GENEVA - Around 150 members of the World Council of Churches' main decision-making body honored the nearly six-year tenure of outgoing general secretary Dr. Samuel Kobia with a farewell service Sunday.
The service, held in the WCC chapel in Geneva, took on a distinctly international flavor as hand drums accompanied African and African-American worship songs, and responses were sung by the congregation in the South American language of Guarani.
The main sermon was delivered by the Rev. Dr. Bernice Powell Jackson of the United Church of Christ in the USA, who thanked Kobia for his "leadership as an unwavering witness for justice and peace in the world on behalf of the WCC."
"Your gift has been to give the courage to hope," she said, quoting the title of Kobia's report to the Central Committee last Wednesday, "Courage to hope."
In her sermon, the North American WCC president spoke of the many people in the world still suffering because of conflict, oppression, poverty, occupation and the impact of climate change before appealing to Christians with the invitation of the prophet Isaiah, who called upon the people to come, buy and eat without cost.
"The moment of opportunity is upon us," Powell Jackson said. "Come back to the spirit of God. Come back and rebuild the community. Come back and make real the promise of joy, the promise of peace … For the people await our leadership. They await our witness, they await our action, they await our truth, they await our compassion."
The UCC minister went on to thank Kobia for reminding Christians that they were called by God to bring hope to a world "threatened by its hopelessness."
She concluded by telling the congregation of an old African American story about slaves who had forgotten how to fly until a wise old black man came to each of them and whispered in their ear "kulibah" – the word that reminded them they were able to fly home to a land of abundance and love.
"We were born to fly," she said. "If we come back to God, if we find our way home, then we too shall experience God's promise."
The Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia will be succeeded by the Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, who was elected this past Thursday as the next general secretary of the WCC.
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.
Christian Post reporter Aaron J. Leichman in Washington contributed to this article.