June 23, 2022
“Joyful to share the work of the church with these Disciples leaders as part of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches.” With one sentence and a photo from the General Minister and President, the whole Disciples church came into the room in Geneva, Switzerland, joining global ecumenical partners for a week-long conversation and discernment about the church’s direction and faithful witness in turbulent times.
In whole-committee gatherings and small working-group conversations, representatives addressed several pressing concerns, and voted in a new General Secretary to lead for the next five-year term.
Member churches last met in mid-February, and are deeply grieved by the invasion and war that has erupted in Ukraine in the months since.
We lament that … the people of Ukraine are enduring an appalling toll of death, destruction and displacement. … The effects of this conflict also threaten to tip many millions of already food-insecure people into famine in several countries around the world, [and] to provoke widespread social and political instability…
In their Statement on the War in Ukraine, the WCC commends local churches and specialized ministries for their outpouring of humanitarian response, especially their care for refugees. In a planned ‘Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace’, led by the Acting General Secretary, a WCC delegation will visit Kiev and Moscow, meeting with church leaders there in an effort to “discern the things that make for peace.”
The Central Committee also discussed what Disciples and their ecumenical partners have often reminded each other:
While the attention of the world is focused on the war in Ukraine, other humanitarian crises – in many cases exacerbated by the effects of that conflict – lack the international attention and response they need.
The Statement on the Humanitarian Situation in Ethiopia names the dire circumstances. Malnutrition is rampant and armed conflict has left public services, water, healthcare, and education decimated. On top of the warring factions, Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa region are suffering one of the most severe droughts in the last forty years.
The WCC appeals to its members to ensure that these emergencies are not forgotten, and that in addition to providing humanitarian resources, focus must go to the root causes of such crises, especially “fulfilling unmet commitments to climate change mitigation and adaptation.”
It’s clear that the measurable and accelerating effects on climate change continue to affect all aspects of life in the global community. As the Statement on the Imperative for Effective Response to the Climate Emergency notes,
Our Christian faith impels us to act – not only to speak – to safeguard God’s Creation, to protect the most vulnerable, and to promote justice. The global community is now faced with an existential need to move and act immediately and effectively for the sake of the whole of Creation…
The Central Committee particularly turns to Indigenous Peoples in this regard. As they occupy 20-25% of the Earth’s land surface, holding 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity, they are “both especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change while being among the least responsible for it, and sources of important wisdom and spirituality for a sustainable future.”
Moving these conversations forward will be the new General Secretary, elected June 17 2022 to lead the World Council of Churches into the 11th WCC Assembly (this September in Karlsruhe, Germany) and for the next five years.
Rev. Prof. Dr Jerry Pillay is the ninth General Secretary. A native of India, a pastor and theologian, most recently dean of the Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Pretoria, the Secretary-elect comes to this role with a long history of gathering people from different churches to be about the work of transformation and reconciliation.
I believe that churches coming together is one thing, but we also need to offer guidance and direction to a suffering world. … We don’t just gather to worship and pray and praise —which is a very important thing for us to do—but we also gather to transform the world. … If we learn to trust the work of the Holy Spirit, we can find each other even through difficulties.
A few days before leaving for Geneva, Rev. Terri Hord Owens offered a pastoral word to the Disciples church that rang true for her again as she spent these days in challenging and meaningful conversation with colleagues in the WCC Central Committee:
The power of our hope comes in understanding and recognizing that the love of God is revealed through Jesus Christ and that the power we have through the Holy Spirit helps us to overcome and survive and to transform the world. … May the God of limitless love, may the power of the Holy Spirit, and may the ministry of the gospel of Jesus Christ give us all that we need to do the work to create a world where all of humanity and creation flourishes.
Disciples who gathered at the WCC Central Committee meeting:
Rev. Terri Hord Owens – General Minister and President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada
Rev. Josh Baird – Team Leader, Global H.O.P.E., United Church of Christ
Ana Maria Melilla de Medio – Evangelical Church of the Disciples of Christ in Argentina
Rev. Vy Nguyen – Executive Director, Week of Compassion
Rev. Paul Tche – President, Christian Unity and Interfaith Ministry
Rev. Nathan Day Wilson – World Council of Churches
Vy Nguyen, Ana Maria Melilla de Medio, Terri Hord Owens, Paul Tche, Nathan Day Wilson