson said. “Meeting with friends old and new is always a highlight of these gatherings.” 

It will be a great delight to meet again world leaders I have met through my years of travel,” Dorhauer said. “In the end, it is those personal connections that I think will leave me with the deepest satisfaction and gratitude.” 

Watch a video about the World Council of Churches Assemblies here.

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Categories: United Church of Christ News

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