At the World Council of Churches assembly in Korea today, we spent more time in a “business plenary”, “ecumenical conversations” and then a “theme plenary” as well as in regional groups. (See an explanation of the programme here>>)
Prior to these, I had the opportunity to meet privately with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi of Burundi with the head of UNAIDS, Mr Michel Sidibé.
We spoke of the need to address as an Anglican Communion some of the systemic issues that still cause new HIV infections when in general the rate is dropping. Inequality has robbed many of a voice in calling for access to treatment and the church is urged to speak up urgently on this. The concern is that epicentre of this crisis has shifted into stable heterosexual relationships and this is of great concern, says Mr Sidibé. We three archbishops agreed to collaborate with UNAIDS, particularly around the forthcoming 16 days of activism to end gender-based violence and on AIDS Day. We noted the growing marginalization of some groups, especially in homophobic countries, and how this may indirectly spread infection as people hide both their sexuality and their HIV status.
In the theme plenary, we listened to the church address its impact or lack thereof in the mission field. We heard of the isolation and pain of the Coptic Christians in Alexandria and of the need to come alongside them in this difficult time.
In our ecumenical plenary, I chose the the justice and peace session and was again struck by the notion of “just peace” and the reminder that "the strength of the powerful depends on the obedience and compliance of its citizens..." Citizens do have the capacity to use non-violent means to change a violent order, to give voice to the voiceless and accomplish reconciliation. The session enabled us to explore this notion of just peace in a little more depth.
Jape Heath, a priest from our province now working in Sweden, who is both HIV positive and in a same-sex relationship, is open these issues and shared with the Archbishop of Canterbury and me the work of INERELA+ – an organisation now comprising thousands of immuno-compromised religious leaders who are ready to share their redemptive stories on living with the HI Virus.
We ended with an Africa group regional meeting, sharing issues as they affected the continent and recommending candidates for election to the Central Committee of the WCC. I was so proud of how our continent, without compromising the process, performed in reflecting a gender balance in nominations. Pray for the candidates as nominations close.
Let me end with what we started with after morning prayer. We had Chung Hongwon, prime minister of South Korea address us and bring greetings. He spoke passionately and demonstrated the importance of church-state relations. Please pray for the ecumenical witness in our country. Today at the regional meeting, I was able to see colleagues from our country's ecumenical bodies and could at least "praat”, “khuluma” and “buwa” our country's languages. There are of course some who, as is customary at these gatherings, are picketing us, putting pamphlets in our faces because they like neither the conference theme nor the WCC. Pray for us all.
PHOTO: Dr Wedad Abbas Tawfik from Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria speaking at the WCC assembly in Busan.