On the Way to Busan: The Brethren Delegation Share Their Hopes and Dreams for the WCC Assembly

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
The Brethren delegation to the WCC Assembly in Busan, South Korea, includes (from left) Nathan Hosler of the Office of Public Witness, elected delegate Michael Hostetter who pastors Salem Church of the Brethren in Southern Ohio District, Church of the Brethren general secretary Stanley J. Noffsinger, and Samuel Dali, president of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN–the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria).

It is not unusual that this size of a delegation from the Church of the Brethren would be present at a World Council of Churches (WCC) Assembly, says general secretary Stan Noffsinger. What has changed is the number of delegates “and our involvement in the deliberations,” he adds.

The Church of the Brethren typically sends one delegate elected by the Standing Committee of Annual Conference to the assemblies of the WCC, which are held only every seven years. The Brethren delegation arrived today in Busan, a city on the south coast of the Republic of Korea, to prepare for the assembly that begins tomorrow, Oct. 30, through Nov. 8.

This year the elected delegate from the Church of the Brethren is Michael Hostetter, pastor of Salem Church of the Brethren in Southern Ohio District. An alternate delegate is named as well, and this year alternate R. Jan Thompson is attending the assembly as an observer. He is a retired denominational staff member who lives in Bridgewater, Va.

Representing Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigerian (EYN–the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria) is president Samuel Dali, who will serve as the EYN delegate.

Both Noffsinger and Nathan Hosler, of the Office of Public Witness, have been selected by the WCC Central Committee to serve as special delegates. Hosler was selected as a young adult actively involved in advocacy work in Washington, D.C. Noffsinger was asked by Central Committee to serve as a leader of a Historic Peace Church.

“We just have not had that type of special recognition in many, many years,” Noffsinger emphasizes. It marks a new opportunity for the Brethren voice to be heard in ecumenical circles, he says, and for the denomination to learn from the worldwide Christian fellowship.

Today, over lunch, the Brethren delegation shared some of their hopes and dreams for the assembly:

Stan Noffsinger: “This is really a remarkable experience, where the work of the Decade to Overcome Violence, and the statement Ecumenical Call to a Just Peace, have been accepted as a guiding ethos for the WCC. The ethos of the ecumenical call is going to be woven throughout the fiber of this event. We’ll see how it takes. There is a sense among church leaders that this is a unique time where there is virtually a unanimous voice that there must be a different way of approaching violence and conflict in the world. The stance of the Historic Peace Churches has really risen to the top, nonviolence, nonparticipation in war, reconciliation, restorative justice. We’re going to try to live into that as an assembly this week. My hope is we really see the manifestation of the Ecumenical Call to Just Peace.

“There are other issues as well, one is the issue of statelessness…. There will be conversation about the internal civil unrest in the Middle East in places like Syria…. The third one is the noticeable shift in the center of the global church–where it has been historically a northern hemisphere, Euro-centric institution and Orthodox, we’re seeing the increase of the church in the southern hemisphere and that center is moving…. There is a paper on the church facing into the experience of people living with disabilities. And there is a major paper coming from the Korean context for a nuclear-free world, that I think will be fairly significant. They’re not just talking about nuclear weapons, they’re talking about nuclear power plants, the use of nuclear energy, period.”

Nate Hosler: “It will be interesting to be on the Public Issues Committee, to see what that process looks like and to get in on those discussions. It’s also exciting to see what relationships come out of that, to continue working with some of the people I know at the WCC already, but much more broadly. I guess on the practical end it will be a good opportunity to get to know people and to find ways to work together globally as a church. The workshop I’ve organized and that Stan will be part of, will be the US churches’ response to just peace. The second portion of the workshop will be discussion about how that relates to the global church. How do other churches feel about any number of things, kind of seeking their wisdom and guidance. It will be an intentional process of learning. And it will give a lot more weight in working forward, to have a strong response from the global church.”

R. Jan Thompson: “My hope for this is to better understand the ecumenical partnership around the world. It’s my understanding that the Church of the Brethren has been instrumental since 1948 when the first assembly met in Amsterdam. Some of the Brethren in attendance began to talk in terms of peace church and the whole concept of peace, particularly following so close to World War II. And now we’re coming to a point where the WCC has a paper called the Ecumenical Call to Just Peace. I’m excited and I want to hear the discussion on that. I’m also hopeful that I’ll be able to go with the Peace Train to Seoul to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) to pray for peace. I think that will make a witness to both South Korea and North Korea that there are persons around the world who are praying for a peaceful solution.”

Mike Hostetter: “Two things that I’ve been thinking about recently. One is having been to Indonesia for the Global Christian Forum, I’m really eager to compare and contrast these two experiences. That was a much smaller group than this will be. It was not at all centered on doing business, it was more centered on building relationships. And over 50 percent of the participants were evangelicals and Pentecostals from around the world, which also gives a different flavor but a very interesting one.

“The second thing, since I have a background in world religions, is inter-religious dialogue and conversation. Even to talk about inter-religious conversation, I’m not sure what it sounds like to other people in other places. I know what it sounds like in the United States, I know what it sounds like to me, but that is really a very open question. I want to listen and see what the challenges are. Because I do believe that for Church of the Brethren leaders in the United States, some broader understanding of other religious traditions should be required of everyone who is a pastor. Chances are they’re going to run into that and it would be useful for them to be able to help their congregations in that regard.”

Samuel Dali: “The Standing Committee of the church [Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria], when they heard about the WCC Assembly decided that I must come here because the church wants to be part of what is happening in the world.

“And I have my two personal interests also. The first one is about the peace issue. I am interested to hear what the global church is planning to do about peace, especially in the context of the global problem that is terrorism. But I don’t know how the church as Christ’s global body is actually trying to face this problem in terms of peace. What has been happening is at the local level, the denominational level, but I am interested in seeing what is the world church saying.

“And then when I heard about the Historic Peace Church meeting [which is happening as part of the assembly] I was also interested. Maybe this is an opportunity for the Historic Peace Churches to unite most strongly in order to face some of the problems that are happening in the world, and to propose a more peaceful way through so that we can work together instead of working country by country or local church by local church. I’m eager to learn more about peace, so I can add to what I have learned, and propose some way forward for my church.”

Find a photo album and more about the assembly including links to WCC publicity and live webcasts that start Oct. 30, at www.brethren.org/news/2013/wcc-assembly.


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