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Welcome by Dr Agnes Abuom, moderator of the WCC Central Committee

Commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Ecumenical Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women

02 October 2018

Commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Ecumenical Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women

Re-Telling and Telling Her Stories

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

It is a great joy for me to welcome you here for this time when we look back on a journey we have shared and look ahead to what our future pilgrimage could or should hold. We are here to critically reflect about churches, solidarity, women, community – and justice. We come to re-tel and tell her stories. This does not mean we do not hear his stories. To the contrary, the years past have witnessed his stories begin to surface.

Allow me from the on start to express our gratitude to the Jamaican Council of Churches and the Local Host Committee for accepting to host this commemoration event. Thank you very much for the courage to take on this task at the last minute. The context and the hospitality so far experienced is conducive for our deliberations.

As we convene to commemorate the Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women, the timing and the year is a historical landmark in the ecumenical journey and fellowship of churches. This is because 2018 we celebrate 70 years anniversary of the founding of the world council of churches in 1948. Besides, this year 2018, also marks 50 years since the 4th general assembly of the WCC held in Uppsala Sweden.  The assembly focused on some issues such as violence and racism that are part of our agenda. Finally we come here 30 years since the Decade was launched in 1988 to stop, cast our minds and eyes to the past drawing lessons from the stories, and to undertake a scan of the current situation as well envision the continued journey into the future. Thus we will be discussing violence against women; full and creative participation of women in the life of the church; economic crisis, racism and xenophophia and their impact on women. It is important to note that these issues were raised twenty years ago at the end of the Decade of the Churches of Solidarity with Women. But they were not new issues at the time as the 1975 5th Assembly Plenary on Women articulated them. They were not new thirty years ago at the beginning of the Decade. They were not new 70 years ago when the World Council of Churches was founded in Amsterdam. Nevertheless, these issues remain a challenge and imperative mandate of the church.

What must be new from this point, however, is how we as churches, as women and men, as young and not so young, as people bringing different gifts and abilities – how we together, address the challenges of a just community of women and men in the changing landscape. As we reflect, pray and share our stories, we take into account the outcomes of the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation held here in Jamaica in 2010 and to harvest from the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace that we began in 2013.

We find ourselves an important moment for the entire ecumenical movement. As we look back and celebrate what has changed and what has been achieved. This is also a moment to be candid of the ongoing wounds inflicted on vulnerable people, lift up the pending issues and anticipate a future of just communities of women and men by providing concrete strategies for healing spirituality, trauma healing, actions to redress the skewed power relations.

I would like to raise 4 major achievements which are not exhaustive of what has been achieved and they are:

  1. Women have succeeded to convince their male counterparts that women are an essential component of leadership. That leadership by one gender is incomplete and does not utilize the God given gifts in the household of God.  We are seeing women in the ordained ministry, in the lay ministry and the integration of women’s movements within the larger part of the church.
  1. At the World Council of Churches as an institutional level, we have worked extremely hard that the percentages provided for in the constitution and by-laws are adhered to as much as possible. We still have some gaps, but we have made progress.  We have also sustained the “just community of women and men” focus at the programmatic level. We have mainstreamed the activities in all the WCC work while keeping the coordination in one place. This has enabled us to sustain theological, missiological, diaconal and educational dimensions of the just community conversations while on a pilgrimage of justice and peace.
  1. At the cultural, theological and mental level, we have engaged the process of debunking patriarchy through redemptive masculinity studies. The work that has been done, the discussions, the trainings, will be very useful for the younger generations of men for them to realize, hopefully, how these negative patriarchal structures dehumanize them as well as their female counterparts.
  1. Over these past thirty years, we have seen women theologians bringing in contextual bible studies, providing other lenses of reading the Bible. Women are bringing to the table new and dynamic spirituality and theological input that inspires and enriches all of us. These lenses of doing Bible study are recognition of the diversity of God’s gifts for the use by God’s people.
  1. A final achievement to observe is the global governance bodies like the UN, governments and intergovernmental bodies that have ratified a number of gender sensitive conventions such as UN Resolution 1325, UN Convention on Child Rights including MDGs and its successor SDGs that give more focus on women and gender.

We cannot forget that we are still on a journey. A journey has hurdles, it has bumps, it has stones, it has thistles. Perhaps one part of the journey  more specifically one sector of the pilgrims we must address while here, is how we continue to nurture the younger generations to build on what their mothers and fathers have done since Amsterdam and before Amsterdam. We cannot wait for anyone else. We have to learn and to task ourselves to find a strategy to pass on the baton to the younger generation.

As we recommit to journey together, we must be intentional about is the need to link women’s movements horizontally and vertically so that they continue to be a force of life-giving energy in the church and community.  In order to carry forward the work, a shared vision of what our Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace should mean for women and men is required and nonnegotiable. Moreover, the church and WCC must revitalize and reclaim the prophetic mandate and voice and seek to build trust and confidence among and between men and women.

If we dream and want to live in a time and in a just and peaceful community of women and men; girls and boys, then we ought to be builders of brides, flag bearers and implementers of peace and justice; we should hold hands together women and men to break down the structures, systems, policies and cultures that create the walls of separation, discrimination and dehumanization.

Let me conclude by wishing us a fruitful, candid and strategic reflection and spiritual renewal. Allow me to paraphrase the words of Clemens of Alexandria namely: May our faith, in the God of life lead us; May our narratives of experience teach us; Let the Holy Scriptures be our anchor and basis of training, reflection, action and voice.

Once again feel very welcome and draw from one another’s fountain of wisdom and strength as we continue with the pilgrimage towards a just and peaceful community of women and men, girls and boys; together held by the cords of love, courage, compassion, and persistence. Therefore, as we reflect back on what was raised twenty, thirty years ago, let us also ask ourselves – what will our children and grandchildren say of us here, twenty or thirty years from now? While on a journey – let us keep walking forward informed by a shared vision of a just community.