Local church leader elected to highest governing body
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A Winnipeg church leader has been elected to the highest governing body of the world’s largest international body of churches.
Susan Johnson, National Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, was elected to the executive committee of the World Council of Church’s (WCC) Central Committee at its 11th Assembly in Karlsruhe, Germany last week.
“I am happy to serve,” said Johnson of her eight-year term, noting it is “amazing” to be part of an organization that represents almost 600 million Christians in 352 churches in 120 countries.
“It’s easy to get caught up in our own denominations and forget we are Christians first,” she said of the council and its work. “It represents the wide breadth of Christianity.”
The sole Canadian on the executive committee, Johnson joins 19 other church leaders from around the world in monitoring and overseeing the ongoing programs and activities of the council between assemblies, which occur every eight years.
“I look forward to bringing a Canadian perspective to the executive committee,” she said.
There are four other Canadians on the larger Central Committee of the WCC, which has up to 150 members.
For Johnson, highlights of the Aug. 31 to Sept. 8 Assembly — which brought together 3,000 Christians from across the world — included the worship, which featured dance, music and messages. She also enjoyed meeting young Christians from around the world.
“It was inspiring to hear the passion and commitment of young people,” she said.
Johnson also appreciated statements issued by the council on issues such as the climate crisis, global conflict, the war in Ukraine, racism, conflict between the Palestinians and Israel, and reconciliation with Indigenous people.
For her, the climate crisis is one of the biggest issues facing the church and the world today.
“We need to change the way we live,” she said of things like cutting back on fossil fuels and eating less meat.
“I realize it will be unpopular in some parts of Canada, but we heard from people from Pacific islands who told us about rising sea levels overtaking their nations,” she said. “We need to amp up our game.”
One controversial issue was a decision by the council not to suspend the membership of the Russian Orthodox Church over its support for Russia’s war against Ukraine.
Johnson supported the decision, noting “If we can’t talk about conflict in the family, it doesn’t say much for us going forward. We want to keep people at the table, find a solution. If we suspended the Russian church, there would be no more dialogue.”
The council did denounce “the illegal and unjustifiable” Russian invasion of Ukraine and renewed its call for a ceasefire.
For Peter Noteboom, General Secretary of the Canadian Council of Churches, of which the ELCIC is a member, Johnson’s election is “outstanding.”
“She is one of our longest serving church leaders and brings so much to this role,” he said, adding “she is highly respected in church leadership circles in Canada.”
Noting her interest and commitment to issues like climate change, anti-racism and reconciliation with Indigenous people, he said “these are precisely the topics the WCC is involved in. She’s a great match.”
The next Assembly of the World Council of Churches is in 2030. A location has not yet been named.
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.
The Free Press acknowledges the financial support it receives from members of the city’s faith community, which makes our coverage of religion possible.