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Continuing WCC influence
Anglicans elected to Central Committee and regional presidency


Five people represented the Episcopal Church at the World Assembly of the World Council of  Churches in Porto Alegre, Brazil. They were, from left, the Rev. Cynthia Black; Carmen Brooks; Bishop Christopher Epting, the presiding bishop’s deputy for ecumenical and interfaith relations; Sarah Harte, who was elected to the WCC’s Central Committee; and the Rev. Kwasi Thornell.  
Anglicans will have a significant role in the World Council of Churches over the next seven years, through representation on the Central Committee and by the election of Mary Tanner, a member of the Church of England, as one of eight regional presidents.

The presidents serve as the public voice and face of the WCC between General Assemblies, as well as being ex officio members of the WCC Central Committee. Tanner, who has been involved in various ecumenical conversations on behalf of the Anglican Communion, including the Anglican-Roman Catholic conversation, was elected president for the European region.

Sarah Harte of Brooklyn, N.Y., was one of 15 Anglicans and Episcopalians elected to the 150-member Central Committee. Others came from Kenya; Nigeria; South Africa; Uganda; West Africa; Burundi; the Province of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia; Australia; Japan; the West Indies; Wales; England; Spain; Canada; and the United States.

This number includes eight women and seven men, seven laity and eight clergy, and three youth members.


Urging greater Christian unity
WCC marches against violence, decries poverty in Brazil assembly

The World Council of Churches ended its once-every-seven-years assembly with calls to reach out to Roman Catholic, Pentecostal and Evangelical churches that do not belong to the Geneva-based grouping.

“The quest for the visible unity of the church remains at the heart of the WCC,” stated a policy document presented on the last day of the February 10-day assembly in Brazil. “Our ultimate vision is that we will achieve, by God’s grace, the visible unity of Christ’s Church and will be able to welcome one another at the Lord’s table, to reconcile our ministries and to be committed together to the reconciliation of the world.” 

It was the first assembly in Latin America for the WCC, whose more than 340 members are drawn predominantly from Protestant, Anglican and Christian Orthodox traditions. 

The gathering urged an easing of the region’s debt burden, describing it as “unjust, illegitimate and immoral” and noting that, according to UN statistics, 40 percent of Latin Americans live in poverty. 

Participants said they would look to the WCC to articulate the voice of the global South in coming debates about globalization and economic injustice.  Some speakers noted that globalization was having an impact not only on economic relations, but also in the WCC’s task of promoting Christian unity.

Roman Catholic cooperation

It was the first meeting of the WCC’s highest decision-making body since the election in 2005 of Pope Benedict XVI.  The Roman Catholic Church does not belong to the WCC, but it cooperates with the church council in many areas.

In a message to the assembly, Pope Benedict spoke of the need for a “solid partnership” with the WCC. Some participants recalled that, after his election as pontiff, the pope had spoken of the need for “concrete steps” to achieve Christian unity.

These could include churches celebrating Easter on the same date and recognizing each other’s baptisms, said Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

In days leading to the assembly, WCC leaders had stressed the importance of interfaith dialogue, a challenge that was underlined by the controversy over cartoons caricaturing the Prophet Muhammad that generated violent, worldwide protests. The assembly deplored publication of the cartoons as well as violent demonstrations. It called on WCC members to join in nonviolent protests with those experiencing attacks on their religion.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams challenged the assembly to recognize the plight and courage of small Christian communities in places such as the Middle East and Pakistan. 

“This is not the climate of ‘dialogue’ as it happens in the West or in the comfortable setting of international conferences; it is the painful making and remaking of trust in a deeply unsafe and complex environment,” noted Williams.

The WCC gathering saw the midpoint of the WCC’s Decade to Overcome Violence initiative, which was marked by a thousand-strong march through the streets of Porto Alegre led by Nobel Peace Prize laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Adolfo Perez Esquivel.

“You know, they marched in Berlin, and the Berlin Wall fell,” Tutu told the crowd. “They marched in South Africa, and apartheid fell. Now we march in Porto Alegre, and violence will end.”