SUPPLEMENTARY REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE ON ECUMENICAL RELATIONS 9TH ASSEMBLY OF THE WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES PORTO ALEGRE 14-23 FEBRUARY 2006 MAY 2006 PROPOSED DELIVERANCE
The General Assembly: 1. Receive the Report REPORT 1. Introduction The Ninth Assembly of the World Council of Churches was held in Porto Alegre in southern Brazil from 14 to 23 February 2006. The Assembly met at the Pontifical University and delegates and participants were bussed to the campus each day from hotels in the city. Porto Alegre has been the home of the World Social Forum with its vision “Another World is possible”. It was fitting, therefore, that in February around 4000 people from around the world, 700 of whom were delegates, gathered to pray the words of the Assembly theme, God, in your grace, transform the world. The Church of Scotland was represented by four delegates: Rev Dr Norman Shanks (moderator of the Planning Committee and retiring member of the Central Committee), Mr Paul Clelland, Rev Sheilagh Kesting, Mr Graham McGeoch. Other Scots were there as delegates from the Scottish Episcopal Church and the United Free Church, delegated representatives, workshop leaders, Mutirão participants and staff. It was a smaller Assembly than usual and shorter, which led to a packed programme. Each delegate and all young participants were assigned to an Ecumenical Conversation. The work of the WCC was presented in themed plenaries. The reports of Committees were brought for hearing sessions when the Assembly delegates were invited to comment on the text and give suggestions for revision. Finally, there were the decision-making sessions where the texts were approved and the direction of the WCC was set for the coming years. 2. A Praying Assembly The Assembly was from the outset a praying Assembly with its theme, God, in your grace, transform the world. The theme was taken forward in worship each morning using symbols – chains, sunflowers, incense, religious painting, chalice, water, seeds and bread. In the evening prayers were offered in the style of different traditions including indigenous people from Bolivia, Lutheran, Anglican, Pentecostal, Roman Catholic, Taizé and Orthodox. The praying theme was picked up by the Message Committee which presented its message in the form of a prayer.
3. A Latin American Assembly It was, of course, a Latin American Assembly, the first ever WCC Assembly to be held in that part of the world. Because of the dominance of either the Roman Catholic Church or the Pentecostal churches there are few WCC member churches in Latin America and those that are, are very small. But we received a very warm welcome. The local churches had embraced the Assembly and many volunteers came daily to help and to be part of the Mutirão, literally “a gathering”, where a parallel programme of workshops, seminars, drama and music and stalls for information-sharing were offered. They also attended the worship and welcomed us into their churches on the Sunday. The Latin American Plenary on the Sunday evening was remarkable. There were life-size puppets that traced the history of the continent and asked the question “Where is God in Latin America?” It was as much a celebration of life in Latin America, while acknowledging the problems. It pointed to signs of hope and the music, with its samba rhythm, lifted the spirit. The concert that followed a meal of typical Latin American food brought together artists from many countries – Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Uruguay and Chile. Every day there were stalls set up around the campus by the indigenous people. The stalls were filled with their craft work, lovely jewellery made from seeds, colourful bags and alpaca knitwear. 4. A Youth Assembly The Assembly had been billed as a young people’s assembly but from early on this was to prove problematic. There were fewer young people attending the assembly than there had been in Harare in 1998. This was to lead to problems about the quota of young people nominated to the Central Committee. The stewards held a silent protest between items of business during one plenary session to make their views known to the delegates. The problem was predictable. A smaller assembly was bound to lead to more senior church representatives than young people and some churches with larger delegations did not include a young person. It was also the case that young women far outnumbered young men. A push to have a youth President was abandoned as being not the best way to involve young people. Instead, a proposal to have a special committee of young people was accepted as an interim measure. This committee will meet ahead of each meeting of the Central Committee and from it four representatives (co-moderators and two further members) will report to the Central Committee. The question of the full participation of young people remains a question that will have to be dealt with further by the new Central Committee. The quality of the youth delegates to the Assembly was very high and their contributions much valued. These are, after all, mainly people in their mid to late twenties who are professional people in settled careers! They were also visible, not least in the excellent moderating of the Message Committee by a young Canadian student. Altogether, 15% of the new Central Committee are young people (10% less than is recommended) including one of the Church of Scotland delegates, Graham McGeoch. Graham was subsequently also appointed to the Executive Committee. 5. An Assembly for people with disabilities There was a welcome presence of representatives of the Ecumenical Disability Advocates’ Network (EDAN) throughout the Assembly in presentations, leading worship, in workshops and plenary sessions. The concept of A Church of all and for all was beginning to be lived out in the Assembly. It was a step in the right direction but there is still more work to be done in recognising the gifts of people with disabilities and including them as an integral part of church delegations.
6. Indigenous People’s Assembly Again, it was a question of visibility. The stalls were a daily reminder to us of the indigenous peoples of Latin America, but there were others too in the Assembly from different parts of the world, including Europe. Indeed, the symbolic gift brought from the European region in the opening worship was a piece of reindeer skin presented by someone from the Sami people of northern Scandinavia. There was a constant call throughout the Assembly for the specific voice of indigenous people to be heard and, increasingly, also of people of African descent. 7. Transforming Assembly It was an Assembly that took its decisions by consensus. This transformed the way the business was conducted and, with good and wise chairing, the Assembly soon got the hang of this new way of working. The Bible Studies, meeting each day in small home groups, explored the daily themes of transformation of the world, the earth, our societies, our churches, our lives and our witness and afforded the opportunity to hear personal stories of places where transformation is needed and where, in some cases, it is actually happening. In the Ecumenical Conversations, delegates and young people explored areas of church life that need to be transformed, if it is to be faithful to the Gospel and if the world is to hear the good news and know peace with justice. The Conversations were grouped under four headings: Changing religious and cultural context Changing ecclesial and ecumenical context Changing international and political context Changing social and economic context
The Assembly adopted A Call to be One Church, an invitation to examine the extent to which we can recognise in one another the Church of Jesus Christ. It called for
substantial progress to be made by the next Assembly on a common date for Easter, mutual recognition of one Baptism, and the convening of an ecumenical assembly that will bring together all churches to celebrate their fellowship in Christ, “all on the way towards visible unity and a shared Eucharist.”
