YAOUNDE, Cameroon – The outgoing and incoming general secretaries of the World Council of Churches highlighted the past achievements and future challenges faced by the international ecumenical movement, during the 8th Assembly of the All Africa Conferences of Churches, Nov. 24.
Throughout the plenary discussion entitled, “AACC celebrates world ecumenism,” the Rev. Dr. Konrad Raiser, who will leave office by January 2004, pointed out that the success of the ecumenical movement depended on its vision for the 21st century.
There were various attempts, said Raiser, when the WCC tried to identify and practice in “the ecumenical vision for the present context.” Specifically at the WCC’s 1998 assembly in Africa, “the visible oneness of the body of Christ, the healing of human community, the liberating power of forgiveness, and a culture of dialogue and solidarity" was identified as key elements of such a vision.
It is "the 'ecumenical vision' – handed to us in the biblical witness," that gives the ecumenical movement its vitality, Raiser argued. This vision – expressed among other places in the prayer "that all may be one" (John 17, 21) – "has to be appropriated afresh in each generation," he said.
The Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia, who will take office January 1, agreed that the ecumenical vision and values must find its expression "the fellowship of people and churches in local contexts.” However, Kobia also stressed the need of the regional and global ecumenical organizations to allow "the different local expressions of ecumenism to encounter one another in mutual accountability.”
The ecumenical movement in Africa, for example, is called to provide "an alternative vision of a renewed future in which all should have life in abundance.” The challenge of the ecumenical movement is "to develop alternative paradigms, social grids and indices conducive to a comprehensive understanding of the prevailing historical moment."
Speaking "as one of the sons of this great continent,” Kobia stated, "While poverty and disease are on the increase in most parts of the continent, the struggles for the well-being of the poor and the weak must remain on top of our agenda together.”
"While seeking justice for the poor and upholding the integrity of creation in order to foster renewal of public life and values, the churches together with civil society institutions are now faced with the formidable task of rebuilding societies differently", looking for "radical structural change in the living conditions of the working poor, excluded groups and peasant communities in rural Africa,” Kobia said.
In this endeavour, the churches are called together "to be creative and not driven by ideological but theological imperatives.” It is "vitally important", Kobia stressed, that churches "bring theology back to the people, and craft new themes of spirituality that are congenial to our unique experience and place in the world.”
One way to do that would be to establish "parish networks of social study groups and awareness building initiatives that will strengthen the ecumenical movement from below,” added Kobia.
"We must re-think institutional forms of ecumenism" in order to express "the aspirations for unity among ordinary Christians who seek to bring change in society.”