4 October 2022

Salvationists attend World Council of Churches Assembly

Lieut-Colonel Jonathan Roberts

A group of six people wearing Salvation Army uniform
Lieut-Colonel Bishow Samhika, Lieut-Colonel Karen Shakespeare, Commissioner Jane Paone, Lieutenant Jonny Whitmore, Lieut-Colonel Jonathan Roberts and Commissioner Vibeke Krommenhoek attend the World Council of Churches Assembly

Lieut-Colonel Jonathan Roberts reports on the global ecumenical event.

Three officers from the United Kingdom and Ireland Territory, along with three officers from International Headquarters, were among more than 3,500 church leaders and representatives gathered in Karlsruhe, Germany, for the 11th General Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC).

Commissioner Jane Paone, secretary for international ecumenical relations at International Headquarters (IHQ) and member of the WCC Central Committee, headed up the Salvation Army delegation. She was accompanied by Officer for European Ecumenical Relations Commissioner Vibeke Krommenhoek (IHQ), Secretary for Capability Development and Training Lieut-Colonel Bishow Samhika (IHQ) and – from the UK and Ireland Territory – Lieut-Colonel Karen Shakespeare, Territorial Ecumenical Officer Lieut-Colonel Jonathan Roberts and Lieutenant Jonny Whitmore (Barrow-in-Furness). Lieutenant Franziska Hari (France and Belgium), took part in the pre-assembly Ecumenical Youth Gathering.

The theme for the nine-day event was Christ’s Love Moves the World to Reconciliation and Unity. The assembly was opened by the moderator of the WCC Central Committee, Dr Agnes Abuom (Anglican Church of Kenya), who said: ‘Absolutely fundamental to the WCC and the ecumenical movement are relationships… We encounter one another – in all our uniqueness – and recognise a neighbour in the stranger, unity in the midst of our diversity.’ The opening session also included a keynote speech by the president of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier.


Commissioner Jane on a big screen speaking with a microphone
Commissioner Jane leading prayers

Each day began with morning prayers reflecting the rich diversity of cultures and spirituality of the 352 different churches represented. There was Salvation Army representation in the prayer sessions, with Commissioner Jane helping to lead prayers from the main stage on the assembly’s penultimate morning.

After reading a prayer, the commissioner invited the congregation to join her in sharing the Lord’s Prayer, with each delegate praying in their own language.

‘To hear this great assembly raise their voices in this prayer was a very moving experience,’ she said.

Daily plenary sessions addressed current concerns, such as the war in Ukraine, the climate crisis, social justice, the Church’s common witness and human dignity. Participants then met in small groups to reflect on these themes. 

Small groups also discussed and made recommendations on 23 issues, ranging from evangelism and creation justice to interreligious dialogue and theological education.

A unity statement issued at the conclusion of the assembly referred to an ‘ecumenism of the heart’ in which ‘Christlike love … moves us to walk honestly and wholeheartedly beside one another, to try to see the world through the eyes of others and to have compassion for one another, to build the trust that is such a vital part of our ecumenical journey’.

Two people standing by a microphone in a Salvation Army worship service
Lieutenant Jonny giving his testimony

On Sunday, Salvation Army delegates were made welcome at Mannheim Corps and took part in worship, with Lieutenant Jonny giving his testimony and Commissioner Jane preaching. They shared a meal with corps members and Chief Secretary Lieut-Colonel Hartmut Leisinger spoke to the group about the work of the Germany, Lithuania and Poland Territory. 

Reflecting on the gathering, Commissioner Jane said: ‘It became clear over these days that the only way to reach our fractured world is for each follower of Christ to show their love to the world, beginning with their neighbour. It is also up to us to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God. We pray that our active participation in showing Christ’s love may move us and the world to reconciliation and unity.’ 

The Salvation Army has adviser status at the WCC, which was founded in 1948 to work for the cause of ecumenism. An assembly is normally held every eight years, but this gathering took place a year late because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The last assembly took place in Busan, Korea, in 2013.

Written by

Lieut-Colonel Jonathan Roberts

Lieut-Colonel Jonathan Roberts

Territorial Ecumenical Officer

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