Embrace newcomers, advises WCC leader

By on June 1, 2012

Keep the faith: Christian churches face the challenge of building ecumenical relationships with immigrant churches. Photo: Marites N. Sison

Canada’s changing demographic and ecumenical landscape calls for new reflections on the role of the church and how Christians can help develop “a unity that is based on accepting and respecting differences,” says the general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC).

The Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit was in Toronto March 13 to 15 to visit the Anglican, Lutheran, United and Presbyterian churches. All are members of the Geneva-based WCC. Founded in 1948, the WCC has 349 member churches, denominations and fellowships representing over 560 million Christians in more than 110 countries.

While in Toronto, Tveit met jointly with Anglican and Lutheran leaders, whose churches have been in full communion since 2001. In an interview, Tveit said that in a multi-racial, multi-faith society, Christian churches face the challenge not just of accepting newcomers but also of building ecumenical relationships with immigrant churches.

In countries such as Canada that have become home to millions of migrants, churches need to speak on their behalf, said Tveit, noting that many people have difficulty accepting newcomers. “The hospitality of receiving the stranger that the Bible speaks about is really a common ethos we should have.”

Christians in the West, including Canada, must stand in solidarity with churches situated in areas of conflict where they are often subject to persecution, said Tveit. At a recent meeting in Geneva, Iraqi Christians described the difficulties resulting from the American war on Iraq, he said. “The war caused a lot of tensions between Christians and Muslims,” he told the Anglican Journal. “The Christian minorities are paying a high price for what happened, for something they were absolutely against.”

Tveit noted that Christianity often becomes a casualty when Western governments invade or initiate political action, particularly in the predominantly Muslim countries. “To some extent they are interpreted as Western Christian countries invading Muslim countries,” he said. “I think it’s important that churches make it very clear that this has nothing to do with our Christian obligation for mission.”

The ecumenical movement has come a long way, but new challenges have arisen, including the need to establish a “more fair and real relationship” between churches in the global North and South, said Tveit. “How do we share power?”
Tveit also discussed unity and the hopes and challenges of ecumenism at a dialogue that included WCC member and non-member churches. “The unity that we seek must have proven reality in the local context,” Tveit said during a talk at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church.

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