Ecumenical Christian leaders around the world congratulated Norwegian theologian Olav Fykse Tveit on his election Thursday as the next general secretary of the World Council of Churches.
Chosen during the meeting of WCC’s main decision-making body, the Central Committee, Tveit will succeed the Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia, who has served as the ecumenical body’s general secretary since January 2004 and announced last February his intention to not seek a second term.
Though 48-year-old Tveit will be the youngest person to lead the WCC since Willem A. Visser’t Hooft, who was 38 when he was named to the position in 1938 as the WCC was still in the process of forming, the Rev. Dr. Ishmael Noko, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), said Tveit will bring to his new position broad experience that prepares him to lead in all the aspects of WCC’s work.
In a statement Thursday, Noko noted how the Norwegian theologian “has worked at every level of the church, from parish life and chaplaincy to national and international positions.”
Aside from having been the general secretary of the Church of Norway Council on Ecumenical and International Relations since 2002, Tveit is also a member of the WCC Faith and Order Plenary Commission and moderator of the WCC Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum core group.
In years past, Tveit has served as a parish priest, an army chaplain, and secretary for the Church of Norway’s Doctrinal Commission.
“He is a theologian and an administrator. And he is a person of deep faith, modest manner and forthright speech. All these experiences and gifts will serve him well as he leads the WCC,” noted Noko.
In his acceptance speech before the Central Committee Thursday, Tveit said he felt the new task he’s been assigned “is the call of God” and highlighted the spirit of unity that dominated the whole election process.
He also expressed hope that the same spirit will continue to govern members of the ecumenical body in their common journey.
“I feel that we have a lot to do together,” Tveit said.
As WCC general secretary, Tveit will be leading the fellowship of 349 church bodies, which together represents some 560 million Christians in more than 110 countries. Formally inaugurated in 1948 at its first Assembly in Amsterdam, Netherlands, the WCC brings together most of the world's Orthodox churches, scores of Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist and Reformed churches, as well as many United and Independent churches.
Noko, who noted the WCC’s “vital role” in the ecumenical movement, said the coming years “can be a time of sowing and of harvest, a time when extraordinary things can be accomplished by ordinary means.”
The Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches USA, similarly noted the potential of the years to come.
“This is both an exciting and challenging time to be involved in ecumenical cooperation,” the American ecumenical leader stated.
“Olav can be assured of the prayerful support of his sisters and brothers in the United States and around the world. We look forward to working together with him and getting to know him better,” Kinnamon added.
Tveit was one of two candidates standing for election to the WCC's highest administrative post. The other candidate was the Rev. Dr. Park Seong-won, a Presbyterian theologian from South Korea.
The WCC Central Committee is currently holding its Aug. 26-Sept. 2 gathering at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva, Switzerland.