Today was the official start of the World Council of Churches. It was quite exciting! So much to take in and experience.
As GETI participants, our day started with two lectures, one from Michael Kinnamon of Seattle University, and former General Secretary of the United States’ National Council of Churches and one from Henriette Hutarabat-Lebang, General Secretary of the Christian Churches in Asia. I was blown away at their clear explications of the future of the ecumenical movement in the 21st century.
Dr. Kinnamon asked three tough but essential questions of the ecumenical movement:
- Are the churches involved in the ecumenical movement still committed to the goal of visible unity?
- Is the ecumenical movement in danger of becoming too ideological?
- Is this a movement that truly trusts in God’s leading?
After a vigorous but short Q&A session, we hurried over to the main worship hall for the opening prayer of the WCC.
Oh.My.Goodness. Beautiful, heart-wrenching, and inspiring.
The prayer service began with lamentations from all regions of the earth. What a humbling way to begin this gathering of Christians, who are complicit in so much hurt and pain, and who have been hurt and pained by a world that still yearns for the justice and peace of God’s Reign. A sampling:
Your beautiful image in Africa has been deformed as the greedy have raped its resources… the powerful have raped the less powerful…Your people’s lament is echoed in your deep groans that drain rivers dry… (Cries and Hopes from Africa)
Empowering God, we see you in the resilience, resistance and creativity of the weary and heavy laden, the crushed lives and broken relationships. Transform our greed to consume into a thirst to share…(Cries and Hopes from Asia)
Comfort us so that our souls are healed from the wounds of wars and conflicts. Gives us your light that we may walk out of the shadows of death… (Cries and Hopes from the Middle East)
Lord, have mercy on us, for we mine the resources of our own lands and those of the south, leaving in our wake environmental devastation… (Cries and Hopes from North America)
There was a Gospel reading (Emmaus!), sermon, song, and common recitation of the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.
We sang a challenging, moving song at the end based off a Bonhoeffer quote called,
“Peace must be dared.”
After the opening prayer, we broke for lunch. We saw some protesters of the WCC on our way back in. We actually had seen hundreds of them when we arrived in Busan on Tuesday, but they were much fewer in number today. These protesters were Christians who think the Christians who support the WCC are being misled and are in fact, going against the will of God. More on them later, probably 😉
Then we headed back to the convention center for the official opening of the assembly complete with a welcome from the General Secretary, the WCC Central Committee moderator, 4 young people sharing their expectations, various welcome greetings, and an artistic presentation on the assembly theme (“God of Life, Lead us to Justice and Peace”) and the experience of the Korean churches. That was such an unexpected treat! I didn’t know to expect something like that.
We then moved to the General Secretary’s report on the WCC and all that has been happening since the last assembly in Porto Alegre in 2006. So much. More on that later.
Then, as GETI, we headed back to the hotel for our seminar group discussions where my group actually got into some pretty interesting (read, occasionally tense) discussions. No one said unity was easy. But it is worth it. It is our beautiful, daring calling to work that all may be one (John 17:21). Then, after a brief evening prayer, our day was finally over at around 830pm. Woah.
I doubt I’ll be able to keep these (lengthy) updates up as they take too much time, but I felt the first day was totally worth the effort because it was so powerful and it set the tone and mood for the rest of the conference.
Thanks be to God for the opportunity to be here and to be transformed by this experience.
God of Life, Lead us to justice and peace.