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Church councils reflect on the spirit of Christian unity in a time of change

June 13, 2014

NAIROBI, Kenya

In her opening address to a world conference on the effect of ecumenical councils on the search for justice, peace and unity, the moderator of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Central Committee called for an openness to change in an era of encounter with “different types of cultures and religions.”

“The structures of the churches can either inhibit or enhance the spirit of the ecumenical movement,” said Agnes Abuom, moderator of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches, during the opening speech of a Nairobi consultation being promoted by the WCC and the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) for Regional Ecumenical Organizations (REOs) and National Councils of Churches (NCCs).

The second consultation on “Conciliar Ecumenism” took place here June 2-7. These groups first met in Beirut, Lebanon, in February 2012. Conciliar ecumenism is a term used to describe the quest for Christian unity as practiced by formal councils and conferences of churches.

Sharing theological reflections on the identity of councils, WCC general secretary the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit emphasized on the second day of the event the importance of the “Unity Statement” adopted by the WCC 10th Assembly last fall in Busan, Republic of Korea. He also affirmed the consensus method used by WCC governing bodies as a crucial element for conciliar ecumenism.

Abuom’s opening presentation was focused on the future of the ecumenical movement and the changing role of councils. “The future of the ecumenical movement cannot be understood outside the history of the movement and the context. We need to see our context differently, taking into account that today we have different types of cultures and religions,” she said.

The WCC moderator also shared a few elements that could offer the participants a basis to identify possible ways of responding to the challenges of our world today, and explored what NCCs and REOs have to say.

“The ecumenical movement at the grassroots level is growing but often is not connected to the structures. Many organizations are not aware of the WCC and AACC and their programs and projects,” stated Abuom while pointing to the crucial role of youth in the future of the global ecumenical movement. “Where are the young men and young women in the churches?” she asked.

The first days of the consultation in Nairobi were permeated with sharing how the councils have been working together with their members and looking for a community known for its unity. “Ecumenical councils need to be custodians of the call for unity and to be counselors to each other, despite of the issues that sometimes divide their positions,” said Abuom.

Abuom, a member of the Anglican Church of Kenya, is a development consultant serving both Kenyan and international organizations coordinating social action programs for religious and civil society across Africa. Elected in the first session of the Central Committee after the 10th Assembly of the WCC, she became the first woman and the first African in the position in the 65-year of history of the WCC.

She continued her presentation at the consultation in Nairobi by emphasizing the importance of upholding the spirit of Busan, which affirmed the WCC’s commitment to promote stable and just societies. “We need to build an ecumenism from below, an inclusive ecumenism, a framework where we harvest the wisdom from everywhere (east, south, north and west).  This connection with the grassroots will help us to revitalize the role of the councils,” she concluded.

The consultation included exposure visits, presentations and discussions on strategies of councils on issues such as migration and human trafficking, areas of cooperation among councils and the WCC’s programmatic work.

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