New appointments at WCC specialise in advocacy and interfaith dialogue

By staff writers
October 25, 2007

Two people known for their achievements in faith-based advocacy and interfaith dialogue, have been engaged by the Geneva-based World Council of Churches (WCC).

The new staff members will head the programme on Public witness and the programme on Inter-religious dialogue and cooperation.

The programmes enable bilateral dialogues, regional and cross-cultural encounters on perceptions of "the other" and on issues such as conversion; engages churches in reflections on what it means to be Christian in a world of many religions; and accompanies and equips the churches for advocacy in countries where religion is at the centre of conflicts.

The new appointments complete the reconfiguration of the WCC staff leadership following the WCC 9th Assembly in 2006.

The WCC directors newly appointed by the WCC executive committee are: Rev Elenora Giddings Ivory (Public witness: addressing power and affirming peace) and Rev Dr Shanta Premawardhana (Inter-religious dialogue and cooperation).

Other key staff leadership positions were already filled in April this year.

Giddings Ivory and Premawardhana are leaving positions in North America to take up their new responsibilities within the Council's Geneva headquarters in November.

Rev. Elenora Giddings Ivory is a Presbyterian from the United States, who brings to her new post almost two decades of experience in advocacy strategic planning, management and supervision. She formerly served as director of the Presbyterian Church's public policy, information and advocacy office in Washington. A Harvard Divinity School graduate and pastor, she has previously served as vice-president of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA (NCCUSA), and as chair of the council’s national ministry’s unit; she was also a member of the board of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and worked on different task forces of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

In her new position, Giddings Ivory will be responsible for overseeing WCC initiatives in relation to churches' concerns on violence, war, peace, human rights, economic injustice, poverty, and exclusion. The WCC programme on Public witness: addressing power and affirming peace is designed to advocate at the UN and other global fora, as well as accompany and bring churches together to reflect on and effectively respond to critical situations, especially in the Middle East, and to promote peace through the Decade to Overcome Violence. Programmatic work receives guidance from the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA).

Rev. Dr Shanta Premawardhana, is a Baptist pastor in the United States. Prior to that in his native Sri Lanka, Rev Dr Shanta Premawardhana served as the associate general secretary for interfaith relations of the NCCUSA for the past four years. As an activist in congregation-based community organizing and pastor in Chicago for 14 years, he demonstrated his leadership skills in building bridges across boundaries that divide.

A series of panel discussions Premawardhana organized at the American Academy of Religion emphasizes Christian theology’s critical engagement with religious diversity. The WCC’s “Thinking Together,” which includes the participation of scholars and leaders of other religious traditions, he suggests, is an effective model for such engagement. Convinced that inter-religious work must include joint actions for peace with justice, he also advocates for faith-based diplomacy, with religious leaders taking the lead in diplomatic initiatives, particularly in conflicts that are religion-related.

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