8th assembly/50th anniversary

Together on Holy Ground
Heard in Harare

"The ecumenical movement is not only about harmony and consensus, but very often sharp confrontation"

Konrad Raiser, WCC general secretary on disagreements among WCC member churches
An explosion
Heike Bosien, a 28-year-old youth delegate from the Evangelical Church in Germany, said attending the assembly made her realize "that there are a diversity of positions" on matters of faith. She came to Harare knowing that the concerns of the Council's Orthodox members would be a major issue, and was relieved at the conciliatory tone of most discussions. "Before I came I thought there would be an explosion," she says, "but now I am hopeful."

Their suffering is our business
Nellie Dhlembeu, a delegate from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe, was moved by the sermon preached by Sudanese Catholic Bishop Paride Taban during an afternoon worship service at Rufaro Stadium. "The people of Sudan have been at war for 43 years," she observed. "After hearing that I realized sometimes in our churches we are selfish, praying only for ourselves. Now we know when other people are suffering, it is our business and we should get involved. This is the message I want to take home."

Root out corruption
In an address during the assembly plenary session on Africa, Barney Pityana, chair of the Human Rights Commission in South Africa, minced no words in his criticism of many African leaders. Poverty could be eradicated across the continent, he said, "if corruption in the management of public resources were eliminated". Pityana insisted that "poverty is not a natural condition of humanity. It is... the result of policy options that have been taken which impoverish some and enrich others."

Bread and fish
Preaching at the opening worship service, Eunice Santana, a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) from Puerto Rico, said Jesus' miracles were "acts of compassion", not "magical acts to call attention to himself". As an example she used the gospel story of the feeding of the five thousand: "His disciples came to warn him that the people following him were hungry. Jesus told them to go ahead and feed them. The disciples thought that by this he meant they should buy food for the crowd. They thought that money and spending were the only solution to problems. Instead, Jesus performed a miracle making use of the five pieces of bread and two fish that a child, in a noble act of generosity, had given to the disciples to feed the hungry. To receive that child's gift was to uplift the value of giving, of solidarity, of small acts and of faith."

Violence against women is sin
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", declared Bertrice Wood, a minister in the United Church of Christ in the United States and co-moderator of the pre-assembly festival marking the end of the Ecumenical Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women. "Women know that violence against them, in whatever form, is a sin." Wood called on churches to "take the bold step" of delaring violence against women a sin and "contrary to the very essence of the church, the body of Christ".

Syncretism without regrets
Korean feminist theologian Chung Hyun-Kyung, who created a stir at the last WCC assembly in Canberra in 1991, was back again, participating in the Decade Festival just before the Harare assembly. She said she had "no regrets" about her controversial address in Canberra -- evoking in traditional Korean style the spirits of people martyred and murdered, and linking them to the Holy Spirit -- which led some listeners to accuse her of paganism and syncretism. In an interview with Ecumenical News International, Chung said, "Yes, I am a syncretist; I know where I am coming from. I think that my Christianity, which is meaningful, which is incarnated in a specific people's history, is sure to be syncretistic... Christianity has to be relevant, otherwise it becomes a museum piece. Who wants to see a museum piece? If we want to see something alive today, it should be incarnated in a real context."

On speaking terms
At a special celebration of the 50th anniversary of the World Council of Churches, former WCC general secretary Philip Potter noted evidence of progress in overcoming the divisions among Christians. "The historic churches are now all on speaking terms," he observed. "Within the last 40 years there have been remarkable comings together and conversations between the major families of the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches, the Roman Catholic Church, and the churches of the Reformation and their offshoots."

A delegation relaxes under one of the
stunning flame trees on the campus grounds

Photo by Chris Black/WCC
Click on the photo to order (ref. 7119-03a)

Philip Potter meets up again with the daughter of Mrs Sithembiso Nyomi, who as a bady had been handed to him in a symbolic gesture at the WCC's sixth assembly in Vancouver in 1983

Photo by Chris Black/WCC
Click on the photo to order (ref. 7178-22)

Discovering Bible study
In a panel discussion about Orthodox Christianity, Despina Prassas, a young Orthodox woman from the United States, said an emphasis on studying the Bible has revitalized her church. Contact with Protestant churches has led to organizing lay study groups and the development of new commentaries for use by laypersons. "Thank God", she exclaimed, "for the ecumenical movement that taught us about Bible study!"

Men can change
Language and attitudes have changed for the better among men in the Democratic Republic of Congo as a result of the Ecumenical Decade of the Churches in Solidarity with Women, according to Nzeba Kalombo, a minister in the Church of Christ of Congo. "Even when reading the Bible, they now say, ‘brothers and sisters'," Kalombo said. "When they meet, they say, ‘The women will make problems if we don't think about what they need.' They are seeing women as an integral part of the church. Women are being named heads of working committees and the men are accepting their leadership."

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