world council of churches

Eighth Assembly
Plenary on the Ecumenical Decade
Churches in Solidarity with Women

Phase 1 - The Memory
(This phase will be presented
via a procession, a video and the following expression of
thanksgiving from Despina M. Prassas.)

The Ecumenical Decade
Despina M. Prassas
Document No. DE 1

I greet you in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit Amen.

Good morning. I would like to express thanks to our Lord God for the opportunity to be here and to celebrate together the closing of the World Council of Churches' Ecumenical Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women. We are thankful for the many ways in which we have been able to celebrate our talents and gifts, gifts which have been offered to the Church. The courageous effort and commitment of the women who have taken part in the Decade has benefitted many. Our love for one another is the hope which keeps the churches alive and carrying out the mission of Jesus Christ.

Women from around the world joined in worship to celebrate the beginning of the Decade throughout Africa national and regional gatherings took place in more than a dozen countries, decade launchings in Asia included Easter morning sunrise services in Pakistan and the Philippines; in the United Kingdom, many people gathered for a service at Westminster Abbey and in the Methodist churches women preached at the Easter services; in Costa Rica, an ecumenical group of over 150 women gathered to launch the Decade; Orthodox women from around the world met on Crete to celebrate, and throughout the United States officials of programs and councils organized to coordinate Decade materials while other churches adopted specific resolutions to encourage Decade participation.

Midway through the Decade, ecumenical teams visited almost all the member churches to acknowledge and affirm what had taken place during the first half of the Decade, and to encourage the churches to move ahead ion their commitments to their members.


Click to any of the following:

The Memory
The Ecumenical Decade
The Present

The Anticipation

The 1997 report of the ecumenical teams, entitled Living letters, documents the determination and endurance of women to overcome the difficulties of oppression which include violence, lack of participation in the life of the church, racism and economic injustice. These difficulties plague many of our churches, in many regions, and are addressed in a variety of ways . Some difficulties are being addressed by women helping each other, and others have been approached as church organizations work together with secular organizations to achieve their goals. The teams encountered the cultural, ecclesiastical and local realities of the churches and responded by asking for concrete signs of the churches' solidarity with women.

While many difficulties still exist, one of the greatest signs of hope was the realization on the part of churches that most gender or community issues are not simply women's issues, but belong to the entire church. Both difficulties and hopes have been documented in the text, Women's Challenges: Into the 21st Century, the agenda for action which was discussed and developed during the Ecumenical Decade Festival: Visions beyond 1998, held last week here in Harare.

While several of the concerns of women have been addressed, we still have much work to do. Therefore, we are here to "turn to God and rejoice in Hope!"

I have also been asked to speak for a moment on the symbol of the Decade Festival, which is water. Water has been carried by women from around the world to the Decade Festival and is being presented here today. Church women from each region of the world have offered their water as a sign of solidarity with and commitment to one another and to the preservation of life.

Water is a very ordinary compound in that it covers nearly three quarters of the earth's surface, yet at the same time is extraordinary in that it is essential for the life of the world: some microscopic organisms can exist without air, but none can grow without water.

Water has given rise to great civilizations and sometimes it has been responsible for their destruction. Over hundreds of millions of years, it has been one of the most powerful instruments in shaping and reshaping the face of the earth, as frozen glaciers, flowing rivers and oceans. It regulates the climate, forms the soil in which crops and forests take root and, as steam or hydroelectric power, water drives the mechanisms of modern technology. It is an indispensable ingredient in nearly all manufacturing processes, from the baking of bread to the production of microchips for computers.

Pouring out the "tears" brought to the Decade Festival by women from around the world.

Water plays a vital role in the affairs of the world, being essential for economic growth and development. In many counties of the world it is women who are responsible for collecting and managing water. Not having access to clean drinking water they must travel long distances, taking many hours out of their day in search of water to sustain the health and well-being of their families.

Yet water is a paradox. It is scarce in some regions and overly abundant in others. It is a commodity which divides people and areas of the world, yet as a valuable and scarce resource has brought countries together for the development and management of transboundary water sources. It is known for its destructive capabilities, which have shown themselves clearly in the onslaughts of El Nio and, most recently, Hurricane Mitch, which have taken the lives of thousands. Yet at the same time, these natural disasters revitalized the ecosystems, helping to detoxify inland and coastal waters.

