Rev. Dr. Angelique Walker-Smith, former executive director of the Church Federation of Greater Indianapolis, was elected president of the World Council of Churches from North America. She was one of eight presidents elected during the council’s 11th assembly, which was held Aug. 31-Sept. 8 in Germany.
Walker-Smith, who identifies as Pan-African, was ordained at the Convent Avenue Baptist Church, a historic Black church of in Harlem, New York. She received her bachelor’s degree from Kent State University, her master’s degree from Yale University’s Divinity School and her doctorate degree from Princeton Theological Seminary.
While in Indianapolis, she was a volunteer prison ministry chaplain for women at Indiana Women’s Prison.
Today she serves as the senior associate for Pan-African, orthodox and ecumenical faith engagement at Bread for the World in the U.S., an ecumenical representative for the National Baptist Convention USA and a columnist for the Indianapolis Recorder.
In this Q&A, learn about Walker-Smith’s new position and her ambitions as the president.
Note: Answers were lightly edited for spelling, grammar and AP style.
How does it feel to be the new WCC president from North America?
I am profoundly honored and humbled to be elected to this ministry responsibility. It’s taking a while to get used to the idea and am still learning what it may mean. I am appreciative of the prayers and words of encouragement I have received since Sept. 5 when the WCC presidium was formally announced, elected by the hundreds of church delegates, prayed over and sent by them after commendation from the global nominating committee, our regional churches and ecumenical bodies and national church bodies.
This process commends a deep sense of accountability and listening to these leader as well as the laments and hopes of all of God’s people and creation. This, while carefully discerning a way forward with them in this global, national and local season of challenges and new possibilities with and for all.
What are your responsibilities as president?
I am one of eight elected World Council of Churches presidents by the delegates at the World Council of Churches 11th World Assembly. I was elected as the president from North America. There are eight presidents from Africa, Asia, Europe, Pacific, Latin America/Caribbean, North America, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox. The basic premise of the role of president is that the person should be one whose ecumenical experience and standing is widely recognized by the member churches and among the ecumenical partners of the World Council of Churches in their respective regions and ecclesial traditions.
According to the WCC Constitution the primary role of the WCC presidents is to promote ecumenism and interpret the work of the WCC, especially in their respective regions. By virtue of the office, the presidents (presidium) are leaders of the WCC along with the moderator, vice-moderators and the general secretary in their roles of governance. Presidents are also members of the central committee. Presidents may be invited to moderate sessions of the central committee or assembly and may be invited to undertake certain tasks or reflections and report back to the central committee. The term of office of a president shall end at the end of the next assembly following his or her election.
How long will you be president? Can you run multiple terms?
Each of the eight presidents serves immediately upon their election until the end of the next WCC Assembly. The next WCC Assembly is proposed for 2030; therefore service for up to eight years. WCC presidents do not run for office. They are each commended and nominated by their region’s churches and regional ecumenical bodies to the WCC global nominating committee as stated above. Candidates that are commended and nominated present themselves before the delegates in their region upon invitation from them and a maximum of two names from the region are forwarded to the WCC global nominating committee for consideration for election by the delegates.
Are you the first Black woman elected to this position?
I am the first woman of African descent in North America from the Historic Black Churches and Baptist confessional family in this elected role.
Why do you think your accomplishment is important to the Black community?
I think it shows and exposes once again the resilience, resolve and hope of people of African descent, Africa and our Christian partners and allies. This new role comes on the shoulders and sacrifices of those who came before me. Some may say it is actually sad that only in 2022 this moment has come and not many years ago. The Bible teaches that all of us are made in the image of God (Imago Dei).
But our confession must speak to the truth that we have fallen short of receiving the beauty of all of our diverse gifts among diverse peoples and groups. Moments like this remind us of how far we have to go while also thanking God for the revelation of indicators like this that show us what is yet possible.
What are some of your plans and ambitions moving forward?
An open process, facilitated by our national councils in the USA and Canada, was used to determine the concerns in our North American regional meeting at the 11th assembly. Our concerns reflect a follow-up to the partnership with the engagement of the WCC Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace process that also complemented these existing issues identified in both countries in North America.
Therefore, my presidential mandate is clear from the North American region and is consistent with the global ecumenical priorities. Our issues and concerns reflect our commitment to unity, mission and justice that come together in our region and globally. I am grateful for this clarity.
The first concern agreed upon is connected to racism, which divides all of us. We seek to address the wounds and lament resulting from this scourge and advocate for transformation that moves us to justice and reconciliation for and with all.
The second issue is not far behind the first: climate justice. This is a matter of urgency for and with all that disproportionately affects people affected by racism, white supremacy and white privilege.
The third is the generational wealth and income gap that is related to inequality, inequities, poverty and hunger. All of which beg the questions of how we promote human dignity, human rights and human flourishing that can lead to sustainable life expressed in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and abundant life God intends for all.
The fourth, also intersectional with the other three, is the reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and lands. Advocacy within our churches, communities and with our policy leaders is critical to addressing these issues not only in interpersonal and communal spaces but in changing systems and structures that promote these concern/issues.
Finally, would you like to add anything you believe people should know about your newly elected position?
I would like to thank the people of greater Indianapolis and Indiana. I would especially like to thank those who served with me and supported me in the roles I served in, and much more, that were mentioned earlier. I thank you sincerely for what you did to encourage our ministry and mission work together to make a difference in the Hoosier state, our country and world. This still informs and inspires me now. To God be the glory and may God continue to bless and enrich your lives as we serve God and God’s people.
Contact religion reporter Abriana Herron at 317-924-5243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Abri_onyai. Herron is a Report for America corps member and writes about the role of Black churches in the community.