Former HDS Fellow Elected Head of WCC

The Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia, who spent 1999-2000 as a fellow at the Center for the Study of Values in Public Life at Harvard Divinity School, was elected the new general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC) on August 28, 2003. He took office in January 2004.

Kobia, an ordained minister in the Methodist Church in Kenya, is the first African general secretary of the worldwide ecumenical body, a fellowship of 341 churches and denominations in more than 120 countries representing some 400 million Christians.

During his year at HDS, according to Professor Harvey Cox, "Kobia gave an eloquent lecture on Africa in Sperry. He spent the year working on a book that he has now finished [The Courage to Hope, a book about the many years of collective struggle to come to terms with Africa's dilemmas]." Kobia also found time to get to know some of his colleagues. "I enjoyed taking him to the Ethiopian restaurant in Central Square, which he loved," Cox said.

As for the WCC's choice of Kobia as their head, Cox said, "He is a splendid choice for the WCC. He will be especially good at relating the WCC to the rising tide of independent and Pentecostal churches, and not just in Africa. He is dedicated, personable, highly intelligent, and vastly experienced in ecumenical affairs. His selection also reminds us that the center of gravity of world Christianity is moving to the 'southern' world."

Kobia, 56, has a long history of ecumenical experience, most recently as the director and special representative for Africa for the WCC, and previously as the WCC executive secretary for Urban Rural Mission; executive director of the WCC's Justice, Peace and Creation Unit; and general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Kenya. He helped reorganize the Zimbabwe Christian Council after independence, chaired peace talks for Sudan in 1991, and in 1992 chaired Kenya's National Election Monitoring Unit. He holds several degrees from institutions in Kenya and the United States, including a master's degree in city planning (MCP) from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a doctor of divinity degree from the Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis.

In his acceptance remarks, Kobia said: "Our diversity is our strength. That is why we must safeguard the multilateral space that WCC provides for churches around the world. ... Today, we live in a world we recognize as a broken world; a world searching for meaning in life and for security, yet a world in which many lead meaningless and insecure lives. The answer is neither in politics nor in economics. Nor is the answer to be found in military might. The problem humankind is facing today is deeply spiritual and moral. This therefore is a huge challenge to the WCC. We will work tirelessly towards the healing of the world, and the restoration of the human dignity of all the people of God." 

Kobia concluded his remarks with an African saying: "If you want to walk fast, walk alone. But if you want to go far, walk together with others."