However, there is one type of water for which no paradox exists: the living water offered by Jesus to St. Fotini, the woman at the well (Jn 4). Our Lord the Savior, looking into the heart of St. Fotini, realizes she is in need of healing and offers her the genuine healing, the truly vivifying experience, he offers her life everlasting. Through the waters of baptism, Jesus, "washes us with his own water from the filth of sin, which has disfigured the beauty of the image."

Water, therefore, is not only a symbol of our solidarity with one another, but most importantly, a symbol of the renewal of our love for and faith in our Lord, Jesus Christ. "For the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes," (Rev. 7:17, RSV).


1. St. Gregory of Nyssa, Sermon on the Beatitudes.

Phase 2 - The Present
(This phase will be presented
via reflections by Lala Biasima, M. Deenabandhu, Mukami McCrum
and Bishop Ambrosius of Oulu.)

Women and economic justice
Lala Biasima
Document No. DE 2

I give thanks to God for this opportunity to speak in the name of my African sisters on a burning issue of today - economic justice.

The realities
In the Holy Scriptures we see the Divine Will to provide the creation with everything needed for the happiness and the survival of human beings, demonstrating God's love and justice. But unfortunately human beings, instead of using and protecting the creation for the benefit of humanity, have become their neighbours' executioners, by inventing economic systems and business agreements which give priority to the market, monetary systems and profit at the expense of human beings and their dignity.

The globalization of the economy world-wide, the installation of the market economy, the reduction of social services, the relocation of businesses in countries with lower labour costs, are sufficient evidence of a dishonourable intention to favour an unjust world economic order, in which economic policies have priority over social policies.

Women are the ones most affected by the consequences of this selfishness. The feminisation of poverty is taking place in all countries, even though it is manifested differently in different contexts.

In the countries of Europe and North America, most working women are in the lowest paid job categories. They are the most affected by the reduction of social spending and by job cut-backs, losing not only their salaries but also their retirement pensions. Thus there is an ever-increasing gap between rich and poor, but especially between the economic situation of men and women.

In the developing countries, women are subjected to a double martyrdom by the economic crisis: first, as poor women without education, and second, as wives of chronically unemployed and unpaid workers who sometimes have to move away from home in pursuit of usually hypothetical employment. The full weight of the survival of home and family then falls on the women's shoulders, often to the detriment of their health.

The Structural Adjustment programmes of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund are a vast international conspiracy to require governments to abdicate their responsibilities for health, education, and public services, and to increase their revenues (taxes, fees for services), in other words to exploit their populations even more in order to make the rich richer while maintaining unemployment, poverty and suffering in their countries. This conspiracy - I use the word again - has fully reached its objectives. Nowhere, where it has been applied, has the population seen any sign of the economic recovery which those who instigate Structural Adjustment have promised. To the contrary, millions of people are condemned to poverty and to an early death. The money which should serve to meet their most basic needs is sent back to pay their countries' creditors. This is quite simply a transfer of the riches and resources of the poor countries to the rich countries.

This tragic situation affects especially women, but also their children, who are sacrificed on the altar of profit. These children are at work before they are even old enough, in order to contribute to the survival of their families, often at the risk of their lives (sex tourism, prostitution, rape, juvenile delinquency...)

How churches and women are facing up to this situation
During the Ecumenical Decade of the Churches in Solidarity with Women, campaigns, conferences, training seminars in economic literacy and for income-generating activities have had the following results:

Challenges following the Decade
The Ecumenical Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women has given to women insight into many things they did not know before. But there are still many challenges which remain.
  • The world economic system. Christians world-wide have been looking on passively while economic systems have been erected like towers of Babel (the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, the "free market", etc.), based on injustice, arrogance and domination. This tacit acceptance of ideologies which are impoverishing the greater part of humanity makes us accomplices in doing economic injustice. Where are the Christians in the stewardship of the oikoumene - the whole inhabited earth?

  • The Structural Adjustment Programmes. The multinational corporations demand that states reduce spending on social needs, and on the other hand they accept investments by the same states in armaments which are used to keep entire populations terrorised. The churches should insist that the debts of developing countries be forgiven, and that the money thus released be converted to funding programmes to improve the quality of people's lives.

