The capacity of the alliance of global churches from different Christian traditions "to respond to the challenges of today‚Äôs world depends to a large extent on more creative and future-oriented forms of co-operation and networking," said World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary the Rev Dr Samuel Kobia in launching a fresh ecumenical initiative.
Dr Kobia, who is a Methodist from Kenya, was speaking at the first assembly of ACT [Action of Churches Together] Development, a new alliance of churches and related organizations working on development and justice concerns.
The Assembly took place 6-7 February 2007 in Nairobi, Kenya following a two-year process of consultation with concerned partners. ACT (Action by Churches Together) Development brings together churches and related organizations mandated to work to eradicate poverty, injustice and the abuse of human rights, with a particular focus on long-term development. The new alliance thus becomes one of the largest global networks for development in existence.
"A new reality marked by economic globalization" as well as a "clear progression in thinking from relief to development" have made the creation of a common platform of churches' specialized ministries active in development "long overdue", Kobia emphasized.
ACT Development will allow "increased and more carefully targeted co-operation among [those] specialized ministries and with the WCC, its member churches and ecumenical partners", he added.
Among other benefits, the new alliance is expected to provide greater "visibility in the global arena", which in turn should allow its members to be "more successful in fundraising," Kobia said. For this to happen, alliance participants will have the opportunity and the obligation to work under a common brand name, ACT Development, expected to become synonymous with high quality development work and global reach.
Besides co-branding their work, participants must commit themselves to the alliance's values, to a code of good practice, and to transparency and mutual accountability. What the alliance will not be, however, is a mechanism for channeling funds between donors and implementers. Instead, participants will continue to decide whom they support or receive funds from.
"I am delighted that reason has prevailed," said Dr Kobia. Referring to the efforts needed to bring the WCC and the churches' specialized ministries to their current agreement, he said that the Council had found it difficult to understand and make space for the "emerging needs of the specialized ministries". As far as the latter were concerned, their collaboration, in turn, had been "hindered, if not undermined, by the strong self-interest of individual organizations".
"We need each other as partners in the ecumenical movement, each with specific roles and responsibilities," he declared. The creation of ACT Development represents the crossing of "an important threshold" and will lead to "beneficial results for our partners at grassroots and national levels".
In "welcoming ACT Development into the ecumenical family", the WCC becomes the convener of a steering group overseeing its creation in order to assure the coherence of the ecumenical movement. It will also convene and moderate the alliance's executive committee during its initial years, while providing it with an institutional home and a platform for analysis and reflection. Afterwards, the WCC will keep a permanent ex-officio position on the committee.
Dr Kobia recognized that some concerns persist and must be taken "seriously", among them the WCC's specific role, possible competition, specialized ministries' real commitment to working together, and the risk that an NGO logic is imposed over against ecumenical accountability. But, he insisted, the WCC is committed to "use its position to give assistance to the birth and growth of a specialized instrument that, hopefully, benefits the ecumenical movement as a whole".
The alliance is expected to relate closely to ACT International, the WCC-related coordination body for emergency relief, and with the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance. The WCC is ready "to look for closer ties between them so that we may soon reach the point at which there is only one ecumenical entity bearing the name ACT," Dr Kobia said.