11th Assembly of the World Council of Churches

A few days before the 11th Assembly of the World Council of Churches, which will bring together Christians from all over the world in Karlsruhe, Germany, two delegates from the Reformed Church of Switzerland point out the issues.
From August 31 to September 8, more than 4,000 Christians will gather in the city of Karlsruhe, Germany, for the 11th Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC).

This great world gathering, which is held every eight years, had not set foot on the European continent since 1968.

For representatives of the WCC’s 352 member churches, this meeting is an opportunity to work for visible unity and common witness through two weeks of debates, conferences, workshops and celebrations. Placed under the theme “The love of Christ leads the world to reconciliation and unity”, which particularly echoes current events, participants will have their work cut out for them. The visible unity of Christians, the climate crisis, racism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the war in Ukraine are among the central themes on which the reflections will focus.

Among the Churches that will take part in this great fair, there is the Evangelical Reformed Church of Switzerland (EERS), host of the event alongside the Churches of Germany and the Union of Protestant Churches of Alsace and Lorraine. The Swiss will come in large numbers: no less than 250 people, including four delegates for the EERS, and six for Switzerland.

Mutual inspirations

“We are playing almost at home. This is an opportunity to make ourselves visible, to show that our Churches are alive, dynamic and committed, contrary to certain prejudices”, says Serge Fornerod, delegate for the EERS, pastor, director of international relations for the EERS and member of the central committee (legislative body) of the WCC. Without forgetting, “the need to meet and celebrate together after two years of a pandemic that is not over,” adds the pastor.

A meeting place, Karlsruhe will also be a platform for exchanges between Christians from backgrounds and faiths as diverse as their challenges. An ecclesial decentering to be grasped, the discovery of multiple and why not inspiring realities and practices. “Ecumenism is not only played on paper, but also in a positive imprint and a communion, in a world of crises, in loss of spirituality”, explains Suzanne Schild, delegate of the EERS for the Assembly and responsible “Churches of the world and mission” for the French Reformed Church of Basel.

“We will support the WCC in the pursuit of its ecclesiological and theological work on unity, in an approach oriented on an ecumenism of the heart and not only intellectual”, evokes Serge Fornerod. And for good reason, today Christianity is redesigning itself. The dynamism of the so-called countries of the South is gaining momentum and their churches are imposing themselves numerically on the Christian scene.

“Our dogmas and Greek philosophical concepts are no longer frankly necessary for doing ecumenism. In Africa, Asia and Latin America, for example, personal relationships take precedence. This is shaking up our Churches in the North”, explains Serge Fornerod. So much so that Christianity is lost in it: “The South has inherited the ecclesial tendency and the interpretation of the Scriptures that were current several centuries ago in the North, and not the understanding of the texts. He feeds on it. But today, at the same time, there is a thirst for spirituality among believers, which is specific to their cultures and which does not contradict Christian theology”, observes Suzanne Schild, both in the multicultural community of Basel Church, only through her experience as a Christian of African origin. However, for the one who will be the voice of interculturality in Karlsruhe, “this paradigm shift does not call Christian unity into question. It requires conviviality, acceptance of others, listening to their needs and ours”.

An essential word

“We need political will for change to take place,” asserts the delegate. For her, “to achieve reconciliation, then unity, we must ask ourselves about the reasons for the conflicts we encounter and about our humanity. We have a responsibility. We cannot leave this Assembly without having even started the problems from this angle”.

For his part, Serge Fornerod is convinced: “There will be an after-Karlsruhe. This assembly will serve as the driving force behind the WCC’s program for the next ten years. Let’s not forget either that there are more than two hundred accredited journalists. We will have media visibility at European level. If we can wonder about the influence of this meeting on the governments, it remains important that the Churches make their voice heard on what is essential to them.

The microphones will also be in search of a word on the war in Ukraine. Indeed, in Karlsruhe, the Russian Orthodox Church, member of the WCC, will have its representatives. The WCC has invited the two Orthodox Churches of Ukraine, their presence has just been confirmed.

“The Church has a role of peace, truth and reconciliation to play. Like the parents of a family, she must be able to lead her children in conflict to reconciliation, by questioning the reasons for the conflict, in order to be able to establish peace there”, hopes Suzanne Schild. “We dream that a gesture will be made in Karlsruhe towards a possible, although still distant, reconciliation, an ideological appeasement between the Russian and Ukrainian Churches”, hopes Serge Fornerod. And to add: “Today, the WCC and its Assembly are the only platforms for dialogue that exist between the major Christian denominations, which follow a commitment to stay together, even if the price is high.”

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