  • The lack of capital. There is no money available to finance the activities of women. The economic crisis serves as an excuse for states, and churches, to justify their lack of interest in women's projects. A change of priorities is called for in this area on the part of the churches.

  • The lack of education remains an abiding danger for women, since it always marks them out for poverty. The churches must do everything in their power to support education and training for women, and see that their talents are used in a variety of roles, including participation in decision-making bodies.

These are the challenges which remain. They require the ongoing solidarity of the churches with women, beyond this decade which is ending, for the sake of our Christian witness in the world.

Violence against Women
Rev. Deenabandhu Manchala
Document No. DE 3

The widespread prevalence and escalation of violence against women all over the world is perhaps the most obvious proof of the moral decadence of our generation. As we gather here, as a global fellowship of churches, to learn from the lessons which the Decade has taught us, we are confronted by this seemingly indomitable reality.

The Decade Team visits to member churches - the Living Letters - saw that violence against women is a reality everywhere. The reports from the teams record that across all boundaries of class, race, caste, age, education, culture, place, and denomination, women are exposed to violence of different sorts - physical, economic, social, institutional, psychological and spiritual. Additionally, those of us who participated in the Decade Festival last week, heard the poignant testimony of women who have experienced violence in the life of the church itself.

I come from India, a country much eulogized for its ahimsa (non-violence) and dharma (morality). Ironically, it is a society which derives its strength from the pervasive influence of two cultures of exclusion, namely, caste and patriarchy. Consequently, it is not just physical violence but also the carefully crafted, nurtured and religiously sanctified structural violence that makes life miserable for those who are excluded. I stand here representing the victims of these cultures - women, and Dalits (the oppressed) who are the most despised, impoverished and exploited section of the Indian society. Of these, the Dalit woman is the "Dalit of the Dalits". She is thrice oppressed, on account her being poor, Dalit, and woman, making her the worst victim of violence due to the interplay of class, caste, and gender. I want us to remember today millions of Dalit sisters who are thus victims of violence, of various sorts, day in and day out. These cultures of the oppressor have become so saturated in the minds of the victims, that they accept violence as inevitable and the rest get immune to it. So much so, India continues to top the list in cases of violence against women. Every year, a little over

15,000 women are raped
15,000 are either kidnaped or abducted
7,000 brides are killed for not bringing enough dowry
30,000 are tortured
30,000 are molested
15,000 are harassed, and about
15,000 are held in what is called immoral trafficking - what it means of course is prostitution.

Nearly 125,000 cases of crimes against women are registered. Furthermore, majority of those who die due to ill-health, epidemics, natural calamities, caste and communal clashes, and ethnic strife, are women.

During our visits, we have found that, by and large, the churches seem to view this as a given cultural phenomenon and not only abstain from responding but also in many cases actively support and perpetuate various forms of violence against women through language, denial of opportunities and participation, reinforcing of stereotype roles, etc. Unfortunately, the responsibility of having to safeguard the traditions of the institutional Church seems more a faith imperative than to hunger and thirst for justice and peace, to many a Christian today. But amidst this gloomy reality, we have seen signs of hope. We have sensed a growing consciousness among women. They are getting organized to resist, to fight for equality, justice and fair treatment. They are breaking the culture of silence. They are articulating their views of a new social order based on the values of mutual companionship, equality, and justice. They are discovering the liberative potential of the biblical faith. Here lies the challenge. Does the Church wish to remain a custodian of a culture of violence or catalyst of a culture of life? As it draws to a close, "violence against women", a major concern of the Decade offers a few possibilities:

1. In situations characterized by oppressive values, structures and cultures of human relationships, the challenge for the Church lies in its ability to present alternatives, both in form and functions. When life is denied, abused and made a burden for more than half of the world's population, we must stop seeing it as a women's problem but as one that compels us to affirm the life and dignity of all people. This implies a rediscovery of what it means to be a church. The Church is called not just to be a community of believers concerned about the purely spiritual, but for its transformative presence and to make present the promise of the coming reign of God through its being and actions. Overcoming violence from within its structures, relationships, interpretation of Bible and language is the first urgent task that the Church has to undertake.

