First Impressions: Words and Images from the Opening Days of the WCC 10th Assembly

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
At the WCC 10th Assembly, general secretary Stan Noffsinger (left) greets Armenian Orthodox archbishop Vicken Aykazian

 

The assembly in Busan, South Korea, from Oct. 30-Nov. 8 is the 10th for the World Council of Churches (WCC). Held only every 7 or 8 years, each WCC assembly represents the largest and diverse gathering of Christian denominations from around the world. The Church of the Brethren is a founding member and has had a significant presence at each assembly since the first in 1948. Then the world’s Christians met in the aftermath of World War II to renew their commitments to each other as the body of Christ, despite political and national divides. Peace is on the agenda again now, which makes the 2013 gathering of particular interest to Brethren as both a Historic Peace Church and as a living peace church.

Here are sound bites from the assembly’s opening days:

“We pray for this assembly and for ourselves that in the coming weeks we may hear your word, and respond in faith; we may hear your voice, and be renewed; we may hear you calling us, and follow where you lead; we may hear the cries of your people, and respond in humble service. We have resigned ourselves too long to the division of the churches and the divisions within the human family. Let us pray that we may not passively sit and wait, as if visible unity would be bestowed on us from outside. Inspire us to become friends who trust each other, so that in unity we may grow and mature.”
— A prayer from the opening worship service.

“The great problems of the world today are above all problems of human distance from God; often a wilful distance–a prideful resistance to the very idea of a loving and righteous Supreme Being. That resistance, that distance from God, is nothing less than a license to ignore the rights of one’s fellow man, and to consider any means of reaching a goal as intolerable. Christianity teaches us another way–leads us along a different road: the road to Emmaus. That miracle reminds us that even in our moments of apparent defeat, Christ is with us.”
— His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of all Armenians, preaching on Luke 24:25-26.

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
BEXCO, a large convention center in the city of Busan, Republic of South Korea, is the venue for the WCC’s 10th Assembly

 

“We are living in the midst of a world that is without hope for the future. The crisis which we are facing [military, economic, and cultural conflicts…wsidespread poverty…oppression] cannot be resolved through human efforts. We are not able to offer any paths that can lead us out of this crisis. The theme for the 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches is, I believe, a response to the needs of our world today: ‘God of life, lead us to justice and peace.’ God can and will provide. The crisis we face today is because we have forgotten that we live and have our being in God.”
— Rev. Dr. KIM Sam Whan, chairperson of the Korean Host Committee.

“I would like to extend my warm welcome to the distinguished leaders who traveled all the way here to participate and I would also like to give them credit for their commitment.”
— Korean Prime Minister Jung Hong-won, giving greetings to the assembly. His brief visit opened the assembly’s plenary session on the second day of the gathering.

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
The worship hall at the WCC Assembly. The congregation numbers some 5,000 people.

“We must respect our environment…because our life is in it.”
— A participant from Fiji, one of more than 100 young adult volunteers or “stewards” who are helping make the assembly happen. He was one of the young adults invited to address the opening plenary session.

“There is no comfortable way of sitting on the cross. We cannot stand by as idle spectators. The truth is that we are on a journey to justice and peace.”
— An Orthodox leader bringing ecumenical greetings to the opening plenary.

“We don’t feel that concrete actions have been taken to preserve our status and our presence.”
— A Syrian Orthodox leader voicing a concern in the opening business session about the erosion of the Christian community in the Middle East, a concern that has been repeated several times in different venues at the assembly. He reported that the percentage of Christians is now down to 2 percent in some Middle Eastern nations. Another Orthodox speaker later in the assembly noted that “every five minutes a Christian dies for his faith…. Our brothers and sisters are being killed, driven from their homes, and persecuted.”

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
A gathering of peace church participants includes German Mennonite Fernando Enns (right), shown here exchanging greetings with a Quaker delegate from Japan.

 

“I’m happy to be very free!”
— German Mennonite delegate Fernando Enns at the microphone during the opening business session, questioning the WCC’s categorization of the peace churches–Brethren, Quaker, and Mennonite–as “free church.”

“Japan has suffered a great tragedy.”
— A delegate from Japan speaking from the business floor to ask that the issue of nuclear energy be put on the agenda. His was voicing a concern about the safety of nuclear energy that is shared by many Koreans and others following the failure of safety measures at the Fukushima plant damaged by an earthquake and tsunami.

