Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

Ecumenical Chronicle: An Interview with Walter Altmann

Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

Ecumenical Chronicle: An Interview with Walter Altmann

Article excerpt

The Rev. Dr Walter Altmann of Brazil served as moderator of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC) from the close of its 9th Assembly at Porto Alegre, Brazil, in February 2006 until the end of the 10th Assembly at Busan, Korea, in November 2013. Following his term as moderator, he was interviewed in Portuguese by WCC communication staff member Marcelo Schneider. In these pages, Schneider sums up their interview in English.

Walter Altmann, a pastor and theologian from Porto Alegre, Brazil, served as WCC moderator from 2006 to 2013, and from 2002 to 2010 also served as president of the Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil. Looking back over his work as moderator of both the WCC Central Committee and Executive Committee, he described the journey as "an expressive example of the full sense of being a global faith community."

The Ecumenical Vocation

His election at a WCC assembly in his home town came as a "surprise" and a "challenge." It presented an opportunity to discover a new dimension of his calling. "In the Christian faith," he observed, "we understand positions in the church as instruments of service to the people of God, and I have always understood my ministry in the church in that sense, in whatever position I found myself."

Altmann continued, "I have tried through the years to do my best with the gifts God has given me, and I have had the fine experience of receiving much support from brothers and sisters in all parts of the world. It is in this way that the world church expands our witness, strengthening the community of faith and thus making our witness more credible. It is rewarding in personal terms, even as we recognize that this wonderful project in which we engage is finally a project of God, using our always so-limited capacities."

Highlights of the Work

While admitting that recent years have brought difficult challenges for the churches and their councils, especially in terms of financial restrictions leading to reductions in budget and paid staff, Altmann was eager to affirm and show gratitude for all that has been accomplished over the past decade. As an example, he cited inter-church agreements that "harvest the work of what was done in previous years, in terms of the release of consensual documents that prove important for the life of the WCC, its member churches, and other ecumenical partners."

He gave as examples The Church: Towards a Common Vision, by the Faith

and Order Commission, the document on mission and evangelism, Together Towards Life, Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes, and also the document Economy of Life, Justice and Peace for all: A Call to Action. Each of these is a significant statement that will stand as a landmark along the way that the ecumenical movement has travelled."

Altmann stresses the impact of the WCC's public witness in calling for a new financial and economic architecture (the "Sao Paulo Statement"), efforts related to seeking peace in Syria, campaigns for overcoming violence, and an advocacy campaign for the new international arms treaty, as well as the ongoing repatriation of investigative documents gathered into the WCC archives during, for example, the abuses by the Brazilian military regime and then kept for decades until a newly constituted government and newly empowered court system were in place.

"These are examples of public witness and also of the reach of the WCC's prophetic voice," said Altmann.

The Dynamics of Christianity from a Latin American Perspective

In addition to his national and global roles in the ecumenical movement, Altmann served from 1995 to 2001 as president of the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI). In his final year as WCC moderator, he witnessed the election of the first pope from his native continent.

"We must acknowledge how extremely meaningful it is," Altmann asserts, "that the new pope of the Roman Catholic Church is none other than Cardinal Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Argentina. …

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