WCC gathering in Geneva, first in years, preps for summer Assembly
It was a long time coming. For the first time since 2018, the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches came together in Geneva last week. For two of the three representatives of the United Church of Christ’s Wider Church Ministries, this was their first in-person meeting.
The Rev. Mark Pettis, ecumenical and interfaith manager, and Joshua Baird, Global H.O.P.E. team leader, joined Associate General Minister the Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson at the three day gathering June 15-18.
The central committee usually meets every two years, serving as the chief governing body of the WCC between assemblies. Due to the pandemic, the central committee met online in June 2021 and February 2022.
“The experience of being at this (my first) central committee meeting offered me the opportunity to connect with colleagues from around the globe, so that I might better understand their particular contexts,” said Pettis. While he said the work of a global ecumenical organization like the WCC is challenging — bringing together people from such varying backgrounds — having those people gathered in the same space was more enriching than the virtual meetings held during the pandemic.
“This gathering makes matters far more real in a way, as when you are hearing about the challenges facing Ethiopia (for instance), you are able to hear from individuals from Ethiopia,” he continued. “Similarly, while we have spent a great deal of time discussing how to respond to the war in Ukraine, in this venue, we were able to hear from individuals from Ukraine and from Russia. Such a context for meeting truly deepens and enriches the conversation.”
During this central committee meeting, the final before the upcoming World Council of Churches 11th General Assembly later this summer, the Rev. Prof. Jerry Pillay was elected as the WCC’s new general secretary. Pillay, a member of the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa, will begin his term on January 1, 2023.
“Having leadership for the WCC chosen ahead of the assembly was an important task for us,” said Thompson, referencing the General Assembly in Karlsruhe, Germany, August 31 – September 8. She said hearing the final plans for the assembly “and discussing these matters with staff present moved these discussions much further along than the virtual process would.”
The committee also addressed numerous issues through statements, which include:
- Condemning the war in Ukraine.
- Reiterating the call to the end of the occupation and equal human rights for all in the Holy Land (Israel and Palestine).
- Calling for the establishment of a new commission and urgent action on the climate change crisis.
- Appealing for a global response to the needs in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa.
“We are living through particularly challenging times,” Thompson said. “Reaching consensus on the statement on Ethiopia and the war in Ukraine addresses two critical issues for the global community. While a conversation about the Russian Orthodox Church was challenging, meeting in-person and having members of ROC with us, as well as people from the church in Ukraine, was important.”
Baird noted that the CC’s call for peace in Ukraine “connected with other crises around the world, including accelerating climate change and increasing the threat of famine facing millions of people.”
“With nearly 30 million people, including 850,000 refugees and 4.5 million internally displaced people requiring assistance in Ethiopia, the central committee’s statements are a reminder that our attention cannot be focused only on one part of the world,” Baird said.
“As members of the global faith community, we are called to recognize the suffering of all our neighbors and respond as we are able. Through gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing and the International Emergency fund, the United Church of Christ has responded and will continue to respond to these needs, supporting the work of our global partners for relief and development.”
“Gathering in person deepened engagement and allowed for expanded topics of conversation outside of the business sessions,” Baird said. “While technology such as video conference platforms are wonderful, it was good to meet in person and be freed from their constraints.”
More information on the WCC, the June gathering, and preparations for the 11th General Assembly can be found here.
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