National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald and Melissa Green reported to members of the Council of General Synod at its Nov. 14 to 17 meetings in Mississauga, Ont., about their experience at the 10th Assembly of World Council of Churches (WCC), which took place Oct. 30 to Nov. 8 in Busan, Korea.
Green was one of three Canadian Anglican delegates. WCC, she told CoGS members, is an ecumenical organization of about 345 Christian churches from more than 110 countries and territories, told CoGS members. WCC represents more than 560 million Christians, including most of the world’s orthodox churches, Anglican, Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist and Reform churches as well as many of the United and independent churches. Assemblies happen once every seven years and this one involved about 4,000 people, including delegates, participants and volunteers.
MacDonald attended in three capacities: as part of the WCC group tasked with writing the Unity Statement issued at the end of every assembly; as a facilitator for a pre-assembly gathering on aboriginal issues; and as a “consensus candidate” for president of the WCC’s North American region, a position he was elected to during the meeting.
MacDonald said was surprised by how much his election meant to other indigenous people at the meeting. “I hope to carry the fullness of what North America is but also to have the privilege to speak about what God is doing today among indigenous peoples and some of the threats to their life.”
The Anglican Church of Canada has had a very important role in the WCC since its beginning in 1948, MacDonald said, noting that former primate Archbishop Ted Scott was the WCC’s moderator from 1975 to 1983, and former primate Archbishop Michael Peers helped the WCC reorganize to include Orthodox, Pentecostal and other independent churches. Because of their work, he said, “the WCC is in a position to respond to some of the most important things that are going on in the world relative to the Christian church.”
For example, MacDonald noted that Christianity is expanding more rapidly now than in any era since the apostles’ time. While he acknowledged that CoGS members would probably be thinking “not in my neighbourhood,” it is true in other “neighbourhoods” due to the “astounding” growth of local expressions of Christian faith springing up that have no connection to the major historical churches, he said.
By the time the WCC Assembly meets again in seven years, the trend will be impossible to ignore, he predicted. “What we’re seeing, for instance, in the development of our northern Ontario region, is something that’s going on around the world. People are beginning to express Christianity in their own cultural way and their own language.”
He added that the WCC has a critical role to play defending the rights of indigenous people. “Indigenous people, according to the UN, are now in possession of one-fourth of the world’s useable land,” he said. “There’s no question that a hungry world, a world that seems to have no cap on its greed, will look at this land as its own possession. Indigenous people are going to face not only the dispossession of their land but questions of life itself. The WCC is, and always has been, poised to help.” He noted that Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner Wilton Little Child told him that the WCC was one of his greatest allies when he did his work on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.
Green recommended that CoGS members read all of the 11 public statements issued by the WCC Assembly. “These statements provide Christians globally, especially those struggling in minority situations, with a tangible expression of solidarity in the face of some of the injustices that are being faced around the globe,” she said. The documents are shared with member churches, she said, and sometimes with local governments. She noted that Canada was specifically mentioned in one of the statements calling on member churches to defend the rights of religious minorities in relation to Quebec’s proposed charter of values, which would ban religious clothing and symbols in public service offices.
People from the Anglican Church of Canada are also fulfilling important roles in the present-day WCC, MacDonald said. Canon John Gibaut of the diocese of Ottawa is the director of the Faith and Order Commission. “Not an easy job,” said MacDonald. “I think you need a bulletproof vest in order to do it, and he does with such grace and charm.” Natasha Klukach, formerly part of General Synod staff, is also now on staff at the WCC. “It’s really hard to overstate their importance to the life of the WCC today. I think that we should be very proud of their work,” said MacDonald.
Green is from the Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior in B.C., and the other voting delegates to the WCC were the Rev. Canon John Steele from the diocese of British Columbia and the Rev. Nicholas Pang from the diocese of Montreal.
Editor’s note: A correction has been made to Canon John Gibaut’s title.