German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier, in a keynote speech at the World Council of Churches 11th Assembly opening on 31 August, expressed what an honor and delight it was to welcome the global fellowship in Germany
“We are grateful that you have accepted the invitation to come here and hope that we will be good hosts,” he said. “This event is intended to be a celebration of faith, of interaction, of exchange.”
He recalled with thankfulness that the German churches were permitted to attend the 1st WCC Assembly in Amsterdam in 1948, and were welcomed as members on an equal footing. “To this day, we are grateful for this!” he said.
He then offered reflections on the symbols within the logo of the WCC 11th Assembly: the circle, the way, the cross, and the dove.
“The circle traditionally represents the whole world, the earth,” he said.
The way, he said, indicates “we each have our own individual path to pursue, but our communities, our churches are also always on the move.”
The cross remains the crucial sign of Christian identity, he reflected. “It can never be a secular sign of domination, though it has often been exploited as such over the course of history,” he said. “The cross remains the crucial sign of Christian identity across the entire Christian community.”
Finally, the fourth symbol, the dove, holds much symbolic significance, he said. “It is firstly a symbol of peace, which so many people lack and for which we so fervently yearn,” he said. “In many traditions, it is also a symbol of the Holy Spirit.”
But above all, he added, “it is the messenger in the Old Testament that Noah sent out to see whether the flood waters had receded, whether the universal catastrophe was coming to an end.”
For us today, this dove should be both a warning and a symbol of hope, Steinmeier said. “A warning to do everything in our power to ensure that the human-induced disaster of unchecked climate change does not come to pass,” he said. “In this context, we Christians have a special responsibility, for creation has been placed into our hands, into our care, for us to protect.”
He concluded by wishing a “fruitful and successful” assembly, “one that will be characterized by the exchange but also by prayer, by dialogue but also by clarity and resolve, by shrewd analysis but also by a willingness to act, by insight into what has to be done but also by hope.”