The Eighth Assembly of the World Council of Churches affirmed for me the importance of the body of Jesus Christ. It is only within the body of Christ, as it brings together all Christians of every culture and land, that we can catch a glimpse of what we are to be as the living community of faith. The witness of any and every Christian denomination is incomplete without the testimony, challenge and encouragement that comes from other Christian sisters and brothers as they experience faith in their own life context.
I went to the assembly expecting to have my ecumenical commitment strengthened, and it was. What I did not expect was to hear and see that in the complexity and multiplicity of the situations that the body of Christ is called to be in mission there are some fundamentals which do not change. Those fundamentals are prayer, ministering to people wherever they are, and placing one's faith in the transcendent power of God.
I remember very little about the prayers we prayed during the assembly worship services. I know that they touched me while we prayed together, prepared me for the days of meetings and decision making. At night they enabled me to set aside work and weariness for rest and renewal. These were blessed prayers, but the prayers that most affected me were the prayers that persons lifted up as the very prayers that had been sustenance for them in their struggles and vision bearers in their efforts to be faithful to God's calling in their lives.
At a commemoration of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, a brother from Chile spoke about the horror of the downfall of the Chilean President Salvador Allende, and the repression that followed. He himself had been detained and tortured. Family, friends and colleagues had also suffered, many of them had been murdered. He lauded the Declaration of Human Rights as a strong arm of justice and advocated for its continuance. As much as he appreciated the human rights efforts made in behalf of his country and his people, he stated that what had most sustained him were the prayers of persons from all over the world. They had provided for him a sense of care in the midst of the beatings by those who sought to destroy him, a measure of confidence in knowing that he was not alone, and an unwavering hope in the One who hears all prayers.
A woman came and assumed the vacant delegate seat next to me one afternoon. Her church had just been accepted as a new member of the World Council of Churches. During a recess I asked her about her church. Her enthusiasm and her reports of a young church experiencing phenomenal growth led me to ask her how the church had come to be. Her answer was simple. "We prayed and God gave us a vision of what we were to do."
Not all persons and churches at the assembly were experiencing the joy and growth that the sister from this new member church was experiencing. There were persons from declining churches, others from divided churches, and others who felt their church had lost its direction in ministry and mission. The divisions and tensions among member churches of the WCC were also quite evident. This was the stuff of conversations at the meal table, during recesses, and late into the night. Histories were shared, concerns were unpacked, ideas and strategies were considered. Sharing and struggling and thinking together helped, but in all the conversations that I was a part of, there always came a moment in which it became obvious that human explaining, planning and effort were not sufficient to renew spirits, overcome brokenness, or provide a clear vision for our mission together. Transformation, reconciliation and clarity of vision for witness and mission are possible only through the grace of God. We all committed to continue working for the wholeness of the body of Jesus Christ and for its witness. In every expression of commitment there was the primary commitment to pray with and for each other, that God would look down upon us, and guide us and fill us with divine grace for healing and faithful discipleship. …