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Speakers from the World Council of Churches delegation.

Left to right, above:
Bishop Mvume Dandala of South Africa,
Mrs. Jean Zaru of Palestine,
Bishop Samuel Azariah of Pakistan,
Metropolitan Elias Audi of Lebanon,
the Rev. Septemmy Lakawa of Indonesia,
the Rev. Jean-Arnold de Cleremont of France,
the Rev. Fr. Nicholas Balachov of Russia.

November 13, 2001, OAKLAND, Calif. – A wrestling together with the many questions raised by the Sept. 11 attacks and their aftermath marked the encounters here today between a multi-national group of church leaders and delegates to the National Council of Churches’ annual General Assembly.

"It’s not our responsibility to come give lectures, it’s to hold your hand, to weep with you, and together to ask questions, many difficult or impossible to answer," said South African Methodist Bishop Mvume Dandala, who led the delegation sent by the World Council of Churches.

Since arriving in the United States Nov. 8, the delegation has met with religious and civic leaders in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York City, where they visited "Ground Zero" and met with local pastors. The NCC General Assembly is their last stop before leaving for home on Nov. 14.

Besides Bishop Dandala, the WCC delegation includes church leaders from Pakistan, Indonesia, South Africa, Palestine, Russia, France and Lebanon.

"Most of us come from wounded contexts," Bishop Dandala said, addressing the opening plenary of the NCC’s Nov. 13-15 General Assembly. "We come, not because we are whole and healthy, but to share with you in your woundedness precisely because we ourselves are a wounded people. We pray and hope that as we share with you from our woundedness you will be able to find hope that you yourselves will come through."

Bishop Dandala commented on the breadth of emotions and questions expressed during the group’s encounters with Americans. "We did not realize the extent of the questions being asked in this country," he said. "All we knew was what CNN had told us, that all Americans are prepared for war and there’s no other way."

The group heard words of anger, hurt, pain, deep sadness and a desire to find a way forward, he said. Some told them, "Please give us space to grieve, please don’t lecture to us, we are not ready for that." Others said, "What we fear most is that because we hate feeling vulnerable, we won’t take time to own up to our pain but just want to show how macho we are." Many expressed grief for innocent lives lost both in the Sept. 11 attacks and the bombing of Afghanistan.

Bishop Dandala continued, "Some said, ‘We are confused. How could some people hate us like this?’ Others said, ‘There’s an emerging consciousness in our nation that maybe there are things done by our institutions in our name that we know nothing about. Isn’t it time we find out?’" A pastor ministering at Ground Zero said, "I saw not just the members of my congregation who were weeping, but the needs of the whole world."

"We go home more convinced than ever of the importance of the church to be in the forefront of the struggle to eliminate terrorism and violence," Bishop Dandala said, making reference to the WCC’s 2000-2010 Decade to Overcome Violence. "Violence must be rejected. Terrorism in whatever form or guise must be rejected."

Each of the WCC delegation members brought a brief message to the NCC General Assembly out of their own particular contexts. Church of Pakistan Bishop Samuel Azariah reminded his audience that the U.S. government had supported the Taliban in the 1970s, and called for rebuilding of infrastructure in Central Asia and especially in Afghanistan as key to long-term peace.

Mrs. Jean Zaru, Presiding Clerk of the Religious Society of Friends, Ramalah, Palestine, shared the "profound grief of the people of Palestine for the events of Sept. 11 and said, "Our pain and grief is profound, but we can memorialize the victims of New York, Washington and the Middle East by trying to work for peace and justice."

The international guests then joined NCC General Assembly delegates in small group discussion around questions including, "How do we feel? What do we need? What are we doing to cope? What are the implications of Sept. 11 for our denominational and ecumenical work?"

United Methodist Bishop  Beverly Shamana preaches the opening sermon.Also on Tuesday . . .

  • United Methodist San Francisco Area Bishop Beverly Shamana, preaching at opening worship, challenged delegates, "In this particular time of grief and pain, hold the light … In the midst of uncertainty, struggle and death we have been given to each other that we might not lose hope."
  • The NCC General Assembly unanimously elected the Rev. Dr. Thomas L. Hoyt, Jr., of Shreveport, La., Presiding Bishop of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church’s Fourth District, to serve as NCC president in 2004-2005. He will hold the office of president elect in 2002-2003.

The NCC Executive Board, meeting Tuesday morning:

  • Received the NCC’s FY 2000-2001 Audit Statement and approved a revised FY 2001-2002 budget, which reflects recent cuts in staff and program to ensure that expenditures are in line with anticipated revenues of $5.7 million, and includes a plan for rebuilding fund balances and investment reserves. This budget does not preclude new initiatives supported by designated funding.
  • Voted to establish a year-long "Substantive Reflection Task Group" on the Council’s future direction and shape. The group’s nine members are to be appointed by the Council’s president. Elenie Huszagh, who will serve as NCC president in 2002-2003, proposed the constituent group.

Working with the NCC general secretary, the group’s task will be to offer guidance as the Council seeks to minister in the "new post-September 11 context" and build a broader Christian unity.


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