Olav Fykse Tveit, a 48-year-old ordained pastor in the Church of Norway, was elected general secretary of the World Council of Churches on August 27.
“There is no network in this world like the churches. There is no network so close to the grass roots people in the world. There is no network that is so well linked together and so much called to be together,” said Tveit. He was speaking to journalists the day after his election to head the world’s largest grouping of churches.
The WCC represents more than 560 million Christians and has 349 members, principally Orthodox, Anglican, and Protestant churches. The Catholic Church does not belong to the WCC but has members on some of its committees.
Tveit is currently general secretary of the Church of Norway Council on Ecumenical and International Relations and he was elected during an August 26- September 2 meeting of the WCC’s main governing body, its central committee. He will succeed the Rev. Samuel Kobia, a Methodist from Kenya, who stands down at the end of 2009. Tveit will be the second Lutheran to head the church grouping in its 61-year history.
“We are living in a time when there is a need for inter-Christian solidarity in this world. We can raise the voice of others … making the voice of the local Christian, stronger, richer wider,” said Tveit.
“It is not always easy, but it is important to have a growing accountable accommodation,” said Tveit, saying all churches including those in the WCC, the Catholic, Evangelical, Pentecostal, and charismatic churches in effect all pursue the same goal – the call to Christian unity.
“The relationship of the WCC and the Roman Catholic Church is one of the main items of the agenda of the WCC,” said Tveit who said he looked forward to meeting Pope Benedict XVI, “although I have not done any scheduling yet.”
Tveit said that after his election was announced to be the WCC’s new general secretary he had received messages from leaders of both the Islamic and the Jewish communities in Oslo. In Norway he is the moderator of the Church of Norway-Islamic Council of Norway contact group.
Tveit said one call came from the General Islamic Council of Norway with whom he has been engaged in talking about the issues of cartoons published in Scandinavian papers portraying Prophet Muhammad, the right to convert, and also concerns about the rights of Christians in Pakistan.
“These are the type of relations we have to develop on the local, national, and international level,” said Tveit. He noted churches have “great potential” to break down the various barriers that exist in the world and the way forward begins with a simple premise, “to see one another as fellow human beings. All faiths call us to that.”