The formation of the World Communion of Reformed Churches "is a source of inspiration for all of us who see the call to unity, to mission and to promote justice as one, undivided call", says World Council of Churches General Secretary, the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit.
Dr Tveit was greeting 380 delegates representing 227 Reformed churches from all over the world at the uniting meeting of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) and the Reformed Ecumenical Council (REC) in Grand Rapids, Michigan, United States, last weekend.
The merger of the two organisations took place amid much celebration in the Van Noord Arena of the Calvin College's campus. Many years in the making, the new World Communion has 227 member churches representing 80 million Christians in 108 countries.
The WCC General Secretary is particularly hopeful that the new body will provide a pathway into ecumenical conversation for many evangelicals who have kept a distance from the traditional concilar churches movement.
"I'm thrilled to say that the vote by both of the organisations was unanimous," said Peter Borgdorff, president of the Reformed Ecumenical Council (REC), at a press conference following the agreement to merge. "We are intended to be more like a family than a structure."
"What you see here today is the commitment of Reformed churches to be together globally," said Clifton Kirkpatrick, president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) at a press conference. "The whole process has come together so well today."
However, Kirkpatrick noted that 73 participants, including 46 delegates, were denied visas to attend the event by the US government. "We need to acknowledge the deep pain we feel about the absence of these brothers and sisters," he said.
"The new communion that is born here is a gift from God", Tveit told participants at the uniting meeting. He expressed the hope that the new body "will continue the tradition of its predecessors in serving as a platform by which Reformed churches can strengthen their dialogue with other Christian families, their common witness to the Gospel and their mission in the world."
"We must work together with all churches in seeking to make unity in Christ visible for the world to see", he added.
On Sunday 20 June Tveit preached at a service held at the Central Reformed Church in Grand Rapids. He chose the passage of the letter to the Galatians from the Bible's New Testament, in which the apostle Paul writes: "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus."
"There is a new place for everybody in Christ. A place for change, for hope, for new life", Tveit said. "To be in Christ is to think of what shall come, of what is possible because we are together. To be in Christ is to let those visions and dreams fill our hearts and actions, and act accordingly today."
The World Communion of Reformed Churches draws on distinctive but complementary traditions, the founding organisations say. While both share the Reformed commitment to biblical tradition, REC is known for its emphasis on spiritual development and faithfulness to church "Confessions" (statements which define points of faith) while WARC is known for its stances on issues such as racial and gender justice, environmental protection and a just and equitable world economic order.
The mandate of the new World Communion of Reformed Churches will be to focus on issues of church unity and social programmes. The staff will be based in Geneva, Switzerland at the Ecumenical Centre which also houses the World Council of Churches, with which the WCRC will be in a relationship of cooperation.