Gabriele Mayer and Matijs Mihelmanis have been involved in our working group for World Council of Churches for the past years and in Venlo this year, they formally stepped down from this. We are so grateful for all the work they’ve put down. Here is an interview about their time with the group:
Can you explain what you have been doing with the WCC working group.
Since 1998 an EF team attended the WCC Assemblies in order to address concerns of queer people. In preparation for the 10th WCC Assembly in Busan/South Korea (2013) the European Forum installed the WCC Working Group in 2012 in Amsterdam.
As WCC working group we started to reach out to other Christian LGBTI organizations in North America, Africa, Latin America and Asia. The global LGBTI Coalition came into being and was strengthened by a wonderful collaboration during the Busan Assembly in 2013. After Busan, the WCC working group continued: we developed a very active role in coordinating and strengthening the global coalition during the following nine years through regular zoom conferences, workshops in Berlin and Geneva, annual visits to the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva. Eventually, an intense global planning and preparation process lead us to the 11th Assembly 2022 in Karlsruhe.
I have been volunteering for the WCC Working Group even before it officially came to existence. My first major project within the EF related to WCC was participation in the General Assembly in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2006. Back then I was representing the EF as young gay Christian activist from Latvia. Later when the Working Group was formed, I was more on the administrative and financial management side of it. For the last Assembly in Karlsruhe, Germany in 2022 I was coordinating the fundraising team to raise the funds to realise the participation of the Global Coalition of Rainbow Pilgrims of Faith in the Assembly and managing the staffing of various GC activity stations on spot.
What are you most proud to have accomplished with your work there?
During the 11th Assembly in Karlsruhe/Germany Rainbow Pilgrims of Faith managed to show a strong visibility. We are sure this will have an impact on the prospective WCC programme work on „Human Sexuality”. In light of many conservative churches in the WCC and their hot debates on human sexuality, this was a huge step on the Level of the WCC. From Busan to Karlsruhe we grew from a team of four to eight groups who finally were doing the work.
To me the biggest achievement of the WCC WG is its contribution in initiation, creation and development of the Global Coalition. It has been amazing to be part of this long process, in which the alone standing WG of few has grown into a fellowship of organisations around the world, from Americas via Africa, Europe to Asia, which have similar goals and dreams about a better church, trying to change the world step by step, despite of all the resistance from the conservatives. To me it is always the people who made difference, not the projects or goals. So, I cherish this journey with them a lot.
Share one happy memory from your work with the group.
On our last evening in Karlsruhe we celebrated the closure of our RPF project with a wonderful homemade meal and a meaningful devotion. We expressed our gratitude to every present member of the Rainbow Pilgrims of Faith. In this moment I felt the joy and the blessing of 12 years of coordinating the WCC working group and global coalition/RPF!
The happiest memory associated to the WCC Working Group is related to my second WCC Assembly in Busan, South Korea. I have enjoyed this Assembly the most as I was already familiar how the Assembly happens (after my first Assembly in Brazil) and not too busy organising / managing as I was during the Assembly in Germany. I could really participate in many plenaries, Bible study groups, Workshops, staff the EF booth at the market space, and experience the “birth” of the Global Coalition. There are many happy moments I experienced during the Assembly in Korea, but one I would like to highlight especially. During the closing prayer a priest from South Africa, Michael Lapsley has made the following statement “Today I want to say as a Christian, as a priest, to all the LGBTI community, I am deeply sorry for our part as religious people, in the pain you have experienced across the ages. I have a dream that in my lifetime, I will hear all the leaders of all our great faith traditions making the same apology.” As me and the fellow colleagues heard this, we stood up, bursting in applause and tears of happiness. This statement has become a prophecy, which is being fulfilled in some churches in the world today (for example, in my home church, the Protestant Church of Germany). I pray that it will be so in all the churches.
How are you hoping that the group will continue in the future?
I trust that the new WCC working group will find their new path in a time of transition, their new role within the Rainbow Pilgrims of Faith global network. For all member groups of EF I hope that they continue to also look beyond Europe and care for a global queer solidarity.
I really hope and trust the new WG will continue the journey. It may not be easy, because the WCC Reference Group has new personnel. The art here will be to establish new relations with the WCC colleagues and keep the old ones with the Global Coalition, despite all the years to come till the next Assembly.
Anything else that you would like to share?
We would like to thank our former WG colleagues Mette Basbøll, Heleen de Boer, Enric Vilà and Misza Czerniak (as associate of the WG Orthodoxy) for the constructive teamwork and friendships that emerged.