A final flurry

The WCC’s 10th Assembly ended with a flurry of last-minute business, expressions of thanks to all who made it happen–particularly Korean host churches and volunteers who supported the event so generously and the WCC leadership and staff–and goodbyes.

A worship service closed the meeting, with a priest from South Africa giving the message. Interestingly, after 10 days of working on Christian unity, celebrating each other, getting to know each other, learning more about each others’ traditions, praying and singing together, he chose to point out divisions and expressions of hurt or pain that either made or marred the assembly.

I say “made or marred” because the divisions and hurts I saw at the WCC Assembly could be read in at least two ways: as disappointing and destructive of unity, or by virtue of their being able to be voiced openly, as evidence of a commitment to the whole body of Christ.

The setting of the assembly in a divided Korean Peninsula, and the announcement that Christians in North Korea were invited but felt they could not send representatives.

Diversity on sexuality, and speakers who seemed to target one group or another with sometimes hurtful language.

Differences on conscientious objection, with peace churches having to register a dissenting opinion in support of COs.

Indigenous people struggling for recognition, with persistence and tears.

Orthodox in the Middle East and others from the hot spots like northern Nigeria, pleading for ecumenical help for persecuted Christians–with little obvious reactions from the WCC.

Protestors from Korean churches not part of the WCC, who were outside the assembly each day with bullhorns and placards objecting to its being held in their country.

Two protestors ran onto the stage during the closing worship service and were tackled and carried out by security, in a very jarring moment. Stan Noffsinger, our general secretary who has been elected to the WCC Central Committee, let me know WCC leaders did not want to press charges but were told by local authorities the matter was not theirs to decide. I share the concern for how the protestors will be dealt with.

“When we listen to each other’s pain, the divisions between ‘us’ and ‘them’ disappear, and we all become ‘us,’” the preacher reminded the assembly. “Stronger than evil and death are the forces of love, peacefulness, and compassion.”

The benediction and blessing he gave: “May God bless you with enough foolishness so that you truly believe you can make a difference in this world.” Amen.

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