South African elected to lead new global Protestant group

By Stephen Brown
June 29, 2010

A South African cleric who has been elected the first president of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC), says he wants to strive for unity between the members of the newly-formed organisation.

"Our voice together is a voice strong," the Rev Jerry Pillay, General Secretary of the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa, said at a media conference that followed his uncontested election on 24 June 2010.

With some 230 churches in 108 countries, the new Reformed body was formed as a merger of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Reformed Ecumenical Council.

Pillay said he wanted to join with member churches, "in being prophetic, in solidarity where that is needed, but also more particularly in working towards change, be it political, social, economic. That for me is mission."

He is a trustee of the London-based Council for World Mission and chair of its strategic planning group, and he has taken part in delegations to mediate in political conflicts in Zimbabwe and Madagascar.

"I hope we will be able to create an impact in the world," said Pillay, whose election came at the WCRC's 18-28 June founding meeting in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

"Our focus is not just as Reformed churches, but our focus is about Christian mission, how we engage the world in the name of Christ," he said. "That will also define our programmes, our structure of operations and our objectives."

Married with three children, Pillay grew up in the South African east coast city of Durban and began his service there as a minister in 1987. He received a doctorate from the University of Cape Town in, "The Church and development in the new South Africa: towards a theology of development."

Pillay said he wants to strengthen links with other Christian traditions, such as Roman Catholics and Lutherans, and to be involved in dialogue with people of other faiths, including Muslims and Jews.

"Mission does not exclude other faiths," said Pillay. "Mission is about people who are not part of the same Christian faith."

Pillay, who turned 45 on 23 June, said he first heard the call of God to the Christian ministry at the age of 10. "I tried to back out of it, but God made sure that I was in it."

Reformed Christians trace their heritage to the 16th-century Reformation led by Jean Calvin, John Knox and others, as well as to earlier movements that sought to reform the Roman Catholic Church.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]


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