Ecumenism in the 21st Century
The Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia was general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC) from
2004 to 2009. Previously he directed the WCC Cluster on “Issues and Themes,” and from 1993 to
1999, served as executive director of the WCC’s Unit III, on Justice, Peace, and Creation. From
2010 to 2013, he was ecumenical special envoy for South Sudan and Sudan, and since 2014, he has
been senior advisor to the Kenyan president on cohesion, peace, and conﬂict resolution. He was general
secretary of the National Council of Churches in Kenya (NCCK) from 1987 to 1993, having been
director of the NCCK’s church development activities since 1984. From 1978 to 1984, Kobia was
WCC executive secretary for Urban Rural Mission. This is an address given at the Interchurch
Center in New York on 22 October 2005.
This article explores the challenges facing the ecumenical movement at the beginning of the
21st century: global demographic trends and a shift in the centre of gravity of Christianity
toward the global South; the need for ecumenical structures and institutions to change in
response to new realities; the need to widen the ecumenical fellowship so that Roman
Catholics, Pentecostals, and evangelicals who have not played a part in the WCC may
participate more fully; the urgency of inter-religious dialogue; and the need to discover a
“spirituality of engagement” in interaction with the world and its people.
Ecumenical movement, Christian demographics, religious pluralism, inter-religious
One of the foremost pioneers of the modern ecumenical movement, US Methodist lay
person John R. Mott, who became the ﬁrst honorary president of the World Council of
Churches (WCC), had a favourite saying: “Take your stumbling blocks, and turn them
into stepping stones!” When we consider the “challenges” facing the ecumenical
movement today – as in any era – we may characterize them either as obstacles or as
opportunities, as stumbling blocks or as stepping stones to the future.
(2018) World Council of Churches. Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.