The PC(USA)’s top ecumenist touches on the highlights of the World Council of Churches’ 11th Assembly

Among the most meaningful in Dr. Dianna Wright’s list is a service recognizing the life and work of her legendary predecessor, the Rev. Robina Winbush

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Dr. Dianna Wright

LOUISVILLE — Amidst the wrap-up of the 11th Assembly of the World Council of Churches Thursday, Dr. Dianna Wright took the time to reflect on the gathering in Karlsruhe, Germany, of 352 member churches.

Wright, the director of ecumenical relations in the Office of the General Assembly, said that among the most meaningful events at the Assembly was the recognition of the life and work of her predecessor, the Rev. Robina Winbush, who died in 2019. The Pan African Women Empowerment Network led the time of remembrance for Winbush, whom Wright noted was involved in the creation of the WCC’s 9th Assembly held in 1998 in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Wright also listed worship, “powerful voices” speaking during plenary and “youth working as stewards yet insisting that they be heard” as other significant occurrences during the Assembly.

Participants in the 11th Assembly, which began Aug. 31 and includes three delegates (Wright, the Rev. Amantha Barbee and the Rev. Dr. Neal Presa) from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), “are anxious to get their issues before the Assembly,” Wright noted in an email. When they’re not meeting formally, attendees are enjoying “great fellowship … around coffee, the table and in Brunnens (workshops),” Wright said.

The challenges in holding such a large and diverse gathering are of course enormous. Wright cited three common in large events: getting through a packed agenda, responding to concerns about inclusion, and “the confusing process” itself for getting business done. In addition, the WCC Central Committee was “challenged to view issues that could have been inclusive of similar needs in other places around the world. Much focus was on Europe to the neglect of the same violence happening in every region of the WCC,” Wright said. “I hope the moderator (Dr. Agnes Abuom of Kenya) is correct in that the Central Committee can still discern how we respond and encourage us to work on behalf of suffering people in places like Lebanon, Myanmar, South America, South Sudan, etc.”

Asked to name the most powerful moments during the Assembly, Wright identified “the insistence of the young people that the WCC hears their voices and includes them in the life and witness of the WCC and the Assembly.” In addition, Wright affirmed that “the solutions to our issues are in our Indigenous communities.”

Finally, in response to being asked ways to bring back what delegates have learned and experienced to the ecumenical work of the Office of the General Assembly, Wright had a three-part answer:

  • “Discern the ways we reach youth as we help the church respond to the referrals from [the 225th] General Assembly and do our book study, ‘Grassroots Ecumenism.’”
  • Join “the WCC Central Committee and communities around the world to give the climate emergency the priority attention that a crisis of such unprecedented and all-encompassing dimensions deserves,” Wright said. The work will be done in both “word and deed” by amplifying “our efforts to demand the necessary action by our church and governments within the necessary timeframe to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C. and to meet historic responsibilities to poorer, more vulnerable nations and communities.”
  • “Review the decisions and recommendations” so “we can encourage the agencies of the church to review and include” them in their work.

On Wednesday, the Rev. Dr. Neal Presa, Moderator of the 220th General Assembly (2012), was elected among the 150 members of the WCC’s Central Committee. Presa is Associate Director of Doctoral Studies and Visiting Associate Professor of Preaching at New Brunswick Theological Seminary in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

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