EKKLESIA has been delighted to commence the new year by joining many others in welcoming the Rev Prof Dr Jerry Pillay into his new post as General Secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), the global ecumenical body headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, but networked across all continents.
Dr Pillay was elected to his role, which he took up on 1 January 2023, by the WCC Central Committee on 17 June 2022. The General Secretary leads the work of the WCC as chief executive officer. This includes final responsibility for the work of the Council and its staff, and speaking publicly on its behalf. He is the ninth General Secretary in the WCC’s history, since the fellowship of churches was founded in 1948.
Ekklesia’s Director, Simon Barrow, welcomed Dr Pillay personally: “Warmest good wishes and prayers on taking up your WCC post, Jerry. You enter this role at a critical time for the oikoumene, threatened as it is with existential crises like the climate emergency. We need the witness of the churches towards a new way of living and reconciling as never before. [We are] pleased to connect with you here on social media, and through cordial relations with staff at the Ecumenical Centre, particularly the excellent media team.”
Dr Pillay was previously Dean of the Faculty of Theology and Religion at the University of Pretoria. A member of the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa, he is from South Africa. His interest in ecumenism began as he was growing up in Sunday School, when different churches asked him to write, produce, and act in plays. He also led a youth group of about 120 people in a Uniting Presbyterian Church, and he recalls that young people came from every church in the area.
Eventually he represented the Uniting Presbyterian Church at youth conferences. Then he became, as a pastor, significantly involved in ecumenical work. “Whenever I went into a particular area to pastor a congregation, if there was not fellowship of pastors in that area, I would start one”, he said. “I was instrumental in getting different pastors from different congregations together.”
When he became part of the leadership of the Uniting Presbyterian Church, he was appointed to serve on the WCC Central Committee, and was also appointed to the board of trustees of the Council for World Mission. His first formal engagement with the WCC was at the WCC 9th Assembly in 2006, where he served as a delegate from his denomination.
Dr Pillay brings to the General Secretary position his desire for the churches to come together. “If we are true to the Spirit, then we need to be working together”, he said. “That’s because God’s love does move us to transform and reconcile the world.”
With church unity as one of his absolute priorities, he also believes that churches need to offer guidance and direction to a suffering world. “We will be dealing with issues of justice, of oppression, of systemic violence, and so forth”, he said. “We don’t just gather to worship and pray and praise – which is a very important thing for us to do – but we also gather to transform the world.”
* More on the World Council of Churches