A local pastor who recently returned from a global gathering of church leaders called the experience “wonderful.”
The Rev. Dr Cynthia Walton-Leavitt of the Oneonta First United Presbyterian Church (the “Red Door” Church) was one of nearly 5,000 delegates who traveled to Busan, South Korea, in late October to attend the most diverse Christian gathering of its size in the world, the Assembly of the World Council of Churches.
“I’ve been wanting to go for a long time,” Walton-Leavitt said of the Assembly, which meets every seven years. After saving up, and with the help of her church supporting a portion of the expenses, Walton-Leavitt was able to attend this year’s assembly, the tenth of its kind.
According to its website, The World Council of Churches is a partnership of churches that brings together Christians of different denominations from around the world in order to fulfill together their common calling. The inaugural Assembly was held in Amsterdam in 1948.
Walton-Leavitt said the 2013 Assembly featured more than 300 denominations and 100 countries, including members from Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, North America, the Pacific and Asia. About half those in attendance were Korean, she estimated.
“I met some people from countries I had never even heard of,” Walton-Leavitt said, adding that she has always loved geography and getting to know different parts of the world, so this was particularly intriguing to her.
The Assembly of the World Council of Churches is the highest governing body of the WCC. The gathersing feature prayer and celebration, reviews of the WCC’s work around the world, and elections of leaders.The theme of this year’s assembly was “God of life, lead us to justice and peace.”
Walton-Leavitt said the assembly featured powerful daily worship, workshops, meetings, prayer and a huge exhibit hall, where she and a team of four other women from the International Association of Women Ministers organized and ran an exhibit called “God Calls Women to Ministry.” At their booth, any women in ministry or female theology students could have their picture taken and posted, along with their name, country, and denomination, on the brightly colored tapestries in the booth.
Walton-Leavitt said that it was a joy to be able to meet so many different women in ministry from around the world and be able to talk with them.
“Meeting the women was both humbling and inspiring because many of them are involved in very challenging ministries, working with the poorest of the poor or migrants,” Walton-Leavitt said. “We (North American Presbyterians) have been ordaining women for 50 years, but these women are in leadership roles in places where ordaining women is a fairly new practice.”
Centered at the Busan Exhibition and Conference Center, the assembly offered worship materials in English, French, Spanish, German and Korean. Morning worship services featured huge choirs made up of several hundred people, unique musical instruments, drumming, gongs, and dance, Walton-Leavitt recalled.
Days were spent in the exhibit hall, where Walton-Leavitt and her team manned a booth to meet with visitors, making for what she called a “long but rewarding” day.
During the evenings, Walton-Leavitt attended suppers hosted by various groups, including the Presbyterian Church of USA, the WCC Korean planning team and Yale Divinity School, her alma mater, where she was able to meet and dine with the Dean, as well as other alumni. During some free time, Walton-Leavitt and her team members went to local markets to buy groceries and visited the aquarium.
Walton-Leavitt said that one thing that struck her as she manned her team’s exhibit over the course of the two weeks was how privileged women in North America are.
“A lot of Americans don’t know about the rest of the world,” she said. “Women are seen in many parts as property and do the majority of the work.”
Walton-Leavitt said she will try to keep in touch with many of the women she met at the assembly, especially some who were from the Philippines and likely were affected by the recent typhoon. She said she hopes to bring back what she has learned in Busan to her own church on Walling Avenue, including a number of songs from around the world that she learned at a music workshop. Walton-Leavitt also said she will be developing a presentation to give at her church about her time in South Korea.
“I have a much deeper appreciation for the people of the world, and how we relate to them in terms of giving and helping,” Walton-Leavitt said. “It was a wonderful experience.”