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WCC fellowship the place to deal with the challenges of change
Shared concern about the impact of global warming and the transportation of hazardous nuclear materials through the Pacific region was the focus of a discussion between the newly reelected prime minister of Samoa, Tuilaepa Sailele, and World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser.
The 20 March discussion took place during an historic first visit (19-23 March) by a WCC general secretary to Samoa and American Samoa. Heading a four-person WCC delegation, Raiser met with church leaders and heads of government in both countries.
Later, in a briefing by the president of the Methodist Church in Samoa, Rev. Faatoese Auvaa, the WCC delegation heard that Samoa's churches' four main concerns are corruption at high levels of government, church and government efforts to improve education, the effects of past nuclear testing, and the arrival of new religious movements in the region.
Asked for his key message to leaders in the two island states, Raiser stated: "We can no longer close our eyes to changes taking place in the transition to the 21st century. Reference to traditions alone will not help deal with these challenges. The fellowship of the WCC is the place where the churches in the two Samoas can build on the experience of others who have had to deal with similar situations. They do not have to deal with these challenges alone."
Other talks with church leaders in both countries centred on the need to develop new ecumenical leadership. The delegation visited the Malua and Puila theological colleges in Samoa and the Kanana Fou theological seminary in American Samoa.
Raiser called on the WCC and its member churches "to do all we can to contribute to training future leadership in an ecumenical spirit. The generation of those who shaped the ecumenical movement in the Pacific is aging. The task of leadership development has been identified. Here the WCC needs to recognise a responsibility. Therefore, the area of active cooperation must now be supplemented by the educational dimension for both theological students and lay people. A good beginning has been made with the formation of a network for lay leadership in the Pacific."
Asked by students at Malua College in Samoa about the role of the WCC in the 21st century, Raiser suggested that, in the face of globalisation, "the WCC can be an instrument for churches to lobby on the world stage". He pointed to increasing contact among people from different faith groups, and said that such contacts require a fundamental rethinking of mission activities so that Christians can learn what it means to be part of a missionary church while at the same time respecting other faith traditions.
Samoan women prepared the liturgy of the World Day of Prayer, celebrated on Friday, 2 March this year in gatherings around the world. Meeting with leaders of the Congregational Christian Church in Samoa, the WCC delegation expressed its appreciation for this important contribution to the worldwide ecumenical movement.
On its arrival in American Samoa on 21 March, the WCC delegation was greeted at the airport by the governor, Tauese Pita Sunia, who carries additional responsibilities as chairman of the National Council of Churches of American Samoa (NCCAS) and of the Congregational Christian Church in American Samoa.
Raiser also enjoyed a cordial, informal meeting with the Catholic Bishop Witzel in American Samoa.
The delegation will continue its two-week trip in the Pacific region with visits to WCC member churches in the Cook Islands (24-27 March) and in Tahiti (28 and 29 March).
Members of the delegation:
The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 337, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.