2. While we affirm the need of contextualisation and inculturation, we must also actively uphold the transformative potential of the gospel as one that counters and transforms all that is oppressive in culture. Culture cannot be held as an excuse to justify inaction. The Church must stop patronizing the cultures of the oppressor and begin to, in obedience to the God of liberation, own the cultures and visions of the oppressed. Culture is a changing reality which can be transformed. In many places, we have noted the Church lagging behind even when some of the rigid patriarchal societies, like India, have begun to display greater sensitivity and practical action to render justice to women. Perhaps, this is at least one aspect where the Church should follow the world.

3. Like the Dalits and many other oppressed groups, women today are in awakened lot. The numerous grass roots movements and the emerging solidarity arising out of their shared experience of barriers, testify to a new spirit of ecumenism. The Church needs to discern this and actively participate in these grass roots ecumenical movements for justice, freedom and life. If the Church will lose the opportunity to be an ally of the forces of life.

Racism Against Women
Mukami McCrum
Document No. DE 4

I speak to you today from a perspective informed by the multiple identities as a black woman, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a wife and as a Christian. As a black woman I confront racism every day of my life. As a mother I deal with racism against my children. As a sister I share my sisters' pain when they tell me their stories. As a daughter, my duty to my parents connects me with generations of black women of African, Asian, Pacific, Caribbean and Latin America and Australasia, Indigenous, migrant, and refugee women, past and present, who have endured hardship in their struggle against slavery, colonial and imperial racism. As a wife the sounds of ambulance sirens numb my heart with fear. Will my husband and my son be injured at the anti-racist demonstration? As a Christian I seek for answers to my problems from the church and wonder why we cannot love one another as Christ instructed us.

The Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women was expected to be a direct response to women's issues and concerns. But when I ask women about their experiences of the decade, the response from most women is usually, "What Decade?". When I ask women of colour the same question, their response Is "What Decade, which women?" This suggests to me that the "stone of racism" has not yet been dislodged, never mind being "rolled away". It seems to me that both the Church and the women's movement have failed racial minorities, migrant women and indigenous women. This view is supported by the fact that these women experience racism, oppression and exploitation by both women and men of the dominant colour, culture, religion and class in most countries of the world. The churches appear to have missed this very significant point.

Many men and women in the church community are horrified when we tell them about our experiences of racism within church. This is because they would never dream of smashing windows with bricks, writing insulting graffiti, spitting and attacking women. But they forget that the most insidious and persistent form of racism is the 'exclusion and invisibility' these women suffer from every aspect of church community life. It seems that, except in 'black led' churches, the rest of the church community has not understood that solidarity with women must include us too. A woman was told me, "lt is extremely hurtful when white sisters, whom you have known for years, tell us, 'we forgot to invite you or we did not know you would be interested'. How can the needs of people, who are so visible by colour become so invisible?"

However to say that the Decade has changed nothing is to negate the efforts and achievements, however small, of thousands of women who have worked hard to raise issues and concerns even when they are too ill or too tired. It is also vital that we applaud the efforts of the church and give credit where it is due. I have in mind the success of programmes such as Women under Racism and SISTERS.

The SISTERS is a network of women from all over the world. It has brought women together from Africa, Asia, Caribbean, the Americas, Europe and the Pacific, and now we can truly say that the world is our neighbourhood. Many women now recognise the similarities in the oppression of women, and the need to support each other and to resist racism together. I can proudly say that an injury to one Sister has become an injury to all, and a concern for everyone.

While any form of racism is obscene and a sin, time does not allow me to name all the different struggles but two examples are worth mentioning:

1) The struggles of Dalit women in India, and the struggles of Indigenous women all over the world. The Dalits are the most despised, impoverished and exploited section of the Indian society. The Dalit woman is thrice oppressed because she is a Dalit, a woman and poor, making her the worst victim of violence due to the interplay of class caste and gender. If you substitute the word Dalit with black women the message reads the same. Caste is a form of racism which needs to be fought at institutional as well as ideological levels.

2) The link between racism and trafficking is obvious. The majority of poor women live in developing countries with a predominantly black population. There is a historical link between racism and exploitation Today global, political, social and economic forces to continue to exploit these countries and the women are regarded as nothing more than commodities, to be bought and sold in the market place. Racism contributes to poverty which makes women and children destitute and therefore vulnerable to criminals who enslave and traffic them to countries where xenophobia, combined with hostile and racist immigration laws further trap them into a life of prostitution and violence. Racism and trafficking of women are serious violations of human rights.

