World Council of Churches elects first president from 'African Instituted Church'

Audience members attend a business plenary session at the World Council of Churches 11th Assembly on Monday, Sept. 5, 2022, in Karlsruhe, Germany.
Audience members attend a business plenary session at the World Council of Churches 11th Assembly on Monday, Sept. 5, 2022, in Karlsruhe, Germany. | YouTube/World Council of Churches

The World Council of Churches has elected eight new presidents, including the first president to be elected from an African Instituted Church. Their obligations include promoting ecumenical cooperation and implementing the organization's work at the regional level. 

The new presidents were elected on Monday at the WCC 11th Assembly in Karlsruhe, Germany, during a meeting in which 574 delegates were present. Two were chosen to represent Orthodox Churches, while six were elected to represent regional areas.

WCC consists of over 352 member churches representing over half a billion Christians in all regions of the world. The WCC includes the world's Orthodox churches and churches from Anglican, Assyrian, Evangelical, Lutheran, Methodist, Mennonite, Disciples of Christ, Quaker, Pentecostal and Reformed traditions. 

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The presidential nominees were elected via a simple majority, with delegates raising green cards to show they approved of the set of nominees. In all, 555 of the 574 delegates voted in favor.

The presidents will serve as ex-officio members of WCC Central Committee, according to a WCC statement.

The Rev. Rufus Okikiola Ositelu of the Church of the Lord (Prayer Fellowship) Worldwide was chosen as a regional president and will be the first WCC president from an "African Instituted Church," according to the WCC. The term applies to churches led by Africans who have deviated from colonial church traditions. 

Ositelu is the archbishop and metropolitan of the Arch-Province of Nigeria who previously served on the WCC Central Committee.

H.E. Metropolitan Vasilios of Constantia will serve as president of the Eastern Orthodox churches, while H.H. Catholicos Aram I of the Armenian Apostolic Church of Cilicia will serve as the Oriental Orthodox Church's president.

The other regional presidents elected include the Rev. Henriette Hutabarat-Lebang of Asia, the Rev. Philip Silvin Wright of the Caribbean and Latin America, the Rev. Susan Durber of Europe, the Rev. Angelique Walker-Smith of North America and the Rev. François Phiaatae of the Pacific.

The Rev. Rex Reyes, Jr. of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines and member of the WCC Central Committee, told the assembly that "more than one candidate was proposed" for some regions.

"In each such case, the Committee considered the ecumenical profile of the candidate in relation to … the particular backgrounds and experience of the candidates in relation to the programmatic priorities of the WCC and the composition of the group of nominees taken as a whole," said Reyes.

Beginning on Aug. 31 and scheduled to go until Thursday, the WCC 11th Assembly gathered under the theme of "Christ's love moves the world to reconciliation and unity."

Bishop Olav Fykse Tveit, a former WCC general secretary, gave a special greeting on Monday, noting that it was "a miracle that we all are able to gather here."

"The world is already deeply into challenges that humanity has not seen before, through climate change and all its effects on the whole world," stated Tveit. "The issues of justice and peace are raising every day before us."

"We, the churches, [need] a global ecumenical fellowship of churches leading us in confessing and repenting from our sins, leading us in transformation from the destructions, obstacles and ignorance of the full meaning of being one. We are called to be one as churches, as followers of Christ."

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