World Council of Churches considers six names for top post

Published May 28, 2009

A committee seeking a new general secretary for the World Council of Churches has drawn up a short list of six people for the post, but in accordance with its procedures has not disclosed their names.

The current general secretary, Rev. Samuel Kobia, a Methodist from Kenya, announced in 2008 he would not seek another term. The WCC has said his successor will be named at the end of August, during a meeting of the church council’s main governing body, its central committee.A spokesperson for the WCC told Ecumenical News International (ENI), “The character of the search process has not changed. The search committee appointed by the central committee deals with all its aspects and WCC staff are not involved in the process.”According to sources linked to the Ecumenical Centre, where the WCC has its Geneva headquarters, six people are on a short list to lead the church grouping that now has 349 member churches – principally Anglican, Orthodox and Protestant – representing 560 million Christians worldwide. The names that have been mentioned are:

– Rev. Robert Anderson, a minister of the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland and chief executive of the Scottish Churches World Exchange;

– Rev. Daryl Balia, a South African Methodist who is international director of Edinburgh 2010, an event to mark the centenary of the World Mission Conference that took place in Edinburgh, Scotland, seen as marking the start of the 20th century movement for church unity;

– Rev. Fernando Enns, a Mennonite theologian who is director of the Institute for Peace Church Theology at Hamburg University, and who was born in Curitiba in Brazil;

–  Canon Kenneth Kearon, an Irish Anglican who has been secretary general of the Anglican Communion since 2005;

– Rev. Seong Won Park, a Korean theologian and former secretary for co-operation and witness of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches;

 – Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, the general secretary of the (Lutheran) Church of Norway’s council on foreign and ecumenical relations.

One of the members of the search committee, Rev. Gregor Henderson of the Uniting Church in Australia, had stepped down from the committee and was believed to have been a candidate for the post, but is not on the short list.
Another of the original candidates not on the short-list of candidates is Rev. Heikki Huttunen, the general secretary of the Finnish Ecumenical Council. “I was a candidate, but never made it to the shortlist,” he told ENI.

The WCC has never had an Orthodox church general secretary.

The WCC, which held its first general assembly in 1948 in Amsterdam, has never had a woman at its helm, although it seeks to ensure that its governing bodies have a percentage of female representatives. No women are among those speculated to have been general secretary candidates.

A number of sources said that Mr. Park was thought to be a frontrunner candidate and according to a statement on the Web site the Presbyterian Church of Korea has nominated the cleric, to lead the church grouping.

The Web site also includes links to articles and statements about Park, and to a YouTube video entitled, “An Ecumenical Agenda”, portraying Park calling for an alternative to, “the dominant model of the world economy.”

The WCC spokesperson told ENI, “Since we in WCC communications do not know who the short-listed candidates are, we therefore are not aware of any public campaigning and we do not comment on rumours.”

All short-listed candidates for the position are expected to have the backing of their own churches.

A Methodist from Kenya, Mr. Kobia was elected in 2003 to lead the WCC. He cited “personal reasons” at the WCC central committee meeting in February 2008 for his decision to step down. At around the time of that meeting a controversy arose about Mr. Kobia obtaining a doctoral degree from a non-accredited institution in the United States. The WCC leader said the news about the institution, Fairfax University in Louisiana, had come as a shock to him.

There also was criticism from a German church leader that the WCC was failing to make its presence felt sufficiently in the world and that Kobia had an extensive and expensive travel schedule.

The governing body agreed to appoint an acting general secretary from January 2009, pending the election of a new general secretary. However, in September 2008, another WCC governing body, the executive committee, which reports to the central committee, agreed to extend Kobia’s contract until his successor takes office.

The moderator of the WCC’s search committee, Agnes Abuom, an Anglican who is a Kenyan development consultant, confirmed in correspondence with ENI, “All matters pertaining to the search committee are dealt with by the committee and not staff.”


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