Last week my fellow volunteers and I had a very new and exciting experience. We had the opportunity to attend several days of the World Council of Churches, or WCC’s, tenth global assembly in Busan, South Korea. The WCC is an organization that was formed after World War II for church leaders from around the world to gather together, and talk about unity and ecumenism. The WCC currently boasts 345 member denominations from all over the world. The theme of this year’s assembly is “God of life, lead us to justice and peace.”
Every day of the assembly, several thousand church leaders, pastors, theologians, teachers, and missionaries worshiped and studied the Bible together, and participated in seminars and ecumenical discussions. My head is still swimming with all of the observations and insights I made there. I have a lot of new questions to consider. For example, what are the purpose and advantages of ecumenical work? Can there really be true unity in the church with all of the obvious divisions among the denominations and traditions? I’ll be trying to unpack these questions in the time ahead of me, but for now I can give some highlights of my WCC experience.
The most powerful moment of the event was the opening worship and prayer service on the first day of the assembly. In an enormous room, the assembly participants gathered to sing hymns, pray, and hear the Word preached. It was a beautiful and deeply moving moment to worship the one Lord with 4,000 people from every corner of the globe. No matter how much anyone differed from each other in the room, Christ’s power to unite people despite their differences shone through in our worship. The moment was almost a taste of heaven. It really demonstrated the beauty of John’s vision in Revelation 7:9-10: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”
After this powerful expression of the church universal, I moved into another large room, which in some ways was a testament of the church’s diversity. Lots of booths were set up, most occupied with a Christian organization that fought for some sort of cause, often for a kind of restorative justice. My first thought on this room is that it really showed the amount of suffering and sin in the world today all over the world. Secondly, it showed that the Holy Spirit is very present in the world, moving Christians to make the world a better place and to be the light of the world.
Every day there was also a Bible study, which was always illuminating. For each study, I was in a discussion group with church leaders from all over the earth. For example, one day I studied together with a bishop from England, a bishop from Egypt, a bishop from the Middle East, and a pastor from the Caribbean. It was fascinating and illuminating to hear diverse applications of the witness of Scripture, and to hear about what life as a Christian is like in so many diverse places in the world.
I am still processing these and many more experiences I had at the assembly. When I have a deeper understanding of the work of the WCC and what it calls the “ecumenical movement,” I hope to have more insight into how it applies to my work here in South Korea.