Representatives of 345 member churches from more than 100 countries around the world will gather in Busan, South Korea, for the 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) this Oct. 30 to Nov. 8.
The Anglican Church of Canada-a founding member of the WCC in 1948-will send five representatives to serve in various capacities.
The event’s theme, “God of life, lead us to justice and peace” has particular resonance, as the assembly will take place in the Korean Peninsula, where earlier this year, tensions between South Korea and North Korea threatened to escalate into a full-blown military conflict.
Part of the WCC’s hope in going to Korea is that Christians from various traditions who are themselves seeking reconciliation “can somehow serve as a witness to the people of Korea, as many of them seek to be reconciled,” said Archdeacon Bruce Myers, the Anglican church’s co-ordinator for ecumenical relations, who will serve as advisor to the Canadian-Anglican delegation. “Similarly, we will be looking to the people of Korea and the churches of Korea to tell us as Christians…what lessons they have learned about reconciliation.”
The assembly’s theme will be front and centre in discussions, workshops and on the plenary floor, with particular emphasis on what the ecumenical movement’s role should be in promoting justice and peace in the world, said Myers.
Asked whether the assembly would include a discussion on the worsening situation in Syria, Myers said WCC assemblies have a history of responding to events as they unfold. “I can’t say for certain…. [But] if the situation isn’t resolved in a peaceful and just way, I would be very surprised if the WCC does not have a word to say to the world and to the people in Syria,” he said. It would not be an easy conversation, however, since churches in Syria do not speak with one voice about the way forward, added Myers.
The assembly, which has a wide-ranging agenda, will also discuss governance. Like many churches and ecumenical institutions, the WCC is facing “financial, demographic and structural strains,” and will be looking at how it can do its work differently, said Myers.
Annual contributions from members, including the Anglican Church of Canada, have been dropping as churches worldwide struggle with their own financial problems. This year, the Canadian Anglican church reduced its contribution from $40,000 to $20,000. Even state churches in Europe-traditionally the WCC’s biggest givers -have had to reduce what they’ve been able to offer in recent years, noted Myers.
“We, and I know all of the other Canadian churches, are facing the question around what it is we are able to do,” said Myers. “I’m not questioning that we want to continue to be involved in the life and work of this fellowship of churches; the question is, how can we do that within our means?
A church does not need to pay to gain membership to the WCC, but annually, there are suggested donations issued based on church size. “We pay what we can,” said Myers. Through the years, WCC membership has increased, “but that hasn’t always been reflected in the finances.”
At the Busan assembly, delegates are expected to tackle questions such as, “What is the WCC structurally going to look like…until the next assembly? How will we govern ourselves? What is the staffing situation going to look like?”
Myers said that while there is no question that the WCC’s work should carry on, member churches will and must continue discussions on what the ecumenical movement is all about. They need to grapple with questions such as, “What is the objective? What’s the mission of this thing called the ecumenical movement? What is it we’re called to do? What are we going to put our energy in, or emphasis on? Where are resources going to go?”
Beyond discussion of issues, Myers said he is enthused about the fact that thousands of people from around the world and from different Christian traditions will be coming together under one roof, all in the spirit of unity and reconciliation. “It’s very exciting and hopeful, especially when we’re daily presented with stories of division and conflict in the world,” he said, adding that seeing people worship and make decisions together is “I’d like to think, a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven.”
The Anglican Church of Canada’s voting delegates, chosen by the Council of General Synod (CoGS), are the Rev. Canon John Steele, diocese of British Columbia, and Melissa Green, Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior. Nicholas Pang, diocese of Montreal, who was chosen by the WCC from a pool of delegates, will be a voting member representing the youth.
National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald will assume three roles: 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, which includes Canada and the United States.
At every assembly, delegates elect a president for their particular region, whose job is to act as liaison and ambassador between the WCC and member churches. The tradition in North America has been to arrive at a consensus, and leadership typically transfers back and forth between member churches in Canada and the U.S.
Barring any surprises, MacDonald will become the first WCC North American president from the Anglican Church of Canada. The Canadian Anglican church has been represented in other leadership positions: its former primate, Archbishop Ted Scott, served as moderator of the WCC’s Central Committee from 1975 to 1983; Canon John Gibaut is director of the WCC’s faith and order commission.