“Maybe in seven years the window will have closed to work on this problem.”
— A delegate from Denmark at the microphone to share a sense of urgency about climate change, and noting that if it is not addressed at this meeting it will be another seven years until the next WCC assembly.

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
A Korean choir sings for the opening worship service of the WCC Assembly

“The Bible summons us to be peacemakers among peoples and nations and never to withdraw from this task.”
— Archbishop Vicken Aykazian of the Armenian Orthodox Church, in his remarks to the theme plenary, which he served as moderator

“By the end of 2015 we will be able to say to the world that the world is free of babies born with HIV.”
— Michel Sidibe, executive director of UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, and under secretary-general of the United Nations, in his reflection on the assembly theme.

“One of the biggest challenges in this period was to find a solution to the growing deficit in the Pension Fund of the WCC.”
— The Central Committee moderator Walter Altmann, in his report to the business session of the assembly. Serving since the previous assembly, he reviewed the seven years and highlighted several financial challenges among other types of challenges that have faced the council, sparked by the international financial crisis among other factors including a decline in membership fees received. The transition to a private pension plan, and a project that aims to develop real estate available at the Ecumenical Center in Geneva, Switzerland, where the WCC is headquartered, offers the belief that a solution to the problem can be reached, he told the delegates.

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
Dancers weave the image of three crosses into a narrative of the history of Korea, given in motion and music for the opening plenary of the assembly of the WCC

 

“Any theologies disconnected from victims and supportive of war in a violent world…are a repudiation of the mind of Jesus.”
— Bishop Duleep Kamil de Chikera, an Asian theologian who served as Anglican Bishop of Colombo, Sri Lanka, from 2001-2010, in a theological reflection on the theme of the assembly.

“I am enjoying a sense of wonder at my small, my tiny place in God’s great church.”
— The Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the worldwide Anglican church, bringing greetings to the assembly. He added, toward the conclusion of his remarks, “We need a fresh confidence in the Good News as the best way for all the people on the planet.”

“The 21st century is widely considered to be the Asian century.”
— The general secretary of the Christian Council of Asia remarking on the location chosen for the 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches, in a plenary session focused on Asian churches and their concerns.

“Eight hundred billion dollars a year for weapons of mass destruction.”
— A note about the imbalance of spending by the United States, in a theological reflection given by Connie Semy Mella. She is an ordained elder from the Philippines Central Conference of the United Methodist Church, and also noted that when thousands of children die every day from starvation worldwide, Americans spend millions on things like ice cream and dog food.

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
In the WCC’s consensus model, an orange card signifies agreement while a blue card shows a delegate’s disagreement. Shown here, the moderator uses a call for a show of cards to gain a sense of how the delegate body is feeling.

 

“This [human sexuality] is a tremendously important issue that we cannot afford to ignore…. There are deep disagreements both within the church and within the ecumenical movement on this issue…. We must be open to the spirit of dialogue.”
— One of the comments at the microphones after the floor was opened for responses to controversial comments on sexuality from one speaker. The moderator agreed to give time at the microphones after a point of order was raised. The comments on sexuality were given during a time that was intended to be devoted to reflections on Christian unity. Several people came to the microphones to speak, while others raised orange cards to signal agreement or blue to signal disagreement using the WCC’s consensus model to express their feelings. Bursts of applause also occurred, despite the moderator’s plea for no applause.

“Where there is no freedom, where there is fear, there is no worship.”
— A Reformed delegate from Nigeria, responding to a draft statement on “Politicization of Religion and Rights of Religious Minorities,” out of the experience of Nigerian Christians who are suffering from their nation’s crisis of terrorist violence. Several other statements are being prepared for the assembly’s consideration including one on Christian unity, “Human Rights of Stateless People,” “Peace and Reunification of the Korean Peninsula,” “The Way of Just Peace,” “Christian Presence and Witness in the Middle East,” as well as statements on a critical situation in South Sudan and nuclear energy and maritime militarization in Asia and the Pacific. A resolution asking the US to dialogue with Cuba and three “minutes” on the Democratic Republic of Congo, the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, and the rights of indigenous people are also in the works. A request for a new paper on climate change is under discussion.