The ecumenical vision was restated: “Our ultimate vision is that we will achieve, by God’s grace, the visible unity of Christ’s Church and will be able to welcome one another at the Lord’s table, to reconcile ministries, and to be committed together to the reconciliation of the world. We must never lose sight of this dream, and we must take concrete steps now to make it a reality.” The Assembly also agreed a recommitment to the Decade to Overcome Violence. The handing over of the focus of the Decade from Asia to Latin America took place during a peace march in the centre of Porto Alegre which took advantage of Desmond Tutu’s brief presence at the Assembly.
Statements were adopted by consensus on Latin America, terrorism, the responsibility to protect vulnerable populations at risk, UN reform, water for life. and two minutes were likewise approved on nuclear arms and relations with people of other faiths. The Assembly agreed four focal areas of engagement unity, spirituality and mission ecumenical formation global justice public voice and prophetic witness The Assembly closed with the words of a stirring sermon ringing in the ears of all the participants. A call to be “healing leaves on the tree of life, whom God uses for the healing of the nations.” The assembly after the assembly was about to begin, each participant returning to his or her home and living the prayer, God, in your grace, transform the world. And each brought with them the message of the Assembly. People didn’t want any more words, they wanted committed action. The message, then, is offered to everyone to pray with and for the world, to see in it a reflection of their own experiences and the experiences of others and an opportunity to commit themselves to work together in God’s grace as agents of transformation in the world. 8. The Message “God, in your Grace, Transform the World” Message of the 9th Assembly of the World Council of Churches: An Invitation to Prayer Sisters and brothers, we greet you in Christ. As representatives of churches from all the world's regions, we gather in Porto Alegre, Brazil, meeting in the first decade of the third millennium, in the first assembly of the World Council of Churches held in Latin America. We have been invited here to join in a festa da vida, the feast of life. We are praying, reflecting on the scriptures, struggling and rejoicing together in our unity and diversity, and seeking to listen carefully to one another in the spirit of consensus.
Meeting in February 2006, we are made aware by Assembly participants of cries arising daily in their home countries and regions due to disasters, violent conflicts and conditions of oppression and suffering. Yet we are also empowered by God to bear witness to transformation in personal lives, churches, societies and the world as a whole. Specific challenges and calls to action are being communicated to the churches and the world in the reports and decisions of the Assembly, such as: the quest for Christian unity; our midterm call to recommitment to the Decade to Overcome Violence (2001-2010); discernment of prophetic and programmatic means to achieve global economic justice; engagement in inter religious dialogue; full inter-generational participation of all women and men, and common statements addressing the churches and the world on public issues. The theme of this Ninth Assembly is a prayer, "God, in your grace, transform the world". In prayer our hearts are transformed, and so we offer our message as prayer:
God of grace, together we turn to you in prayer, for it is you who unite us: you are the one God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - in whom we believe, you alone empower us for good, you send us out across the earth in mission and service in the name of Christ. We confess before you and all people: We have been unworthy servants. We have misused and abused the creation. We have wounded one another by divisions everywhere. We have often failed to take decisive action against environmental destruction, poverty, racism, caste-ism, war and genocide. We are not only victims but also perpetrators of violence. In all this, we have fallen short as disciples of Jesus Christ who in his incarnation came to save us and teach us how to love. Forgive us, God, and teach us to forgive one another. God, in your grace, transform the world. God, hear the cries of all creation, the cries of the waters, the air, the land and all living things; the cries of all who are exploited, marginalised, abused and victimized, all who are dispossessed and silenced, their humanity ignored, all who suffer from any form of disease, from war and from the crimes of the arrogant who hide from the truth, distort memory and deny the possibility of reconciliation. God, guide all in seats of authority towards decisions of moral integrity. God, in your grace, transform the world. We give thanks for your blessings and signs of hope that are already present in the world, in people of all ages and in those who have gone before us in faith; in movements to overcome violence in all its forms, not just for a decade but for always; in the deep and open dialogues that have begun both within our own churches and with those of other faiths in the search for mutual understanding and respect; in all those working together for justice and peace -
both in exceptional circumstances and every day. We thank you for the good news of Jesus Christ, and the assurance of resurrection. God, in your grace, transform the world. By the power and guidance of your Holy Spirit, O God, may our prayers never be empty words but an urgent response to your living Word in non-violent direct action for positive change, in bold, clear, specific acts of solidarity, liberation, healing and compassion, readily sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. Open our hearts to love and to see that all people are made in your image, to care for creation and affirm life in all its wondrous diversity. Transform us in the offering of ourselves so that we may be your partners in transformation to strive for the full, visible unity of the one Church of Jesus Christ, to become neighbours to all, as we await with eager longing the full revelation of your rule in the coming of a new heaven and a new earth. God, in your grace, transform the world. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; Amen.
In the name of the Committee WILLIAM D BROWN, Convener SHEILAGH M KESTING, Secretary