Rev. Dr Philip Potter - A world icon
Sunday April 10, 2011, @ 11:41 p.m.
In the end, and after lively debate, the central committee voted in favor of Potter's proposal for a long-term "consultation" over the antiracism program. Potter declared that most of the dissenters had come from "certain Western countries, which are most heavily involved in maintaining the racist systems in southern Africa." His comments were widely reported in the international news media including Time Magazine.
Rev Potter with farm labor leader Cesar Chavez in Geneva.
Under his leadership the Fund was vastly expanded and hundreds of thousands of dollars were poured into organizations like Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress in its fight against racism.
Potter continued his fight for justice and developed progressive policies including the memorable theological consensus document Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, which laid the theological basis for the continuation of a courageous campaign against apartheid in South Africa and other forms of racism throughout the world.
Potter's chief priority during his tenure was in mobilizing the general public and giving protestant churches a voice in the international arena. To achieve this goal he set up the WCC's Commission of the Churches in International Affairs (CCIA), which became active in assisting refugees, providing aid and mediating between conflicting parties in various locations around the world.
Beyond his fight against inequality and racism, he stirred up a worldwide and explosive debate on the nature of the post-colonial Christian mission. At the time he encouraged the church to focus on maintaining peace in the face of rising tensions during the cold war and the threat of nuclear annihilation.
In addition, he urged Christians to explore new forms of spirituality, worship and music, drawing on the diverse traditions of the churches.
Reverend Potter has been highly commended for his uncompromising quest for Christian unity. In his push to unify the churches, Potter constantly engaged the Roman Catholic Church and counted Pope Paul VI among his friends.
While preparing for the 1975 assembly of the WCC he received a letter from the Pope dated November 20, 1975, which read in part: “To the Reverend Dr Philip Potter
General Secretary World Council of Churches
The ecumenical importance of the celebration by the World Council of Churches of its Fifth Assembly at Nairobi moves us to address you with words of friendship, encouragement and Christian greetings. Because your desire for unity and reconciliation coincides with our own, we have been happy to appoint sixteen Catholic observers who are with you on this occasion.
Reverend Potter with the Dalai Lama.
“…Be assured that our thoughts and fervent prayers are with you in these days. May God grant you courage and faithfulness and joy in doing his will, and the strength to move steadily forward, through the assistance of the Holy Spirit, towards the fulfillment of Christ's prayers to the Father: « . . . that they may be one, even as we are one» (Io. 17, 11).
When he retired in 1984, a resolution of the WCC central committee described “the underlying unity in all Dr Potter’s efforts” as his commitment to “one ecumenical movement, one fellowship of churches, moving together along one pilgrim way, the hope of the one humanity promised by God.”
Life after the WCC
After his retirement, Dr Potter continued to speak and lecture. In May 2008, South African President Thabo Mbeki conferred on Reverend Potter the country’s highest civilian honor for foreign nationals, the Oliver Tambo Award. The award was in recognition for his efforts to combat racism and apartheid in Southern Africa.
The citation said that “Potter, WCC general secretary from 1972 to 1984, was receiving the award for leading efforts against apartheid and his ‘excellent contribution to peace, justice, non-racism and equality in the world through the vehicle of Christianity.”
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