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Evanston after Fifty Years

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Page 1Page 2Page 3Page 4Page 5Page 6Page 7Page 8Page 9Page 10Page 11Page 12Page 13Page 14Page 15Page 16Page 17Page 18Page 19Page 20Page 21Page 22Page 23Page 24Page 25Page 26Page 27Page 28Page 29Page 30Page 31Page 32Page 33Page 34Page 35Page 36Page 37Page 38Page 39Page 40Page 41Page 42Page 43Page 44Page 45RELIGION IN EASTERN EUROPE XXIV, 6 (DECEMBER 2004) page 22.EVANSTON AFTER FIFTY YEARSBy Norman A. Hjelm Norman A. Hjelm is a a former director of communication andsubsequently acting deputy general secretary of the Lutheran WorldFederation. He attended the WCC assembly in Evanston in 1954 as ayouth delegate.It is fully half a century since the second assembly of the World Council ofChurches was held in Evanston, Illinois. To date, this is the only WCC assembly to havebeen held in the United States. Incumbent US president Dwight D. Eisenhowerwelcomed the delegates and, speaking as "a single member of one of the constituentbodies of this council of churches", challenged them to mobilize their communions for"an intense act of faith" that would summon Christians everywhere to "the devotion,wisdom and stamina to work unceasingly for a just and lasting peace".Over the course of fifty years, experiences fade and even memories are blurred.So it is with the Evanston assembly, held in August 1954. At least so it is to this person,now a retiree but then a youth delegate. But two personal experiences, never to berecorded in official annals of the assembly, stand out. Both were striking to me in 1954,and both reflected major concerns facing the World Council of Churches at the time.The first memory I have was of a service of worship which brought togetheryouth from many parts of the world. It was held in one of the Evanston parish churches,attended by several hundred persons. What I remember most clearly was how startled -if not offended - the German participants were at the choice of the opening hymn for theservice. The hymn, sung from an American Lutheran hymnal, was "Glorious things ofthee are spoken". The words were fine, by John Newton, but it was the melody! It hadbeen written in 1791 by Franz Joseph Haydn: "Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser". Not onlywas this melody subsequently used by Haydn in a string quartet, it later became theGerman national anthem, as it continued to be at the time of World War II, with the alltoo memorable opening line "Deutschland, Deutschland, über alles". To sing thisRELIGION IN EASTERN EUROPE XXIV, 6 (DECEMBER 2004) page 23.melody seemed blasphemous to German participants. After all, the Evanston assemblywas held only nine years after that war's end, and the wounds were not yet healed.The fact that this was only the second post-war assembly was marked throughoutthe event. The assembly's theme itself, Christ - the hope of the world, set off theologicalfireworks not unrelated to the experiences of war. Europeans tended to view this themein apocalyptic terms, a view dominated by the world's apparent hopelessness asdemonstrated through the war. North Americans, on the other hand, tended to viewChristian hope progressively, hailing present efforts towards building the kingdom ofGod in the midst of human society. The major addresses by Edmund Schlink ofHeidelberg and Robert Calhoun of Yale stood in stark contrast to each other. In manyways this division now seems passé, to some at least, but in the development of manychurches and individuals (myself included) these "sharp differences in theologicalviewpoint", as an Evanston report put it, were and remain important.The second memory I have is a private one. The Evanston assembly was held inthe United States of Dwight Eisenhower, but the ascendancy of Senator JosephMcCarthy was soon to achieve its zenith. There was a hesitancy on the part of theAmerican government to grant visas to many, particularly persons from Eastern Europewho might have presented what is now called "a security risk". Nevertheless, certainEastern European church leaders were allowed to participate in the assembly, althoughmost often they were not allowed to leave the quiet university town of Evanston.Someone asked me - I can't believe it was any kind of official request - to spend timewith and keep my eye on László Dezséry, a Lutheran bishop from Hungary who, welater learned through bitter church experience, probably had a greater allegiance to hisgovernment than his church. This was a daunting assignment for a twenty-three-year-oldseminary student. The bishop was allowed to go with me to the assembly service atSoldiers' Field in Chicago, a service attended by more than 100,000 persons. Wemarched together in the procession when suddenly we were each pointed in a differentdirection - and ended up on opposite sides of the enormous football stadium. I thought Iwas part of an international incident…RELIGION IN EASTERN EUROPE XXIV, 6 (DECEMBER 2004) page 24.Thus was it first demonstrated to me that not only were governments on oppositesides of the Iron Curtain, but churches themselves were separated from one another onpolitical and ideological grounds. The World Council was just feeling its way out of theclimate created by World War II, and feeling its way into a new situation - East / West -that was to last for another thirty-five years. At Evanston, perhaps, we did not knowquite what we were getting into.The assembly, of course, was a major step forward for the WCC. It has oftenbeen said that if the motto of the first assembly at Amsterdam in 1948 was "stayingtogether", the watchword at Evanston was "growing together". In fact, in reaffirming theAmsterdam covenant, the Evanston assembly stated: "But beyond that, as the HolySpirit may guide us, we intend to unite."There were seeds planted at Evanston in a host of fields, among them:1. A theological statement concerning the assembly theme was received from theRoman Catholic Church. It came too late to be acted on, but it was a harbinger ofwhat would become normal ecumenical practice after Vatican II.2. Debate over the assembly theme included a reference to Christ as being "thehope of Israel". This phrase produced a jarring conflict and was dropped fromconsideration. This was not a high point of interfaith dialogue.3. The Amsterdam view of a "responsible society" was clarified and sharpened atEvanston, a crucial step - now of primarily historical interest - in thedevelopment of ecumenical social thought.4. The report of the assembly section on "The churches amid racial and ethnictensions"


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