Final Message -- Being Together Under the Cross in Africa

"Blessed is our God always, now and forever, and to the ages of ages. Amen"

Called by the drums of Africa we gathered in Harare, Zimbabwe as representatives of over three hundred churches at the 8th Assembly of the World Council of Churches. We greet our brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ throughout the world who share and rejoice with us in the life and fellowship of the Holy Trinity.

Fifty years ago the World Council of Churches began its journey of faith with the Assembly in Amsterdam and clearly affirmed "We intend to stay together". Our pilgrimage through Evanston, New Delhi, Uppsala, Nairobi, Vancouver and Canberra has led us to rejoice in the hope, mission, vision, freedom, life and renewal that God gives.

The theme of this Assembly, "Turn to God - Rejoice in Hope", is an invitation to look again to the very foundation of our faith and life as churches, finding there the hope that will draw us on. In this our Jubilee year we proclaim good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed, and the year of the Lord's favour.

Meeting in joyful assembly, we invite one another and the whole church to journey towards visible unity, which is God's gift and call to us. We have found that Christ is both the centre of our unity and our living water of life. We confess that we have often turned away from God's purposes and from serving God's reign. For this we grieve and repent.

The life of the Assembly has revolved around worship, prayer and Bible study. At the centre of the place of worship has stood a great carved cross with the continent of Africa at its heart. It is indeed part of the joy of this assembly that we are in Africa. Here we experienced the life, growth and vitality of faith in local congregations. We rejoiced in the beauty and wonder of God's creation. We remembered that it was to Africa that the Holy Family with the infant Jesus came as refugees, and today Africa like every other continent is a place where many people are displaced, homeless and refugees.

Drawn by the power of the cross, we have been reminded that the cross is the most holy ground before which the very sandals of God are removed. We have seen all around us the suffering and pain of humankind. We have encountered the alarming problems of poverty, unemployment, and homelessness which are here as they are everywhere. We have heard of the devastating effects of globalization and structural adjustments as those who are weak and powerless find themselves becoming increasingly ‘invisible'. We have listened as our sisters and brothers have shared with us the grim reality of the debt crisis in the developing world. We call for the cancellation of debt in a manner which benefits the poor and marginalized, and respects their human rights.

We have longed to touch those suffering from HIV/AIDS. We have stood alongside our brothers and sisters with disabilities, who bring a gift to those who are handicapped in relating to them. We have heard the voice of the indigenous peoples among us, claiming the place that is theirs by right. We have heard from women, children, refugees and displaced persons whose lives have been ravaged by violence. We have been challenged to express our solidarity with them, and to commit ourselves to overcome violence and to promote the full human dignity of all. By going to those at the periphery God causes commotion, making this periphery the centre. As churches, we are called to make these sons and daughters of God truly visible.

With the symbol of life giving water, we marked the completion of the Ecumenical Decade of the Churches in Solidarity with Women, listening to the all-too-often painful reality revealed in the Living Letters and hearing the call that solidarity be followed by accountability. As it flows on parched ground, water is essential to life. Jesus offered to the woman at the well the living water, the healing and new life she so desperately needed. The call of God was presented again and again in the use of water. We were invited to drink the water of salvation, and to affirm our unity with all those incorporated into Christ. We are called to help and comfort the lonely, the bereaved, orphans, and the destitute, and to keep thirsting until the wounds of the world are healed.

We have wrestled with how we might foster greater participation at every level of the ecumenical movement, and the way in which decision-making can reflect the needs and expectations of those coming from many and varied traditions and cultures. We celebrated the leadership shown by young people which has been so apparent in the life of this Assembly. We urge the churches to ensure space for the involvement of young people in every aspect of the life and ministries of the church.

Drawn together by God's love, we have sought to understand more what it is to be together. We have explored how we understand the World Council of Churches and the ways in which God has called us to look forward together. We have rejoiced in the developing koinonia (communion) between Christians in many parts of the world, and we affirm once again that God has called us to continue to grow in that communion together, that it may be truly visible. We rejoice in signs of this growth such as the hope for a common date of Easter.

We have also experienced the pain brought by our remaining divisions, as revealed in our inability to share one Eucharist. But we were constantly reminded that what unites us is stronger than what divides us. Christian remembering is not centred on our divided memory but rather on the saving events of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For this reason, to remember together as Christians is an essential part of turning to God, so that we may rejoice in hope. It is as we turn to God and see in the other the face of God that we know and see who we are. This is the heart of a truly ecumenical spirituality.

We sought to allow open space for one another, and to create space for those who are failing to connect with each other in a divided world. In the Assembly, a wide range of concerns and commitments came together, providing an opportunity to realize how the Spirit leads the community of faith far beyond any individual horizon. We experienced the richness of God, and of the various ways we can respond to a world which encompasses peoples of many living faiths. We claim religious freedom as a fundamental human right.

The World Council of Churches began its journey in faith with the determination to stay together. We experienced this same determination in Harare, even when we were aware of the difficulties that we faced. As churches long committed to staying together, we now commit ourselves to being together in a continuing growth towards visible unity - not only in assemblies and ecumenical gatherings but each in every place. It is this being together that all ecumenical work at every level must serve. The mission to which God calls the church in the service of God's reign cannot be separated from the call to be one. In Harare we saw once again the immensity of the mission in which God invites us to share. In this mission we who are reconciled to God through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross are challenged to work for reconciliation and peace with justice among those torn apart by violence and war.

From this 8th Assembly of the World Council of Churches we share with you our brothers and sisters a message of hope. The God who has called us together will bring us to the fulfilment of all things in Christ. The Jubilee which has begun among us is sent to you, to celebrate the liberation of the entire creation. As we have turned once again to God, we have been able to rejoice in hope. We invite you to share with us the vision which we have been able to express together and which, we pray, will become part of a common life and witness-

We long for the visible oneness of the body of Christ,
affirming the gifts of all,
young and old, women and men, lay and ordained.

We expect the healing of human community,
the wholeness of God's entire creation.

We trust in the liberating power of forgiveness,
transforming enmity into friendship
and breaking the spiral of violence.

We are challenged by the vision of a church
that will reach out to everyone,
sharing, caring, proclaiming the good news of God's redemption,
a sign of the kingdom and a servant of the world.

We are challenged by the vision of a church,
the people of God on the way together,
confronting all divisions of race, gender, age or culture,
striving to realize justice and peace,
upholding the integrity of creation.

We journey together as a people with resurrection faith.
In the midst of exclusion and despair,
we embrace, in joy and hope, the promise of life in all its fullness.

We journey together as a people of prayer.
In the midst of confusion and loss of identity,
we discern signs of God's purpose being fulfilled
and expect the coming of God's reign.

© 2001 by Ulrich Schmitthenner • Bildschirm-Version