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World Council of Churches Assembly sees shared pain as catalyst to unity

HONG KONG (SE): The Tenth Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC), which began on October 30 in the portside city of Bussan in South Korea, ended on November 8 with a prayer that Churches may be able to transform themselves in order to become true instruments of peace in the world.

In a statement issued at the end of the gathering, which strongly reflects the struggle for justice in the world so that there may be peace, the delegates described their time as joining together in prayer and sharing stories of agony and hope.

“We are thankful for the many engaging statements released. Our common pilgrimage traced the theme, God of life, lead us to justice and peace.”

Delegates from 345 member Churches, partner organisations and ecumenical movements travelled to various events across the peninsula. While formal plenary sessions were held in Bussan, other events were conducted across the country, which were open to non-delegates to attend.

The programme contained what was described as a rich offering of events to maximise the sharing of experience among delegates. It was billed as a hands-on exercise designed to deepen the experience of fellowship and increase knowledge of the ecumenical movement.

It was also seen as a way to provide a space to facilitate open dialogue among delegates on the important issues raised during the plenary sessions.

The programme featured education tours, which the delegates describe as exposing them to the open wounds of a society torn by conflict and division.

“How necessary is justice for peace; reconciliation for healing; and change of heart for the world to be made whole! We are encouraged by the active and committed Churches we encountered; their work bears bountiful fruit,” the final statement reads.

Delegates reflected that the search for unity that they encountered in South Korea is a sign of hope for the whole world.

“This is not the only land in which people live divided, in poverty and riches, happiness and violence, welfare and war,” the delegates reflected. “We are not allowed to close our eyes to harsh realities or to rest our hands from God’s transforming work.”

New Zealand-born Father Michael Lapsley, from the Anglican Society of the Sacred Mission, reflected on his personal journey of crucifixion and resurrection. 

Expelled from South Africa in 1976, he took on the role of chaplain to the African National Congress in exile in Zimbabwe.

Then in 1990, after Nelson Mandela had been released from prison, he told the gathering, “The Apartheid state sent me a letter bomb hidden inside the pages of religious magazines.”

He lost his hands, one eye and his eardrums were damaged.

“Your prayers, your love was the vehicle God used to help me make my bombing redemptive, to bring life out of death, good out of evil, to travel a journey from being a victim to being a survivor to being a victor.”

His message is a strong reminder to all Churches that we cannot survive without the compassion and helpfulness of others. “So it is true for all of us, that we need one another to be fully human,” he reflected.

He likened the journey towards Christian unity to his own journey to wellness, as recognising the pain and the joy, as well as the common ground it creates among otherwise separated people.

Father Lapsley added that when we listen to the pain of another, the us and them disappears and we simply become us.

The assembly committed the fellowship and resources of the WCC and their own Churches, organisations and movements, to standing in solidarity with the people and the Churches on the Korean peninsula, as well as all those who struggle for justice, peace and unity.

However, no gathering of 345 Christian Churches and affiliated organisations can meet without recognising the pain of diversity and lack of unity.

But the delegates noted, “We are called in our diversity, to be just stewards of God’s creation. This is the vision of the new heaven and the new earth, where Christ will fill all in all” (Ephesians 1:23).

The statement notes that although the gathering reflected the scandal of disunity, the diversity of faith expression also reflects the breadth of experience of Christians who are ultimately united, as all receive life from the one creator God.

“In the love of Jesus Christ and by the mercy of the Holy Spirit, we, as a communion of the children of God, move together towards the fulfillment of the kingdom,” the statement reflects.

The assembly highlighted the great value and importance of the virtue of Christian hope, noting that the global crisis in the fields of economics and ecology, as well as the socio-political and spiritual challenge are the identifying hallmarks of this current age.

The assembly produced reflections on all these issues, with great attention paid to the challenge of climate justice and peace, especially in Africa and the Middle East.

It stressed that transformation of the world begins with self, as if the image of God does not shine out from the communities of people of faith, the world will continue in darkness.

“In the darkness and the shadow of death, in suffering and persecution, how precious is the gift of hope from the Risen Lord,” the statement says. “By the flame of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, we pray to Christ to brighten the world; for his light to turn our whole beings to caring for the whole of creation and affirm that all people are created in God’s image.”

It lists listening as the number one activity in the process of liberating our Churches, to enable them to live and act in solidarity with the voices that come from the margins of society.

The assembly calls this the road to hope and the only way to develop the ability to persevere in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

It describes this as being the Christian pilgrimage of our age and calls on all Churches and communities of healing and compassion to work to grow in justice in all their relationships and activities so that the justice of God may become a reality in the world.

The WCC made history by electing Agnes Abuom as moderator of the assembly.

In its 65-year history, Abuom is the first woman to be elected by the 150-member body to the position and the first African.


From Nairobi in Kenya, she works as a development consultant  and has represented the Anglican Church on the national executive of the WCC.

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