Kobia invites 9th Assembly to "the Feast of Life"
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A festa da vida - a Portuguese phrase meaning "the feast of life" - was the key-note on Wednesday in general secretary Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia's report to the 9th Assembly of the World Council of Churches. "The festa da vida", Kobia told participants in an afternoon plenary session of the Assembly, is "an invitation to reach out to those we know and to those whom we don't yet know".
Kobia depicted the Assembly as an occasion to encourage dialogue among members of the Council, but also between member churches and Roman Catholics, Pentecostals, Evangelicals and representatives of other faiths.
For Kobia, a Methodist from Kenya who became general secretary in January 2004, it was the first opportunity to deliver a progress report to a WCC Assembly. Assemblies have taken place every six to eight years since the First Assembly at Amsterdam in 1948. Kobia is the sixth general secretary in the council's 58-year history.
He described his vision for an ecumenical movement of churches and other Christian organizations that is not limited to the membership of the WCC. He spoke of "the question of faith and the presence of Christ in the 'other'" as "the central question of our time". The general secretary described his vision of "an ecumenical movement that is grounded in spirituality, takes ecumenical formation and youth seriously, dares to work for transformative justice, puts relationships at the centre - and takes risks to develop new and creative ways of working".
The concept of transformation is central to the Assembly and its thematic prayer, "God, in your grace, transform the world." Kobia spoke of the transformation of spiritual life through common prayer and action, and through the style of consensus decision-making that is replacing parliamentary procedure at this Assembly. He cautioned, "We need to approach consensus these next ten days not as a technique to help us make decisions, but as a process of spiritual discernment."
Kobia also called on church leaders to commit themselves to the education and mentoring of youth. "Young people need opportunities to experience the joy of working and praying with others from different traditions and contexts," he said, "and we need to learn from the innovative and dynamic models of ecumenical relationships that youth can teach us."
His report touched on a number of areas in which churches are taking action together, including responses to globalized violence, poverty and debt, HIV and AIDS, and instability in Africa. "Climate change", Kobia continued, "is arguably the most severe threat confronting humanity today. This is not an issue for the future: severe consequences are already being experienced by millions of people." He argued that the Assembly "must call on all Christian churches to speak to the world with one voice on addressing the threat of climate change".
Fear and anxiety within churches may be overcome, Kobia said, through an improved "quality of relationships" among Christian bodies and across the world's religions, encouraging "a common witness" to the world. He appealed for "reconfiguration" of the ecumenical movement and religious institutions to "put relationships at the centre".
Kobia challenged the churches to explore creative means of communication and action, particularly in the areas of faith and spirituality, ecumenical formation, transformative justice and becoming a moral voice to the world. As one possibility for creative reconfiguration, Kobia renewed the WCC's invitation to the Lutheran World Federation and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, as well as any other world communion of churches, to join in planning a common Assembly within the next decade.