The world's leading Reformed church organization—the World Alliance of Reformed Churches—celebrated its 125th anniversary on July 21 at St Mark's Cathedral in Bangalore, capital of the southern Indian state of Karnataka. Five delegates—representing Africa, America, Asia, Australia and Europe—lit a ceremonial lamp at the start of the service at the Church of South India (CSI) cathedral. Among those present were 70 delegates, staff and visitors from the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC), which represents more than 200 Presbyterian, Reformed, United and Congregational churches around the world."This is a proud moment for the Church of South India to celebrate this great moment in the history of Reformed churches," said Bishop Vasanthkumar Suputhrappa, of the CSI, which is hosting the 125th anniversary celebrations and the annual meeting of WARC's executive committee. Bishop Vasanthkumar said that the three-million-member CSI shared the "multicultural and ethnic base" of WARC (of which it is a member) as the CSI itself was formed in 1947 by a union of southern India's Methodist, Anglican, Presbyterian and Congregational churches.The service was intended to stress the diversity of both WARC and the CSI. The Indian church uses six languages, which were in evidence in the liturgy of the thanksgiving service.Dr Setri Nyomi, WARC's general secretary, reminded the congregation of the alliance's growth "from its humble beginnings" to its present stature with 215 member churches and 75 million people in 108 countries. WARC traces its origins to July 21, 1875 when churches from many countries holding the Presbyterian system of church rule formed an alliance in London with the following goal: "The time seems to have come when churches may more fully manifest their essential oneness and have closer communion with one another, and promote great causes by joint action."Other churches in the Reformed tradition later joined the alliance, and in 1970, in Nairobi, Kenya, WARC was established in its present form.Presbyterians from 21 Western nations had been present at the 1875 meeting, Dr Nyomi said. But 125 years later more than two-thirds of WARC's member churches were in countries "of the South," he said pointing to the "diversity and reach" of the alliance of churches in the Reformed and Congregational traditions.In WARC's recent history, the most notable feature, according to past president Jane Dempsey Douglass, was "the shift of focus" to the South in the 1980s. Douglass told ENI that a milestone in this shift of focus was the strong stand WARC took against apartheid during its general council in Ottawa in 1982. That general council, she said, had declared theological support for apartheid a "heresy," and had elected Allan Boesak, a South African clergyman and leader of the struggle against apartheid, as president of WARC. (Dr Boesak is now serving a prison term in South Africa for theft and fraud.)Two white churches in South Africa had been expelled from WARC for supporting apartheid as a result of "this awakening" by the general council, Douglass added.Professor Choan-Seng Song, WARC's president, told the congregation that the fact that WARC's inaugural meeting "took place in Africa, and not in Europe or America" was a sign of the organization's willingness to break "geographical barriers" and identify with the Third World. One proof of this was the condemnation, by WARC's 1997 general council, of worldwide economic injustice and ecological destruction.

Copyright © 2000 ENI.Christianity Today has covered stories about the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, Boesak's sentencing, and the Church of South India:Leaders Aim to Heal Ancient Schism | Joint statement to bring unity to disparate churches. (Apr. 6, 1998) Insisting He's Innocent, Anti-Apartheid Activist Begins Jail Term | Allan Boesak sentenced for theft of anti-apartheid foundation funds. (May 16, 2000) 100,000 People Mourn Loss of Church Leader in Southern India | Metropolitan Alexander Mar Thoma was head of church since 1976. (Jan. 19, 2000)The World Alliance of Reformed Churches' Web site lists upcoming conferences and the results of ongoing interdenominational dialogue.The WARC constitution is also available online, including faith statements and a link to WARC news.The Church of South India's site represents the union of Anglican, Methodist, Congregational, Presbyterian and Reformed churches in Southern India, and contains news and listings from all members.