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The Ecumenical Review.


In July 1968, the 4th Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) gathered in Uppsala in Sweden. With more than 2000 participants, including about 900 delegates, and another 750 journalists, it was the WCC's largest such assembly to date.

Its theme, "Behold, I make all things new," seemed to have caught the spirit of the times. In their assembly message, delegates spoke of 1968 being marked by the "excitement of new scientific discoveries, the shock of assassinations, the clash of wars." Delegates said they had heard "the cry of those who long for peace; of the hungry and exploited who demand bread and justice; of the victims of discrimination who claim human dignity; and of the increasing millions who seek for the meaning of life."

The assembly itself was thus part of wider global events, as Paul Oestreicher--himself a delegate at Uppsala--writes in the article that opens this issue of The Ecumenical Review. This was brought home to the assembly by the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr who was to have given the sermon at the opening worship. Meanwhile, youth were on the streets --from Paris, Berlin, and Frankfurt to Mexico City and Tokyo. The Vietnam War was raging, as was the Biafra conflict in Nigeria. The Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia just a month after the assembly concluded, putting an end to the "Prague Spring," and efforts by Christians and Marxists to engage in dialogue. In South Africa, a renewed South African Council of Churches was preparing a Message to the People of South Africa denouncing apartheid.

All this gave to the 1960s the sense of living in a global world, and one in which communication played a central role. At the Uppsala assembly in July 1968, there was, for the first time, a substantial statement on "The Church and the Media of Mass Communication," while the previous month the World Association for Christian Communication had been founded in Norway.

With the full entry of the Orthodox churches into the WCC, and the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, the 1960s were also a time of hope and impatience for ecumenical as well as for social progress. Greek Orthodox theology witnessed a movement for renewal which sought to rediscover the spirit of the Greek Fathers and enter into a constructive dialogue with Western thought. Roman Catholic membership of the WCC was seriously envisaged, and in 1968 the Roman Catholic Church and the WCC created a joint committee on Society, Development, and Peace (SODEPAX) to respond to the challenges on international development that emerged in the 1960s. In West Germany there was the emergence of an explicitly ecumenical attempt to link prayer and political reflection, while in neighbouring France, churches found themselves challenged by the events of May '68.

The Uppsala assembly is often seen as marking a turning point in ecumenical history, from a focus on ecclesial union to a more activist interpretation of social involvement, of which the decision the following year to create the Programme to Combat Racism was but the most visible expression.

The articles that make up this issue of The Ecumenical Review offer the possibility of a more nuanced interpretation and reassessment. Was the assembly an initiator of change, or an expression of changes already taking place? What space did the assembly actually give to youth and women, when only 28 delegates were under 35, and only 9 percent women? To what extent was the WCC's anti-racism programme an expression of the many years of involvement in the civil rights movement, alongside King, by the WCC's second general secretary, Eugene Carson Blake? The articles also offer insights on the role of the assembly in the host country of Sweden, and the leadership of women in political liturgy at a time when they were largely relegated to a supporting role within the student protest movements.

One is struck by the challenges identified at the Uppsala assembly that still need to be faced today, such as about economic structures, isolationism, racism, and the arms race, as well as a sense of unfinished business. Is it not time to set up again a joint committee of the WCC and the Roman Catholic Church on society, development, and peace? How do we now see the relationship between the unity of the church and the unity of humankind? What is the meaning of catholicity in a globalizing and multireligious world? And what role does the WCC now play, 50 years after Uppsala?

Stephen G. Brown

Wiley apologizes for the delay in publication of this issue.


Stephen G. BROWN

DOI: 10.1111/erev.12349
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Author:Brown, Stephen G.
Publication:The Ecumenical Review
Date:Jul 1, 2018
Previous Article:Reforming Theology, Migrating Church, Transforming Society: A Compendium for Ecumenical Education.
Next Article:1968--Year of Shame, Year of Grace.

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