Canadian Anglicans among thousands celebrating WCC jubilee

More than 20 Canadian Anglicans have joined hundreds of delegates and visitors to the World Council of Churches assembly, meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe from Dec. 3-14.

The Canadians, a blend of lay people, clergy and youth, all share some interest in the ecumenical movement, said Ellie Johnson, director of Partnerships with the Anglican Church of Canada.

That ecumenical interest might be local, national or even global, but the commitment is firm for each participant – particularly the visitors and stewards, who had to come up with their own funds to get to Africa.

Stewards are youth who are not delegates but who are put to work at the assembly as gophers. The work is intended to give the young people an overview of the workings of the Council and foster interest in ecumenism.

Natasha Nicolle, one of two Canadian Anglican stewards, said she heard of the opportunity through Echoes, a WCC publication. In it was an application for Assembly stewards. She applied in March, 1997, but was only accepted in July, 1998, after another steward dropped out. The council received more than 500 applications for 175 stewards’ positions.

The daughter of a retired parish priest in St. John’s, in the Diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, Ms. Nicolle saw the Assembly as a chance to go “to a different country to see how the WCC worked with all the different churches and denominations — and to see if there’s a way to bring some of that back to Newfoundland.”

Speaking on a echoey line from Zimbabwe, where she’s been since Nov. 26, helping set up the Assembly, Ms. Nicolle remarked on all the different cultures gathered and their problems.

“I’m realizing that some of the problems we have in Canada aren’t really that big,” she said. “We make them bigger than they really are.”

Ms. Nicolle, 27, gave up three weeks work at a clothing store — in the peak sales period leading up to Christmas — to work at the Assembly for only her meals, accommodation in residence at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare, and a small daily spending allowance.

Like Ms. Nicolle, Rev. Ralph Eibner, incumbent at St. Matthias Church, Etobicoke, in the diocese of Toronto, had to make his own way to Zimbabwe. Both did fund-raising; Ms. Nicolle was helped out by the national church and Mr. Eibner received some funding from his parish and diocese, where he is an assistant ecumenical officer.

(In his work with the diocese, he has been involved in the Anglican-Lutheran dialogue, leading up to a decision on full communion between the two churches in 2001.)

As a visitor, Mr. Eibner will have access to all plenaries, workshops and celebrations, but he cannot vote. He said he is particularly interested in the faith and order work of the WCC and in relationships with Orthodox churches.

Anglicans bring a very important perspective to the World Council, said Mr. Eibner. “We’re able to be a bridge between Orthodox and Protestant worlds. We sometimes help to mediate from somewhere in the middle.

“Canadians have more use in that because of the Canadian way of collaborative approach to things. Canadian Anglicans have a diplomatic approach to forums.”

Ellie Johnson hypothesized that Canadians’ current interest in ecumenism likely stems from the fact that Vancouver hosted the assembly in 1983. She predicts that much of the discussion they will participate in will reflect their African surroundings.

“This is going to be an opportunity for the world church to focus on the realities of the African context: that includes poverty, civil war, AIDS, but also joyful worship and African music,” said Ms. Johnson. The cancellation of Third-World debt to commemorate the millennium, an economic justice initiative, will also receive a lot of attention, she predicted.

In addition to Ms. Johnson, other national church staff who are attending the Assembly are eco-justice co-ordinator Joy Kennedy and the Canadian Primate, Archbishop Michael Peers.

Several members of the Canadian delegation left for Harare prior to the Assembly to commemorate the end of the Ecumenical Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women, an initiative launched by churches at Easter, 1988. A four-day Decade Festival was held in Harare just before the Assembly.

The Assembly, the eighth in the 50-year history of the council, will bring together about 4,000 people: 2,000 official participants — nearly 1,000 delegates from the member churches of the WCC, and an equal number of representatives and observers from ecumenical organizations around the world. A visitors’ program is expected to draw another 2,000 people.

The Assembly, whose theme is Turn to God — Rejoice in Hope, will examine the council’s four units of program work: unity and renewal; churches in mission — health, education, witness; justice peace and creation; and sharing and service.

Interested in keeping up-to-date on news, opinion, events and resources from the Anglican Church of Canada? Sign up for our email alerts .