“In these times of division and dissension in so many areas of our lives — including church life — it is highly significant that two global groups of churches based in 108 countries and representing 80 million people should be willing to come together in a higher level of union than ever before,” says Richard van Houten, general secretary of the Reformed Ecumenical Council (REC).
The world’s two largest groupings of Protestant churches in the Reformed tradition are meeting here June 18-26 to found a new organization signaling a new level of relationship between two families of churches once divided from each other.
On June 18, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) will merge with REC to form the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC). An expected 475 delegates plus a nearly equal number of observers, guests, visitors and volunteers will gather on the campus of Calvin College for the Uniting General Council (UGC) which will mark the launch of the WCRC.
The two founding organizations draw on distinctive but complementary traditions. While both draw on Reformed commitment to biblical tradition, REC is known for its emphasis on spiritual development and faithfulness to church “confessions” (statements which define fundamental points of faith and doctrine) while WARC is known for its stances on issues such as racial and gender justice, environmental protection and a just and equitable world economic order.
“The term ‘communion’ in the new organization’s name points to a new form of working relationship,” says Setri Nyomi, WARC’s general secretary. “As a communion, we recognize our common baptism and our togetherness at the Lord's table — making us better witnesses and more effective in making a difference in the world.”
The programmatic mandate of the new World Communion of Reformed Churches will be to focus on issues of church unity and social programs. The staff will be based in Geneva, Switzerland at the Ecumenical Center, which also houses the World Council of Churches to which WCRC will belong.
“Justice concerns will be at the heart of the WCRC,” says Judi Fisher of the Uniting Church of Australia. Fisher, WARC’s Pacific region vice-president, says matters affecting the lives and rights of indigenous peoples will be an integral part of the UGC agenda.
“Hearing the voices of the world’s indigenous peoples, particularly those from North America whose guests we are when we meet on their land, will challenge and inspire us to understand what environmental destruction and the legacy of racial abuse in church-run schools has done to entire communities of Indigenous peoples in North America,” says Fisher.
The program for the UGC features debate on a wide range of issues of concern to member churches. From these, delegates will set specific priorities for the coming seven-year period leading up to the next global assembly. UGC program highlights include:
- Opening of the Uniting General Council, the first meeting of the World Communion of Reformed Churches. Fri., June 18 at 2:15 p.m.
- Ceremonial arrival, drumming and greetings by tribal chiefs from the Michigan area. The ceremony will include an exchange of drums between UGC delegates and tribal chiefs. Fri., June 18 at 2:00 p.m.
- Keynote presentations featuring Ruth Padilla (Costa Rica) on “Reflections from Latin America”; Park Seong-Won (Korea) on “Flourishing Life-Giving Oikos”; Sabine Dressler-Kromminga (Germany) on “Unity in Uniqueness and Diversity”; and Ayana McCalman (Guyana) on “Justice Renewed”; and a panel to discuss them moderated by Sharon Watkins of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Sat., June 19 at 10:30 a.m.
- Celebratory worship service to mark the launch of the WCRC. The service will feature children as the leaders of tomorrow's church receiving the symbol of unity of the new Reformed body. Sun., June 19 at 4:00 p.m.
- Keynote presentation by American Indian leader Richard Twiss, known for his approach to cultural and community renewal based on Christian faith and traditional indigenous dance, music and arts. Tues., June 22 at 11:15 a.m.
- An afternoon of worship and cultural activities with indigenous peoples from throughout the United States in Ab-nab-awen Park on the banks of the Grand River in downtown Grand Rapids. The program includes a Pow Wow and will conclude with a Friendship Dance. Arts, crafts and food will be on sale. Activities are open to the public. Tues., June 22. 2:30 p.m.–8:00 p.m. Ab-nab-awen Park.
- Election of WCRC president. Thurs., June 24. 2:00 p.m.–4:00 p.m.
- Planning the churches’ response to economic and climate injustice, the impact of the financial crisis on the world’s poor, women’s rights in the church and human rights in troubled regions of the world. Fri., June 25 and Sat., June 26.
Editor’s note: Jerry L. Van Marter of the Presbyterian News Service will be serving in Grand Rapids as English language reporter for the Uniting General Council.