For the women's movement, at a time when many changes are expected as we move towards the millennium, one thing remains constant: racism and its ability to cross national and geographical boundaries, like a hurricane, and cause devastation as it breaks and fragments any form of solidarity among women. To make sure that the gifts of all women continue to flourish, a number of things must happen. The Decade has helped to open many eyes and we cannot go back to that dark and cold place inhabited by women without a voice. We have named and shamed all forms of oppression against women. But we must hold hands firmly together, continue to articulate the problems and struggles which stem from the links between extreme economic deprivation and poverty on one hand, and the political, religious, legal and cultural factors which legitimise racism.

For my daughter and young women everywhere, when you sit under the shade of the trees that your mothers, aunts, and grandmothers planted, nurture the trees well; be vigilant; take turns to sleep; guard the trees well, never forgetting that there are still forces out there that would rather cut the trees down and pluck them out by the roots. As you nurture the trees, scatter the seeds to grow even more trees for your children.

For the churches and WCC: I would like to affirm the challenges listed in Living Letters. In addition I ask the churches, and in particular our white sisters to:

  • (a) combat all aspects of racism by ensuring that all organs of the church produce a work plan which clearly lists the actions and tasks for churches and church community at local, national and global level
  • (b) provide adequate resources for Women under Racism /SISTERS in order to strengthen the links, cooperation and joint work with secular women's organisations. The church must do this, mindful of the fact that racism does not respect boundaries of church, state, or nations. It is therefore imperative that action against racism is not confined to such boundaries. I ask the church to walk and stand with and to support women's organisations that are in the front line battling against all forms of racism. This requires that the church stands shoulder to shoulder with black, migrant, refugees, and indigenous women against oppressive forces and powerful state machinery which are often mobilised against them. We must push for implementation of the Convention of Human Rights in recognition of the fact that racism is a form of violence.
    The work has just begun. I pray for, and look forward to a millennium without racism. May God be with us all.

    Participation of Women in the Life of the Church
    Metropolitan Ambrosius of Oulu, Finland
    Document No. DE 5

    "You have destroyed death by your Cross - You have changed a lamentation of the myrrh bearers into joy." (An Orthodox Resurrection hymn)

    From the viewpoint of the churches, the Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women has been very important within the WCC and its member churches. It has helped us to see some of the limitations of present-day decision-making processes and power structures in our churches and their lack of inclusiveness and transparency more critically than before. In many places women have remained invisible and ignored, in spite of the fact that the community of the Church should always be the community of women and men. Women's concerns are vital parts of the strength and well-being of the whole church. As far as the future of our churches is concerned, we dream of and pursue a community which listens to the hopes, dreams and even the frustrations of its members. It should be a source of liberation equally for men and women, because both are persons created in God's image and called towards God's glory in their building of the church as a community.

    We are thankful for having had the opportunity to participate in various Decade activities and the mid-Decade team visits. This opened our eyes to the significance of the Decade in a profound and constructive way. Some of the more traditional churches showed some hesitation and reservations at the beginning. But we gradually discovered that the Decade was not a feminist movement - though we may need that too - but something that concerns the whole Church, her self-understanding and ecclesial nature. The Decade did not attempt to challenge in a negative way those church traditions which do not ordain women. We have not experienced the work of the Decade as a threat, but as a positive method of action inside our churches.

    The gospel has the duty and power to criticise culture. During the team visits and afterwards, many men, myself included, were shocked to realise - for the first time - how much violence and economic injustice against women, whether it is culturally conditioned or not, exist inside and outside churches all over the world. It seems that no region is free from hidden agendas, eliminating and marginalising women in various ways.For this reason, we will have the duty, and even the privilege, to bring the fruits and results of this Decade back to our churches.

    Contextual theologies are often needed to correct our stereotypes concerning the quality of our participation, solidarity, love and mutual trust between women and men, for example, in decision-making, theological education and lay ministerial roles in every church. The challenge the Decade has posed should remain. By the guidance of the Spirit we will then, in each church, become women and men letters of Christ, written not with ink but with the spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts' (2.Cor.3:3).

