The general secretary of the World Council of Churches, Rev. Samuel Kobia, has announced that he will not seek a second term as the head of the world’s biggest Christian grouping.
“Kobia made his intentions known today stating personal reasons for his decision not to seek a second term,” the WCC announced on Feb. 18 after almost nine hours of deliberations behind closed doors by its main governing body, the central committee.
“The central committee received this news with regret but accepts the decision of the general secretary,” said the WCC moderator, Rev. Walter Altmann, in a statement.
The WCC committee was to consider an extension to his current term which ends on Dec. 31, 2008.
The WCC said the central committee had approved the appointment of a search committee for a new general secretary. The election of a new general secretary will come at the next central committee meeting in September 2009, it stated.
Mr. Kobia was elected in August 2003 to lead the Geneva-based grouping that now has 349 member churches, representing 560 million Christians worldwide. He was the first African elected to the post and he took office in January 2004 for his five-year term.
In advance of the Feb. 13-20 central committee meeting, Bishop Martin Hein, a member of the WCC governing body from the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), said the council was failing to make its presence felt sufficiently in the world. He suggested in an interview with the German Protestant news agency epd that the WCC had been unable to develop “visions and perspectives that are able to be communicated,” and he said that Mr. Kobia was travelling too much outside Geneva.
The news agency also reported that the WCC had removed from its Web site, details of a doctorate Mr. Kobia had received from a non-accredited institution, Fairfax University, in the United States. That institution – described in the media as a “degree mill”- reportedly moved to the Cayman Islands in 2007.
Born in Kenya in 1947, Mr. Kobia is an ordained minister in the Methodist Church in Kenya. Before becoming WCC general secretary, he was director and special representative for Africa on the staff of the WCC. From 1999 to 2002 he was director of WCC programs dealing with theological and social issues.
The WCC was founded in 1948 and its member churches – including the Anglican Church of Canada – come from most Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member but has representatives on some WCC bodies.
Mr. Kobia is the sixth WCC general secretary and the third Methodist to hold the post of WCC general secretary.
He served as WCC executive secretary for Urban Rural Mission, and as general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Kenya, and helped reorganize the Zimbabwe Christian Council after independence. He chaired peace talks for Sudan in 1991, and in 1992 headed Kenya’s National Election Monitoring Unit. He returned to Geneva in 1993 to become executive director of the WCC’s unit on justice, peace and creation.