[World Council of Churches] The Rev. Jerry Pillay was installed as the ninth general secretary of the World Council of Churches during a service in the Ecumenical Centre Chapel in Geneva, Switzerland, on Feb. 17.
Pillay, who was previously dean of the Faculty of Theology and Religion at the University of Pretoria, is from the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa.
Amid prayers, singing, and a sermon by Pillay himself, the celebration also included special greetings from churches and partners.
In his message, entitled “Church at the Crossroads,” Pillay reflected that the purpose of the church is to proclaim the saving love and grace of christ to the world. “It does this as it goes out into the world to preach, teach, baptize, and disciple believers,” he said. “The church ought to live to fulfill the purpose of God.”
Yet sometimes, the church today seems to forget its real purpose in the world, Pillay lamented. “Instead, we want to go our own way, seeking our own agendas and attempting to satisfy ourselves,” he said. “We need to stop and ask: What does the Lord want? How can we fulfill God’s purpose?”
The church must rise up to the challenges and changing times, he added. “We need to stand where God stands with the poor, wretched, neglected, and suffering in the world,” he said. “The question is, as member churches: Where will you stand?”
The audience included Swiss church leaders and Geneva civic leaders as well as representatives from many Geneva-based United Nations and governmental partners of the WCC. Also attending were leaders from the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa and the South African Council of Churches, as well as family and friends of the general secretary.
Other WCC leaders, representatives of WCC member churches and of other faiths, Bossey students, and retirees were also in attendance.
Media attended in-person and online as well, expressing global interest in the WCC’s new leader.
As participants and observers prayed together, they closed the service with a sense of unity. “We are confident that God is calling us to go on our way together,” they said. “We share a common pilgrimage of justice, reconciliation, and unity as people who hope in the resurrection.”
In the invitation, Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, WCC moderator of the central committee, wrote: “The celebration is an opportunity to seek God’s blessing for a new term of leadership and to give thanks for the WCC fellowship of member churches’ continued witness for justice, reconciliation, and unity.”