The largest and most diverse gathering of Christians in the world is coming together in the Republic of Korea for the 10th assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC).
Beginning on Oct. 30, upwards of 3,000 participants from every part of the planet, representing the spectrum of Christian traditions, will converge on the seaside city of Busan for 10 days of prayer, study and decision making, all aimed at drawing the churches more closely together under the theme, “God of life, lead us to justice and peace.”
Assemblies have been convened about every seven years since the World Council of Churches was founded in 1948. This is the first held in East Asia.
The colossal gatherings are an occasion for the WCC’s member churches (today, numbering close to 350) to come together to reaffirm their commitment to the ecumenical movement, to receive an account of the WCC’s life and work since the last assembly and to make decisions about the goals the council will pursue until the next assembly.
The specific focus of the WCC’s efforts has varied over its 65 years, as it has sought to respond to the signs of the times, but its broad areas of work have remained consistent: koinonia (seeking unity and fellowship in one faith), martyria (mission, witness and evangelism), diakonia (service for justice and peace), ecumenical formation and interreligious co-operation.
Daily common prayer and Bible study will frame all of the assembly’s work. The business sessions will actually represent a relatively small part of the meeting. Those participating will spend much of their time engaged in a series of formal conversations addressing issues as diverse as ecological justice, Middle East peace, poverty, evangelism, prayer, interfaith dialogue, ecclesiology and the future of the ecumenical movement. A series of dozens of less formal workshops, covering an even wider variety of ecumenical topics, will be on offer throughout the gathering.
All of the assembly’s discussions and work are aimed at helping its member churches—in all their geographic, cultural and ecclesial diversity—discover ways to engage in mission together and make more visible their oneness as the church of Christ.
WCC assemblies have a history of speaking prophetically on the issues of the day, and the Busan gathering is expected to follow in that tradition by issuing statements on freedom of religion, just peace, the human rights of stateless people, and peace and reunification on the Korean Peninsula.
Korea is more than simply the venue for this WCC assembly. There will be opportunities for participants to engage with the Korean churches, which have been among the leading forces for reunification and reconciliation between North and South Korea, formally divided in 1953 following a bloody three-year civil war.
There will also be opportunities for the assembly’s participants to gather regionally and confessionally. For example, delegates representing churches in Canada and the United States will have a time to meet together to discuss common issues of concern and to confirm their choice of a regional president to represent them among the WCC’s leadership.
Similarly, assembly participants from the churches of the Anglican Communion will gather for a time of discussion, eucharist, and fellowship with each other and with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.
The Anglican Church of Canada is represented in Busan by three voting delegates who were selected by the Council of General Synod after a call for nominations was issued in early 2012: Melissa Green (Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior), the Rev. Deacon Nicholas Pang (diocese of Montreal) and Canon John Alfred Steele (diocese of British Columbia). They are accompanied by an ecumenical advisor who is a member of the General Synod staff.
The Rt. Rev. Mark MacDonald, Canada’s national indigenous Anglican bishop, is also attending the assembly. He is among the organizers of a pre-assembly event focusing on aboriginal issues and was on the drafting team of the “unity statement” that will be considered by the assembly’s delegates. Bishop MacDonald is also expected to be confirmed as the WCC’s North American regional president.
Other Canadian Anglicans who will be at the international ecumenical gathering include Canon John Gibaut and Natasha Klukach, who serve on the WCC’s staff. Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan will be there in her role as director of Unity, Faith, and Order for the Anglican Communion. Jennifer Henry, an Anglican who is executive director of Kairos Canada, will also be at the assembly, representing that ecumenical peace and justice coalition.
The Journal will be providing frequent coverage. Information is also available at: http://www.anglican.ca/resources/wcc/
Archdeacon Bruce Myers is editor of the Quebec Diocesan Gazette, and is attending the WCC Assembly in Busan in his capacity as the Anglican Church of Canada’s co-ordinator for ecumenical relations.