Studium Theologicum Salesianum
Salesian Pontifical University : Faculty of Theology - Jerusalem Campus
  World Council of Churches’ General Secretary at STS  

12 February 2016 – STS Jerusalem
By Vladimir Plasek, SDB

Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches delivered a Conference to the STS community in Jerusalem.

Dominic Kodwani, M.Afr. a student from Malawi, of the 2nd year of Theology, introduced the lecture about the World Council of Churches (WCC). It is the fellowship of Churches, which represents over 500 million Christians around the world with the intention of seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service. When the WCC came into being at the First Assembly in 1948, there were 147 member churches. At the end of 2013, the membership stood at 345 churches including most of the world's Orthodox churches, scores of Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist and Reformed churches, as well as many United and Independent churches. (cf. The WCC holds its assemblies every six to eight years. The First Assembly took place in Amsterdam, Netherlands, in 1948, and the 10th Assembly was convened at Busan, Republic of Korea, in 2013.

Rev. Dr. William Russell, M.Afr. SThD, Professor and Academic Council member of the STS, introduced the guests. The main speaker, Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, an ordained pastor in the Church of Norway, has been the General Secretary of WCC from January 2010. He was the General Secretary of the Church of Norway Council on Ecumenical and International Relations throughout the years 2002-2009. Mr. Peter Kenny, a journalist and communications consultant for the WCC also participated.

Dr. Tveit began his lecture by introducing the Jerusalem Inter-Church Centre (JIC), which facilitates, contacts, shares information and deliberation among Churches in Jerusalem, the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC), WCC and specialized ministries with long involvement in the region. He set the basic question for the activities in this region: “How can we focus more on our mission by coming to the places connected to the life of Jesus Christ?” Experiencing the Palestinian war in 1948, which showed us how people can be torn apart, we are warned how churches can be driven apart, therefore: “We are committed to stay together”, said Dr. Tveit. We can offer the alternative message and link another dimension of the universal church. One of the main aims of establishing the WCC was to look for a new expression of the unity of the church. The Bishop from Oslo set the headline of the assembly “God unites, the enemy divides”. It was confirmed that this fellowship is not the creation of a new church. Although the Catholic Church is not a member of this fellowship, it participates through many local committees and has many active participants from the Catholic Church, like Rev. Fr. Frans Bowen, M.Afr.

The last General Assembly in 2013 decided not only to stay together but to move together. Dr. Tveit made a parallel with the message of the Pope Francis when he visited Cuba: “To be together on pilgrimage of justice and peace”, and suggested for all to be open- minded, to move with the reality of the world and not to stay closed to ourselves. In this “moving”, the WCC answers the world’s challenge to be united together, in the sense not waiting until the solution will come from elsewhere. We, as Christians, are moving, and those who want to move with us are welcomed. One of the challenges is interfaith dialogue with those coming from mono-religious context, which is not a problem, but even a need for those who are coming from inter-religious context, while they “have to” live together with people from other religions.

Dr. Tveit depicted the example of the development of the Church of Norway. Until 1952, the population of Norway was 95% Lutheran and was prohibited by law to allow other religions to enter in the country. There was an attempt to create a fellowship with the German churches and the Church of England and in 1970’s there were many similar attempts to create a fellowship from the side of reformed churches, however, the theological understanding of unity was missing. Dr. Tveit was part of the process of uniting with Reformed church and the Pentecostal church.

Already in 1845, when Norway was the poorest country in Europe, under the colonization of Sweden, it sent its first missionaries to South Africa. The blessing of this missionary movement was openness to other religions, because that was how it was in the missions. Rev. Tveit wrote to all Muslim communities in Norway to come together to start the dialogue. One of the themes was how as church to be a partner for Muslim immigrants, how the voice of church is called to participate in schools, how to deal with the service in the army and other matters. They set also controversial questions, like the conversion of faith. Here both sides agreed not to put any effort for conversion of the other side in order to respect each other. The issue of the cartoon of prophet Mohamed shown as a terrorist was dealt by both sides and they claimed: there is freedom of the press, but this right has to be carried with respect to others, and finally all kind of violence of controversy was condemned. The critical constructive way of relating with the Muslim communities was a good example for the future dialogue among the churches. It showed that there is not isolated conflict in the world, now stressed much more in the new era of internet that followed.

Today there is a fear from the arrival of migrants to Europe and the closing of boundaries to protect Christian values. The opposite opinion is to take care of them. We have to admit, that the world is changing, almost 1/5 of the population are migrants. The churches, as a part of the society, should contribute to this challenge showing their witness and avoiding exclusivity, but on the contrary they should find out how to shape the church with this new experience. We cannot blame history for what is happening today, but take the responsibility for the present challenges. WCC was criticized by evangelical churches 30 years ago, for being too political. Now it is admired for its work and help in social issues. ‘Laudato Si’ of Pope Francis, has encouraged all to take care of the present world, which has been for many years, the line of many activities of WCC.

Dr. Tveit concluded his speech by describing a picture that he took from the church near the Chamonix, which depicted St. Francis and was made from the different colours into one mosaic. When he in the evening of the same day watched on TV the election of the new pope and his name was “Francis”, he understood that “one mosaic made from different parts” could be a direction in which we have to move.

Fr. Biju Michael, the Principal, thanked Dr. Tveit and all participants. He concluded with the words of Jesus in the Scripture: “I pray that all be one”.

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