The general secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Rev Samuel Kobia, a Methodist from Kenya, has announced that he will not seek a second term at the head of the world's biggest Christian grouping.
"Kobia made his intentions known today stating personal reasons for his decision not to seek a second term," the WCC announced on 18 February 2008 after almost nine hours of deliberations behind closed doors by its main governing body, the central committee.
"The central committee received this news with regret but accepts the decision of the general secretary," said the WCC moderator, the Rev Walter Altmann, in a statement.
The WCC committee was to consider an extension to his current term which ends on 31 December 2008.
The WCC said the central committee had approved the appointment of a search committee for a new general secretary. The election of a new general secretary will come at the next central committee meeting in September 2009, it stated.
Kobia was elected in August 2003 to lead the Geneva-based grouping that now has 349 member churches, representing 560 million Christians worldwide. He was the first African elected to the post and he took office in January 2004 for his 5-year term.
In advance of the 13-20 February central committee meeting, Bishop Martin Hein, a member of the WCC governing body from the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), said the council was failing to make its presence felt sufficiently in the world. He suggested in an interview with the German Protestant news agency epd that the WCC had been unable to develop "visions and perspectives that are able to be communicated", and he said that Kobia was travelling too much outside Geneva.
epd also reported that the WCC had removed from its website, details of a doctorate Kobia had received from a non-accredited institution, Fairfax University, in the United States.
Born in Kenya in 1947, Kobia is an ordained minister in the Methodist Church in Kenya. Before becoming WCC general secretary, he was director and special representative for Africa on the staff of the WCC. From 1999 to 2002 he was director of WCC programmes dealing with theological and social issues.
The WCC was founded in 1948 and its member churches come from most Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member but has representatives on some WCC bodies.
Kobia is the sixth WCC general secretary. Previous general secretaries were W. A. Visser 't Hooft, from the Netherlands (1948-1966); Eugene Carson Blake, from the United States (1966-1972); Philip Potter, from Dominica, West Indies (1972-1984); Emilio Castro, from Uruguay (1985-1992); and Konrad Raiser, from Germany (1993 to 2003).
Kobia is the third Methodist to hold the post of WCC general secretary.
He served as WCC executive secretary for Urban Rural Mission, and as general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Kenya, and helped reorganise the Zimbabwe Christian Council after independence. He chaired peace talks for Sudan in 1991, and in 1992 headed Kenya's National Election Monitoring Unit. He returned to Geneva in 1993 to become executive director of the WCC's unit on justice, peace and creation.
[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.]