Discussions in Punta Cana encourage collaboration among ecumenical organizations

November 4, 2014

Woman smiling

WCC associate general secretary Isabel Apawo Phiri at the ACT Alliance assembly in Punta Cana. —Photo by Sean Hawkey/ACT Alliance

PUNTA CANA, Dominican Republic

The need for enhanced cooperation between the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the ACT Alliance ― a partner organization of the WCC, especially in addressing the threat of climate change and a human rights-based approach to development ― was stressed at the 2nd General Assembly of the ACT Alliance in Punta Cana, the Dominican Republic.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is an active member of both organizations.

Having concluded on Oct. 24, the ACT Alliance assembly addressed the theme “Join hands ― full life and dignity for all.” The theme “pilgrimage of justice and peace” ― a call from the WCC 10th Assembly ― also inspired discussions at sessions of the ACT assembly.

Isabel Apawo Phiri, the WCC’s associate general secretary for Public Witness and Diakonia, was present in Punta Cana, among other WCC delegates. Speaking in a plenary session, Phiri stressed the need for enhancing links between the churches and “specialized ministries.”

Specialized ministries are programmatic or funding partners of the WCC working in the area of development, emergency relief, human rights, climate justice and advocacy.

The ACT Alliance is a group of specialized ministries formed by some 140 churches and affiliated organizations coordinating humanitarian and development projects worldwide.

“The work of the ACT Alliance is grounded in theological foundations based on the diakonia aspect of the church, implementing the vision of Christian service,” said Phiri. This vision, she added, serves as the basis for the common mission of the ACT Alliance and the WCC. “I was happy to see an affirmation of this vision from Sushant Agrawal, the new moderator of the ACT Alliance,” she said.

Phiri mentioned a recent WCC consultation in Malawi which explored relations between the churches and the specialized ministries. She said “the consultation made us come to Punta Cana with confidence that whatever was dividing us is in the process of being solved.” She said the consultation helped bring ecumenical partners together ahead of the ACT Alliance assembly.

Building on the ecumenical campaign “Time for Climate Justice,” in which the ACT Alliance and the WCC have worked together, and referring to a new campaign, Phiri said, “I call all of us taking part in the WCC Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace to join hands in escalating our efforts for climate justice. As a community of faith we have to provide a moral compass in the climate talks.”

Julia Duchrow, head of the Human Rights and Peace desk of Europe’s Bread for the World, shared her views on development and human rights. “A human rights-based approach to work helps in transforming structures that create inequality. Development can only work if we do it with a rights-based approach. Contrary to it would be a service delivery, just charity,” she said.

Duchrow explained that Bread for the World has about 3,000 partners worldwide, with strong links to the ACT Alliance and the WCC member churches.

“When the ACT Alliance members face difficulties in some countries, we observe that the WCC member help in continuing the programs. The churches are rooted in the communities and will always be. One of the most important tasks the WCC can play is to strengthen these networks,” she said.

Duchrow, who was a speaker at the justice plenary of the WCC Assembly at Busan in 2013, spoke about the WCC assembly and the ACT Alliance assembly. “After attending these two events, I feel we agree on how the ACT Alliance and the WCC can play a stronger role in creating better understanding and trust,” she said.

“The ACT Assembly in Punta Cana has addressed significant operational issues, while the WCC assembly in Busan has helped in developing a current vision for the work for churches. The vision from Busan has influenced discussions in Punta Cana, especially on issues related to human dignity and the pilgrimage of justice and peace,” Duchrow added.