Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

Celebrating Women, Addressing the Wounds: Commemorating the Culmination of the Ecumenical Decade of the Churches in Solidarity with Women

Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

Celebrating Women, Addressing the Wounds: Commemorating the Culmination of the Ecumenical Decade of the Churches in Solidarity with Women

Article excerpt

Harare to Kingston and Back Again...

Gail Allen

Dr Gail Allan is Coordinator, Ecumenical, Interchurch, and Intetfaith Relations for The United Church of Canada, and a member of the Gender Advisory Group of the World Council of Churches.

As I begin, let me contextualize briefly with the reminder that there has never been a time when the role of women in church and society has not been a concern of the World Council of Churches (WCC). From the global survey of women leaders that preceded the 1st Assembly in Amsterdam to the 1985 central committee report on the churches' general lack of attention to the UN Decade for Women, which helped to precipitate the Ecumenical Decade of the Churches in Solidarity with Women, the struggle not only to hear but to be shaped by women's experiences of church and world has been a constant thread woven through WCC life and work. Nor have those committed to what we now identity as gender justice limited their vision to life and work in the classic ecumenical dichotomy. As early as 1952, Willem Visser't Hooft, first general secretary of the WCC, challenged, "The real question is whether the Churches have really faced up to the basic tenets of their own faith concerning the relationships of men and women in the fellowships of the Church of Christ." (1) These prophetic words named what we continue to assert 70 years later: the exclusion, subordination, oppression, and violence experienced by women in society and church is a theological issue.

Thus, I would suggest that the call for a Decade in Solidarity with Women was rooted at least in part in the recognition that without attention to the issues--theological and societal--maintaining women's subordination, the vision of a just community of women and men, proclaimed at the WCC consultation in Sheffield in 1981, had no chance of flourishing. The Decade brought to the fore issues of participation, economic justice, violence, and racism and xenophobia in international, national, and, 1 think most powerfully, local gatherings where women and some men named and claimed their experiences, their struggles, and their visions for transformation in relation to the aims of the Decade.

And so, after ten years of theological reflection, worship, ecumenical encounter, global exchange, and community action, we gathered in Harare in 1998 before the WCC assembly for a festival to conclude the Decade. Twelve hundred women and men from 116 countries gathered to share our stories and to discern directions for the future. We insisted that if it had indeed been primarily a decade of women in solidarity with women, this was something not entirely to be regretted. Declaring that "your story is my story, your story is our story," we acknowledged the power in community and in voices lifted together to speak to our churches, councils, and theological institutions. We shared through tears the stories of violence in women's lives in every corner of our communities and our churches around the globe. And in some moments, we also found courage to admit the cracks in our solidarity--the stories resisted or not heard--complicity in racism, our struggles to speak of sexuality, the oppressions of heterosexism. But we moved from the festival to the assembly with some clear and strong visions and commitments, offered in the form of a letter--in the spirit of the "living letters" that connected our stories through much of the Decade. (2)

These included "a vision of a world of Economic Justice, where poverty cannot be tolerated or justified, where the peoples of the south and east will flourish with the peoples of the north and west, where a balance of power and wealth is restored, and where women and children no longer endure enforced and debilitating labour." Festival participants also called for "the elimination of all violence in various forms (sexual, religious, structural, physical, spiritual, military), and the Culture of Violence, especially as they affect the life and dignity of women. …

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