Reforming the world

By Amanda Wells

Kiwi Presbyterians might not be aware of it but we’re part of an alliance that includes more than 75 million Christians worldwide.

The General Secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, the Rev Setri Nyomi, spent several days in New Zealand late last year, as part of his first visit to the Pacific, which also took in Fiji, Samoa, Australia and Malaysia.

Setri says his visit helped him understand the obstacles facing mission in the region. “Everywhere in the world, churches are facing challenges.” But the challenges each country faces are specific to its context, he says. For example, in Africa, the church is growing but faces issues of finance and how to relate Sunday’s message to the rest of the week, as well as speaking out on “the powers that destroy the lives of people, including governments”.

One of WARC’s priorities involves looking at poverty and the way that the world’s economies are arranged. Setri points out that many people in the world live on NZ$1 a day or less. “The question is, do we as Churches keep quiet?”

He likens the situation to that of slavery in the United States; about which many churches were also silent. “We have to say ‘no’ to those forces of injustice that disadvantage people.”

Setri is based in Geneva, along with the rest of WARC’s 11 staff, and spends about 40 percent of his time travelling. The World Alliance of Reformed Churches was formed in 1875 and set up a base in Geneva in 1948 so as to be near the newly forming World Council of Churches.

During his time in New Zealand, Setri met the Rev Graham Redding, the incoming director of the Centre for Christian Leadership, and says this type of leadership training is a good example of a Church taking steps to respond to the challenges of its context.

Mission renewal is another focus for WARC, including equipping member churches to engage in mission. “Everyone is called to be in mission,” Setri says. In particular, WARC has a focus on gender justice and empowering young people.

WARC is also concerned with renewing the Reformed tradition. It’s motto simper reformanda means “always reforming”; a concept that underpins the orientation of all Reformed churches. “It’s about fostering renewal in our churches based on solid theology.”

Maintaining knowledge of our theological heritage can be a challenge, he says, particularly for young people. “In this day and age, people’s awareness of theological reflection has changed. We’ve come to live in a disposable world: if the way the church is doesn’t fit with the way we think it should be, then we go somewhere else.”

Setri has been General Secretary of WARC for six and a half years, and says the challenges have grown during that time; “at least the global challenges have”.

“Six years ago, we focused on drawing attention to global economic injustice. But the problem is compounded.” 

WARC is shifting its communication focus in an attempt to connect with congregations, who are often not aware that they belong to WARC. This year, a resource that celebrates World Reformation Day is being produced for the first time.

One of WARC’s most significant documents was developed as a result of its conference held in Accra, Ghana, in 2004. This document, entitled "Convenanting for Justice in the Economy and the Earth", can be downloaded from http://www.warc.ch/www.warc.ch

Setri describes the Accra confession as “a theological statement on the state of the world today and our relationship to it out of our faith”. “I hope next year will be a time when Churches get to know this confession and ask themselves what implications it has. If we’re going to make a difference in this world, that could be one of the stepping stones.”

Of WARC’s 216 member churches, 58 are in Africa and 57 in Asia. Setri says having these parts of the world represented in its leadership, which has traditionally been European dominated, has been a positive move. “Now all of us are contributing our gifts.”

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