    Phase 3 - The Anticipation
    (This phase - the presentation of the recommendations
    from women and men who attended the Decade Festival,
    to the churches - will be moderated by Bertrice Wood.)

    Letter to the Eighth Assembly of the World Council of Churches from the women and men of the Decade Festival of the Churches in Solidarity with Women: FROM SOLIDARITY TO ACCOUNTABILITY The Ecumenical Decade of the Churches in Solidarity with Women: The Journey Continues
    Bertrice Y. Wood
    Document No. DE 7

    "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" Hebrews 11:1 (NRSV)

    There was a day in our history as a people of faith, on that first Easter morning, when the women discovered that Jesus had risen from the dead. Yet, their witnessing to the male apostles was dismissed as an idle tale. Their testimony to the good news was not believed.

    The good news for the life of the church throughout the generations is that that dismissal was not the last word spoken about the fulfillment of God's promises in the Resurrection. Though eyewitness and heartfelt accounts of many believers, especially those of women, of God's mighty acts in history have been cast aside as idle tales, one of the important affirmations reminders of the Decade of the Churches in Solidarity with Women is that women have not been sitting by idly.

    The "Living Letters" team visits pointed out that women are indeed the pillars of the church in all regions of the world. They are the marrow in the Body of Christ. Just as on that first Easter morning, the faithfulness and witness of women continues to sustain and nurture the church. We learned irrefutably that women love the church, as we always have. In our time, as the Living Letters discovered in visit after visit, women are, more than ever, recognizing their God-given gifts as invaluable contributions for the life of the whole church and the whole world. And women are clearly calling the church, as the Body of Christ, to embody Christ's ministry of justice wherever there is injustice, to embrace Christ's example of inclusivity wherever there are persons excluded, be it in the church or in society. The call to be agents of change began with the teachings of Jesus that repudiated much of the traditional attitudes about women and the teachings that modeled ways for women and men to live as equal partners, in the home, the community of faith and in the society. Women, and thankfully many men, have not been sitting by idly. We learned how global, how ecumenical, is the commitment and the energy to overcome whatever are the obstacles which divide people in our churches and block our ability to live in solidarity with all persons in the world.

    By visiting almost every member church, the team visits have demonstrated how solidarity and cultural sensitivity can go hand in hand. The visits have encouraged the churches of every context and tradition to speak. They have allowed women and men in each of the churches to discern what solidarity with women appropriately means in their setting. Indeed, the visits offer a model for how the WCC might approach other issues of ecumenical import.

    There are vivid signs of hope which the visiting teams have discovered. These signs give us hope that we might anticipate the accomplishments of the Decade will have been of lasting, transformative, significance for the churches and the WCC. Positive changes have occurred. In many places, church leaders are examining their priorities, placing before the whole church the status of women in the church and the churches' call to participate in God's mission of, to learn from the vision of the prophet Amos, repairing the breaches and raising up the ruins which have characterized the circumstances of far too many women. We have heard powerful testimony from men who have been, in their words, "converted." Solidarity has blossomed among women, binding women together across the human barriers of race, class, nationality, confession, theological perspective, and vocation in the church. Women have come forward to support each other in situations of war and violence. The Decade and the team visits have been good for the churches and their members, particularly, but not exclusively, the women. The Decade has been a gift of God to the churches and the ecumenical movement.

    But, sadly, there have also been graphic signs of despair. It has been saddening and enraging to realize that the one experience which women have in common with each other, regardless of their status in the church or society, is the experience of violence, in our homes, our societies, and even our churches. The "culture of silence" regarding violence has been so deafening that at times it has felt like a conspiracy. The Body of Christ exists to transform and not be transformed by the world. Yet, we discovered the worldwide tendency to use "culture" as a bulwark against challenging traditional attitudes and practices toward women. There have been noteworthy accomplishments in many churches, but the Decade has been largely a Decade of women nurturing solidarity with women around the world. In general, churches have not permitted the goals and process of the Decade to infuse the whole church with new visions of faithfulness to the gospel. In all places there has been an enormous gap between words and actions. These signs remind us that we must confess that the goals of the Decade still elude the churches. The agenda of the Decade is clearly unfinished.

    Yet, in the midst of these actualities, women and supportive men have displayed tremendous courage and commitment to the churches and to the healing, reconciling word of the gospel. Patterns of discrimination and oppression have been challenged in the open. The courage and commitment will not go away.

