Global churches meeting 'underlines huge diversity of Christians'

(Photo: Ecumenical News / Trevor Grundy)Outgoing World Council of Churches president for Europe, Dame Mary Tanner, speaks to Ecumenical News on November 7, 2013

BUSAN, South Korea – After 11 days celebrating the diversity of Christianity the 10thWorld Council of Churches Assembly drew to a close Friday after passing a number of public issues statements followed by prayers.

New presidents have been elected to serve the church grouping that represents some 560 million Christians globally from mainly, Anglican, Orthodox and Protestant churches and some are bowing out after years of service.

On the eve of the assembly's closure, the outgoing President of the WCC for Europe, Dame Mary Tanner, told Ecumenical News, "It has been such an amazing gathering of Christians from every part of the world.

"We have experienced the breadth and the depth of Christianity and heard stories about people live in broken societies, from places where there is war.

"We have worshipped and worked together and here we have received a feeling of the huge diversity of the Christian Church."

Tanner was elected to the post at the 9th WCC Assembly held in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2006 serving until November 8.

She will be replaced from that date as Europe President by Rev. Anders Wejryd who is currently the Archbishop of Uppsala and head of the (Lutheran) Church of Sweden.

Between then and now, the world has witnessed a financial crisis similar to the Wall Street crash of 1929, a shifting religious landscape and continuing threats to the environment.

An Anglican in the Church of England, Tanner has served on the WCC's key Faith and Order Committee since 1974 and was its moderator from 1991 to 1998.

Tanner said that during her time as WCC President for Europe she had traveled widely.

"In Greece I was in Athens when churches there were handing out food to the poor and needy.

"I was there to represent the WCC and saw members of the Greek Orthodox Church standing side by side with Anglicans and Pentecostals.

"And they not only fed Greeks but also immigrants to that country. It showed me once again that when under extreme pressure and conditions of brokenness, Christians come together to witness together."

She noted, "I had a wonderful time in Israel acting as a moderator to a group of from around the world who went to Bethlehem to meet and listen to a group of Palestinian women, all of them Christians, talking about their lives, their fears and their hopes for the future.

"These women agreed that there can be no military solution to their problems and no immediate creation of a two state solution They spoke about how they intended to live and how they are, despite their problems, living with hope, living with faith and love.

"No military solution is acceptable to them."

Her job over the last seven years had brought her into close contact with the Geneva- based Conference of European Churches.

She said that it is essential that the WCC concentrates on its main task which is to bring Christian churches together in visible unity, one Eucharistic fellowship, a recognized ministry.

Tanner said she greatly admires the work being done by members of the Global Christian Forum which plays a complementary but different role from the WCC bringing together a most diverse group of Christians.

Asked about reports saying the Anglican Church in the UK was in decline she replied, "It's a difficult question to answer. If you're talking numerically well then yes. Certainly there are fewer Anglicans in churches on Sunday.

"But there are many more people in cathedrals and in England some of the Pentecostal churches and the evangelical churches are booming.

"I was walking along a street in London recently and noticed that some of the empty shops are being turned into Christian communities by newcomers to Britain.

"Sadly, as Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said we Anglicans failed to welcome these people in the 1960s. We didn't open our doors to them. So in many ways the ecclesiastical map is changing in England."

Tanner has been involved in various ecumenical conversations on behalf of the WCC, including the Anglican-Roman Catholic conversation.

From 1982 to 1998 she was active within the Church of England body which became the Council for Christian Unity.

"It has been a splendid and wonderful Tenth Assembly," she said.

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