World Council of Churches Assembly Report: “God of life lead us to justice and peace”
Acts 2:1-13 Ephesians 4:1-7
This morning I am tired. Yesterday between 4 am Korean time and 6 pm DC time I spent 28 hours in travel. The
14 hour time difference meant that I could fit much more into a day of travel.
Travel is not what it used to be but it is still a long way from the other side of the world. Two weeks ago as you
were gathering for worship I was on a bus to Dulles. Jenn had dropped me off at L’enfant plaza in what would
be the first leg—perhaps toe—of a long trip. After making it through security and wait at Dulles. I flew 14 ½
hrs to Tokoyo Japan. After a short 2 hr wait we flew to Seoul, South Korea. Where there was an overnight stay
at a transit hotel. Early the next morning we—the group was now 5—flew to Busan where the 10th Assembly
would be held. Upon landing I drank a cup of dunkin donuts coffee and board a bus to drive about 1 hr to our
This was the 10th General Assembly of the World Council of Churches. The WCC is made up of 345 churches
from 110 countries representing 500 million people.
I traveled to the Assembly as part of a 5 person Church of the Brethren US delegation. My tasks included
organizing a workshop on the US Churches’ response to Just Peace, delegate in business sessions, serving on
the Public Issues Committee, and to build relationships and make connections.
In the first book of the Bible, Genesis, in the 11th chapter the people of the earth propose a building project.
God “confuses” their language so that they cannot understand each other. Because of the linguistic confusion
the people disperse out over the world.
In the Acts passage which tells of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, we witness the undoing of this
scattering. As Jesus was about to leave his disciples he promised that in his absence his followers would
receive the Spirit which would empower them to continue Jesus’ ministry. [Read Acts 2] Note that people do
not all learn the same spirit language which gets rid of their own language but that they hear the proclamation
in their own language. These people with their languages are listed specifically in the Acts passage
In some ways the World Council of Churches General Assembly mirrors this coming together of many
languages around the proclamation of Jesus. In many aspects of the gathering language was a notable
All parts of the Assembly represented this coming together of languages. The business sessions included
United Nations style simultaneous translation through headsets. In the Bible studies we met with the same
groups for most mornings. The two leaders of my 30 person group were an Anglican Bishop from Panama and
a Orthodox professor from Greece. Though my Bible study was an English one only a small percentage of the
group spoke English as their first language.
The Assembly also included “ecumenical conversations” around theological topics, regional gatherings,
confessional gatherings, cultural events, travel, plenary sessions on major themes, and committees were also
on the very full schedule.
Perhaps the area in which the diversity of languages was evident was in worship services and the
morning and evening prayer services. The main languages we sang in were English, German, French, Korean,
and Spanish. There were also prayers in many others including Tagalog, and ancient Ethiopian
language—Geez, one prayer was even in French with a sung response in the liturgical Syriac of South India.
While all this may be fascinating, why do deem it important enough for several thousand people to
travel so far or for WCC staff and the Korean host committee to spend countless hours in preparation? Why
spend so much time and money on such an endeavor?
In Ephesians we read:
Ephesians 4:1-7 I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you
have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making
every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as
you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all,
who is above all and through all and in all.7 But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s
Several of the ways that we worked toward this unity were through:
1.Theological Discussions—including discussion on common ministry including ordination, common
understanding on central theological issues.
Working toward a common understanding on theology has been a central mission of the WCC and the
ecumenical movement since the beginning. This includes seeking to find where we agree and disagree and to
see if we are able to move closer together in the way we understand God, Church, and ministry.
In addition to longer more formal discussions with churches and their theologians the Assembly include
“ecumenical conversations” in which a group of people gathered over a series of days to discuss a document
or issue of significance. The group that I signed up for discussed the document “Church: toward a common
vision.” Though I didn’t not continue with my group due to schedule overload I heard that these discussions
One fascinating comment to note in this regard took place during a plenary session As noted earlier
plenary sessions were held most days and took a closer look at central components of the theme, “God of life
lead us to justice and peace” as well as mission and the Asian context. Plenary sessions consisted of several
people in conversation or speaking on aspects of the days theme. During a session which I felt was one of the
strongest most creative talks a bishop from India spoke on bringing people on the edges genuinely in the
theological discourse and life of the church. He ended his time saying that in the absence of our being able to
share the Eucharist, or communion, that perhaps foot washing could stand in for our common sacrament.
In the COB we typically have practiced footwashing (which is based on Jesus washing his disciples feet) as
part of our love feast which includes communion. For us this communion is open for those outside of the COB.
Now there are three reasons why his stating that footwashing could become our shared sacrament. One is that
not all churches all people from outside their church, even other Christians, to participate in their communion,
the Eucharist. Secondly, for a number of churches the Eucharist is the central component of worship. And
Thirdly, not many churches regularly practice footwashing. That the bishop would observe that this continued
inability for us to share a core part of our worship is a scandal and to suggest that footwashing perhaps could,
temporarily replace this as a common shared practice is profound.
2. Public witness—
I was asked to serve on the Public Issues Committee. This committee was made up of 40 or so people. We
met daily over lunch break, sometimes over sessions when we were behind our deadline, and over the
weekend. From this work we brought statements and resolutions to the body of the Assembly for discussion
and approval. Topics include just peace, climate change, stateless peoples, and the Korean Peninsula.
3. Build relationships—while institutions to support this work may be valuable our common following of
Jesus does not consist solely or even primarily in church structures—and certainly not in by-laws.
Perhaps one of the main foundations for ongoing theological discussions and public witness is
relationships formed between individuals in various denominations and churches. Relationships that we form
provide much of the impetus for us to find ways to work together. Certainly, some of this comes from reading
scripture and feeling led or compelled to work for unity—think of our Ephesians passage or John 17 when Jesus
prays for unity. Much of the ongoing work happens, however, when we not only meet each other but come to
care for each other.
At the WCC there were many times where I met someone outside of intentional meetings.
Over the weekend there were many opportunities to tour and travel around the country. Those of us
asked to be on committees, however, stayed in Busan and worked all weekend. On Saturday after a long day of
meetings the host committee organized a special meal for the committee members—this was either in thanks
or to console us for our missed travels. We had a wonderful meal hosted by the Mayor of Busan and followed
by a cultural performance. During this time I got to spend time getting to know a fellow Public Issues
Committee member. She is a young adult from the Indian Orthodox Church who teaches Syriac and liturgical
music at the Orthodox seminary in New York. She was also born in Nigeria just a few miles from where we
lived. On my other side during this meal was the head of an Ethiopian church of around 7 million members.
The conference was full of such encounters. On bus ride back to the hotel one evening a woman from
the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Romania sat with me. Though I was tired and would not have started a
conversation we had a pleasant talk about her work with pastoral training in her church. On another occasion
while drinking coffee outside the enormous convention center I got talking with the moderator from the
Presbyterian church in New Zealand.