The WCC central committee on 31 August chose Busan as the venue for the 10th Assembly in 2013, and the host region is eager to welcome the event.
“It is a really great joy to be able to invite the WCC Assembly to Korea,” said Rev. Dr Jong-wha Park, chair of the international committee of the National Council of Churches in South Korea. “You can experience there how a wide ecumenism may be possible.”
He also expressed hope that the WCC’s presence could “contribute greatly toward peaceful reconciliation and reunification” for the divided peninsula of Korea.
The assembly will take place at the state-of-the-art BEXCO exhibition and convention centre, which has previously hosted the final draw for the 2002 FIFA World Cup and was the main venue for the 2005 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) economic leaders’ meeting. Its main exhibition hall is three times the size of a soccer field, according to publicity materials.
An expanded space?
Following a call from the World Council of Churches 9th Assembly in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2006 for an “expanded space” at future assemblies, the WCC central committee has been discussing the “nature and style” of the next assembly. The central issue is whether and how to offer participation for other Christian world communions and ecumenical partners at the WCC’s largest event.
An Assembly Discernment Committee was established in February 2008 under the leadership of Metropolitan Gennadios of Sassima, vice-moderator of the central committee. In a report to central committee in Geneva on 27 August, the discernment committee brought 10 recommendations, including a call that the next assembly should be “open and more inviting to increase participation and interaction with the wider ecumenical movement” and should “focus on relationships”, both among member churches and with ecumenical partners.
“Our ecumenical assemblies are culmination points,” said committee member Rev. Heike Bosien of the Evangelical Church in Germany. “It is the face of our being together, manifesting the fellowship of togetherness – the brotherhood and sisterhood of humanity.” At stake, she said, is the question, “Who is allowed to enter the tent?”
The discernment committee suggested involving ecumenical partners in assembly plenaries and moving to “develop bridges” between the various facets of the assembly to maximize interaction and input between all groups present. Other recommendations focused on issues of governance and the elections/nominations process at the assembly.
Delegates offered a wide range of opinions on the issue and the discernment committee’s recommendations, with some urging a wide embrace of ecumenism and others concerned that the WCC’s voice must remain distinct. Discussion will continue at future meetings.
“Every venue we visited offered challenges to be overcome and opportunities that made us dream,” said Douglas Chial, WCC programme executive for church and ecumenical relations and coordinator of the WCC’s 9th Assembly in 2006. “As we look forward to planning (the assembly) in Busan, we have an exciting city to host us, excellent facilities, many possibilities. Now we can focus our dreams there.”
Chial joined a committee responsible for visiting the four regions whose churches had extended invitations for the assembly. The National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) issued the invitation to come to Busan on behalf of all NCCK member churches, including four who are members of the WCC.
Busan, on the southeastern corner of the Korean peninsula, is the second largest city in South Korea with more than 4 million people. An international airport offers connections throughout Korea and most of eastern Asia, as well as Hawaii and other locations in the Pacific.
Among the unique features in Busan named by the site visit committee were the diversity of churches and the interreligious context of Korea, the “new horizon” of holding an assembly in the Far East for the first time and the strength of local congregations, along with the hope for unity on the peninsula.
Park re-iterated the local steering committee’s plan to invite North Korean churches to the assembly and to promote dialogue and cooperation in the years leading up to the event. He also expressed his desire for evangelical and pentecostal churches and other religious groups in South Korea to have a presence at the assembly. Many of those churches joined the WCC members in extending the invitation to host the assembly.
That spirit of cooperation could be a particularly powerful witness in Busan, he said, as the city has not been a hub of much ecumenical activity.
“We will try to ecumenize this community,” Park said, laughing. “It’s a good chance!”
Chial said that the participation of groups beyond the WCC membership will be determined by central committee and its work with the assembly planning committee, but he noted that the assembly is always expanding and changing.
“In the past assemblies we have seen a growing participation of evangelical and pentecostal churches at the invitation of central committee,” Chial said. “There are many new possibilities in this assembly.”
Additional information: Juan Michel
The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical fellowship of churches founded in 1948, today the WCC brings together 349 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other churches representing more than 560 million Christians in over 110 countries, and works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church. The WCC general secretary is Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia, from the Methodist Church in Kenya. Headquarters: Geneva, Switzerland.