Faculty of Theology hosts the World Council of Churches

Posted on June 30, 2017


The Faculty of Theology at the University of Pretoria (UP), through various events continues to celebrate its centennial as the oldest theological faculty at a South African university. In partnership with the Dutch Reformed Church, the Faculty recently had the privilege of hosting the meeting of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches.

Significant to this WCC Faith and Order meeting was a symposium that was held on the University's Hatfield Campus on Youth Day, 16 June 2017. 'It is 57 years since the last visit of a WCC delegation of this sort,' said the dean of the University's theology faculty, Professor Johan Buitendag, in his greeting. 'In the intervening period so much has changed globally and especially here in South Africa. The reason that inspired a consultation in 1960 – the institutionalised racism of apartheid – has gone.'

He was referring to the Cottesloe Consultation, a conference sponsored by the WCC from 14 to 17 December 1960 in Cottesloe, a suburb of Johannesburg. The meeting was triggered by an international public outcry against the Sharpeville massacre of 69 people that had taken place the previous March.

Prior to the convening of the consultation, Hendrik Verwoerd, the South African Prime Minister of South Africa at the time, called the meeting "an attempt by foreigners to meddle in the country's internal affairs".

At the 2017 WCC meeting in Pretoria, Buitendag said, 'No one should underestimate the importance and value of today's historic event.

'Surely we will be hearing this afternoon of the journey of the Afrikaans churches' history with the ecumenical world and the diabolical connection these churches had with the political powers of the day.'

Prof Andries van Aarde of the Netherdutch Reformed Church in Africa added the following: 'This colloquium is an attempt to reflect on the pain and on future hope granted by the Spirit of God. In our churches we have not done enough to create a true restitution, acknowledging the complexities of being a truly united learning faith community.' 

The WCC's President for Africa, Prof Mary Anne Plaatijes van Huffel, noted that under apartheid, only whites had access to the University of Pretoria.

'Education in apartheid South Africa was unequal, inferior and racist under its policies,' she said, noting how the 1976 Soweto protests started off peacefully, but turned violent when police opened fire on unarmed students.

'In post-apartheid south Africa we embarked as a nation on the Truth and Reconciliation process…. In the Truth and Reconciliation process in South Africa both the victims and perpetrators revisited the divided past together and shared in collective feelings of hurt and shame.'

She also said reconciliation means 'peace and justice'.

Rev Dr Susan Durber, moderator of WCC Faith and Order Commission from the United Reformed Church of the UK, earlier told commission members: 'We are addressing difficult issues ourselves. This meeting, in this context, reminds us that questions of faith and order are not abstract issues, but matters of life and death, of justice and peace, of truth and reconciliation.

'This may be a real call to us to respond and to use our unique, multilateral space, to face up to things that we might find easier to avoid, but which the churches are urging us to address,' she said.

In one of the keynote speeches at the colloquium, Commission member Rev Yolanda Pantou, a minister of the Gereja Kristen Indonesia (GKI), Indonesia alluded to such ways when she spoke on 'Ecumenism 2.0 – The ecumenical movement for millennials – a generation connected but not yet united'.

'If ecumenism is about connecting people despite distance and uniting despite differences, then it is speaking the language of the young people today. The young people today, often referred to as millennials, are more connected than the previous generation has ever been.'

She said there is one big issue regarding youth in the ecumenical movement: 'There are not many of them inside.'

'Perhaps it is because they are not given enough chance to be involved, but the higher chance is because they are not too interested with the ecumenical movement itself, or institutional and traditional religions the movement is representing.'

Regarding matters to be discussed, the Director of the WCC's Commission on Faith and Order, Prof Rev Dr Odair Pedroso Mateus said in his report: 'We realise that the vision and the values that have undergirded the Ecumenical Movement gain a new momentum as we experience around us and within ourselves, locally and globally, increasing uncertainty, consistent instability and disruption, arrogant particularisms, and growing fear, which is exactly the opposite of faith.'

Click on the video link below to watch a video about the 2017 WCC Faith and Order Commission meeting.



- Author Faculty of Theology

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