Geneva — (ENI) The general secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Rev. Samuel Kobia, 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 February 18 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 December 31, 2008.
The central committee has 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 a five-year term.
In advance of the February 13-20 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 traveling too much outside Geneva.
epd also reported that the WCC had removed from its Web site 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 programs dealing with theological and social issues.
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 reorganize 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.
When the Feb. 13-20 meeting of the WCC’s central committee ended, it announced the makeup of a search committee to look for a new general secretary.
The 149-member central committee and other governing bodies of the WCC are made up using a complex formula to ensure representation of women and men, of young people, and of the council’s mainly Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican church traditions.
The search committee has an African woman, Agnes Abuom, a Kenyan like the outgoing general secretary, as moderator, and it includes three youth, eight women, four Orthodox representatives and a strong representation from the global South.
“The search committee for a new World Council of Churches’ general secretary has already begun to work,” the WCC said at the conclusion of its meeting.
Ten of the search committee members were elected by the central committee through paper ballots, and Abuom received the most votes.
“Dr. Kobia has our full support to carry on his duties until the end of his term,” said Walter Altmann, speaking at a press conference on Feb. 19.