    When the Decade was launched, many of us feared that by focusing on a particular time frame we risked facing a day when the churches and the WCC might approach the end of the Decade with a sigh of relief and a return to sidelining the vision, energy, and resources needed to sustain the church on its journey toward health and wholeness. Still, we knew the time was ripe for a heightened focus on this longstanding ecumenical endeavor. We may be at the end of the Decade; yet, even more important, we are at a high point in a time of kairos. We would do well to recall that the women who approached the tomb on the first Easter discovered that the removal of the stone did not finish their work but that it invited them-and the other disciples-to embark on a journey of life and witness to the resurrected Christ who redeems and liberates us from all that falls short of what it means to be created, male and female, in the image of God. The Decade has been in many ways more than we expected for but far less than we dreamed, hoped and prayed for.

    Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. We approach the culmination of the Decade and the passage into the 21st Century with a renewed call to the churches to build upon both the accomplishments and the unfinished work of the Decade. We do so confident that the God to whom we turn is faithful to the promises God has made. We join a cloud of witnesses in this generation and generations past in anticipating God will continue to work with the churches and people of faith in transforming the lives of individuals, our churches, our cultures, and our world.

    The Decade Festival presents to this Assembly and the churches we represent the communique "Women's Challenges: Into the 21st Century." It conveys specific challenges calling for action. The quest for economic justice remains before us, particularly in the ways that women and children are the most directly affected by the trends of the globalization of economies. We have not yet responded faithfully to the ethical and theological imperative for the Church to embrace and facilitate the full participation of all persons. We have started down the path toward empowering women to share the fullness of their gifts and toward enabling the church to be enriched by those gifts; but it is still largely before us. Women have found ways to grow in solidarity with persons across the walls of racism and ethnic tensions. The ecumenical movement and our churches are being called to continued support of that leadership by women. Women know that violence against women, in whatever form, is a sin and call on the churches to take the bold step of stating so, just as the churches have ecumenically denounced other social sins as being contrary to the very essence of the Church, the Body of Christ.

    Consider again the symbol of water. Recall again the prophetic words of Amos. "...let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream." To the women and men who have labored in the garden of the Decade, we might say take heart. Often seeds of God's Word fall in unrecognized and unanticipated places. New growth often later sprouts where the sowers have tilled the rocky soil and planted the seeds. It is often those who later pass through the garden who discover the transformation. The harvest is plentiful and more laborers are needed. Our hope is in what is still to come as our churches and our societies are nurtured with the waters of justice and streams of righteousness.

    It is time to declare that the Decade as a project is completed. As one of the millions of women and men throughout the world for whom the Decade was a source of refreshing waters; as one of the millions who were shocked yet emboldened by the signs of despair and lifted up by the signs of hope discovered during the Decade; on our behalf, I would announce that we have reached the culmination of the Decade. We would give thanks to God for this gift of love and grace to the Church. We would give thanks to God for all of those who knew that God was issuing us all an invitation, as the ecumenical movement, as churches, and as individuals, to partake of the healing waters.

    I would also remind us that the Decade has afforded the World Council of Churches and the member churches an opportunity to recognize that solidarity with women-in word and in deed-in the Church and in society is a vital part of the vocation of the WCC. It is of the essence of the Church and of the WCC as an expression of ecclesial life that we embody the goals of the Decade. In this respect, the Decade has allowed us to take a major step on the journey toward wholeness and to live by an oasis for a time. It has also shown clearly how much of the journey is still before us. We have received the offering in writing from the women of the world, captured in the statement of challenges as we move into the new century.

    The prophet Habakkuk records that God responded to his cries for justice with these words: "Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it." Women and men, rooted in our faith in the promises of God, have written our vision of the fulfillment of those promises clearly and vividly. The vision is clear enough that even one passing by quickly will be able to read it-if each of us would only look in the direction of the women in our churches and in our societies and in the direction of the living God.

    The Decade is over as a project and we now anticipate and work as partners with God on the journey toward the appointed day when all visions of justice and reconciliation will be fulfilled.

    Then "the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea."

    Deliberative plenaries
    8th Assembly and 50th Anniversary
    copy right 1998 World
Council of Churches. Remarks to: webeditor