A five-person Church of the Brethren delegation will be joining some 4,500 Christians at the World Council of Churches (WCC) Assembly in the city of Karlsruhe, Germany, on Aug. 31-Sept. 8. The theme is “Christ’s love moves the world to reconciliation and unity.”
The Church of the Brethren group includes elected delegate Elizabeth Bidgood Enders; general secretary David Steele; Bethany Seminary president Jeff Carter, who has been serving on the WCC Central Committee; and denominational staff members Nathan Hosler, who directs the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy in Washington, D.C., and Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, who is director of News Services.
This is the WCC’s 11th assembly since its formation shortly after the end of World War II. Assemblies usually take place only every seven or eight years. The last one in Busan, the Republic of Korea (South Korea), was in 2013.
The Church of the Brethren is a founding member denomination of the WCC and a Brethren delegation has consistently attended assemblies since the first was held in Amsterdam in 1948.
WCC communications have published a series of short videos sharing the spirit of each assembly and the world context into which it unfurled: www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLI22eVXX9FYnzPW86jmG0R0–7LL7hxJ5.
Highlights of this assembly
The wide-ranging nature of participation, with people attending from nearly every part of the globe. Delegates will represent the WCC’s 352 Protestant and Orthodox member churches from more than 120 countries. The assembly is expected to be the most diverse Christian gathering of its size in the world. The WCC describes itself as “the broadest and most inclusive among the many organized expressions of the modern ecumenical movement, a movement whose goal is Christian unity.” Although the Roman Catholic Church is not a member, it sends observers. Local host groups are the Evangelical Church in Germany, the Protestant Church in Baden, the Council of Churches in Germany, the Union of Protestant Churches in Alsace and Lorraine, and the Protestant Church in Switzerland.
On the opening day, an address by German federal president Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and as the meeting progresses, presentations from world Christian and interfaith leaders including Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of the Orthodox tradition and Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church.
Anticipation that the assembly will spur Christian care for creation and “bold decisions” for climate action and climate justice by churches. Said WCC acting general secretary Ioan Sauca, “Leaders will be asked to act now to care for our common planet, the Earth…. It is a theological issue. God’s plan in Christ was also the reconciliation and healing of the whole creation.” The first thematic plenary will take place Sept. 1, which is marked by many churches worldwide as the Day of Creation. The WCC is the only faith-based organization that has had a permanent presence in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change process, and it has had a presence at all of the UN climate conferences since the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.
A focus on the various challenges that contemporary Europe faces, with potential global consequences: the war in Ukraine, the global food and energy crisis, the migrant and refugee crisis, and increasing government expenditures on weapons. The assembly is expected to be an opportunity for continued conversation between church representatives from Russia and Ukraine, and their respective Orthodox bodies.
The assembly symbol is intended as a visual expression of the theme, “Christ’s love moves the world to reconciliation and unity.”
Said a theme statement:
“The symbol’s design is also inspired by the dynamic expressions and variety of the ecumenical movement in its search for Christian unity and promotion of justice and peace,” said a statement explaining the assembly symbol.
“The symbol is formed by four elements:
“The cross–the assembly theme is an affirmation of faith that Christ’s compassionate love transforms the world in the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit. Placed prominently in the symbol, the cross is an expression of the love of Christ and a reference to the first article of the WCC Constitution.
“The dove–a universal symbol of peace and reconciliation, the dove stands for the Holy Spirit and also refers to deep biblical expressions of hope.
“The circle–the whole inhabited world (oikoumene)–bringing a sense of unity and common goal, and a new beginning. The circle is also inspired by the concept of reconciliation. As Christians, we have been reconciled with God through Christ, and as churches, we are agents of forgiveness and love both within and outside our communities. The ecumenical movement has responded to the call for unity and reconciliation through resolute work and action for a more just and participatory society and the care for God’s Creation.
“The way–we all come from different places, cultures and churches; we walk different paths responding to God’s call; we are all on a pilgrimage through which we encounter others and join together on a journey of justice and peace. The different paths represent our various journeys, the movement, freedom and vibrancy of life that drive the WCC and its member churches around the world.”
Plenary sessions focused on the value of compassion, as exemplified in the life of Jesus Christ, and the call for justice and human dignity that challenges inequalities suffered by those who are excluded, marginalized, and oppressed. Sessions will look at factors including the economy, racism and related biases, the climate emergency, wars, the COVID-19 pandemic, and more.
Also on the agenda: morning and evening prayer services, Bible studies, ecumenical conversations, regional gatherings, workshops on a wide variety of topics, and business sessions that will receive items presented by a number of committees. Participants will enjoy an exhibit hall, will eat meals together, and will join in weekend excursions to see work by local churches in the area, church historical sites, and more.
— “Indigenous Peoples,” a worldwide partnership of Indigenous people and church-related networks dedicated to the self-determination of Indigenous peoples and the renewal of creation;
— “Ecumenical Youth Gathering,” bringing together young people from WCC member churches and ecumenical partners in a youth-focused open space for dialogue and consultation to strategize a common agenda to bring forward to the assembly;
— “Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network,” to harvest the reflections of people with disabilities on the theme of the assembly; and
— “Just Community of Women and Men,” exploring how the ecumenical movement can continue to seek reconciliation and unity among all God’s children and discuss how faith calls for gender equality and how to strengthen commitment to overcoming sexual and gender-based violence.
A special song and video titled “Christ’s Love Moves the World” has been released to share the spirit of the event. Written by the Swedish composer Per Harling for this assembly, the song is performed by musicians and singers from different countries. Said a description: “In a world shaped by the fundamental question of how we want to live together on earth in times of COVID-19 pandemic, climate emergency, and worsening racism, the song is a testimony of faith: people who live in the love of God and with the power of the Holy Spirit, want and can work together with one another and with people of other faiths for just peace and reconciliation.” Watch and listen at www.youtube.com/watch?v=xsITpikbe3U.
Find out more about the WCC Assembly at www.oikoumene.org/about-the-wcc/organizational-structure/assembly.