The Rev. Dr. Douwe Visser, the executive secretary for theology, communion and mission for the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC), will be taking early retirement in 2017 after an extended medical leave.
The medical leave, which began in May, is due to the need for surgery on both of Visser’s knees, a process that includes several months of rehabilitation and recovery. In accepting his request for early retirement, the WCRC’s Executive Committee expressed its thanks for Visser’s many years of service to the organization and offered the assurance of its prayers for his good health.
“Douwe has not only been a valuable member of the WCRC’s staff but has been a leader in the Reformed ecumenical movement for many years,” said Chris Ferguson, WCRC general secretary.
In 2008 Visser was appointed executive secretary for theology and ecumenical engagement in the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC). At that time he was also president of the Reformed Ecumenical Council (REC). The WARC and REC united in 2010 to become the WCRC.
“Douwe played an instrumental role in bringing the REC and WARC together and in building and cementing relationships in the WCRC,” said Jerry Pillay, WCRC president. “His work in theology, mission and communion was really outstanding, especially in the days in Geneva.”
During his time at the WCRC, Visser oversaw numerous dialogues with other Christian communions, including the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church, both of which produced significant documents. He coordinated three of the WCRC’s Global Institute of Theology, in the United States, Indonesia and Costa Rica. He also served as editor of Reformed World, the WCRC’s theological journal, and oversaw the Reformed Partnership Fund.
“In addition to using his experience and knowledge as a theologian, Douwe also used his skill and depth of understanding of churches and their needs to lead the work of the Communion in strengthening the work of our churches in mission and development through leading the Partnership Fund,” said Setri Nyomi, former general secretary of both WARC and the WCRC. “We thank God for the years of dedication that Douwe has given to Reformed churches worldwide.”
“We also express our thanks to his wife Antoinette for her support and service throughout the years,” said Pillay. “May God bless and keep them in all joy, love and peace. We pray God’s continued strength and healing upon him and wish him well in his retirement.”
To compensate for Visser’s absence in the period leading to the 2017 General Council, Aruna Gnanadason has been contracted as a consultant. Her primary responsibility is coordinating the 2017 Global Institute of Theology, to be held in Germany in conjunction with the General Council. Gnanadason will also provide additional support for the office of theology, mission and communion, while specific projects from the office will be taken up by other WCRC staff members or specialists.
Gnanadason, a member of the Church of South India, served as the dean of students for the last two GITs. She served the World Council of Churches as director of its women’s programme, coordinator of the Justice, Peace and Creation Team and executive director for planning and integregation. She has a Master of Arts degree in English literature and a doctorate of ministries in feminist theologies from San Francisco Theological Seminary.
It is anticipated that a search for a successor to Visser will take place after the 2017 General Council.
Visser is a minister of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, serving several congregations as pastor over the years. He was twice elected vice president of the REC before becoming its president. For most of the 1980s he worked as a missionary of the Mission of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands for the Reformed Church in Zambia, doing lay training and teaching at the Theological School in Lusaka, Zambia.
The Vissers have three adult children and plan on returning to the Netherlands in their retirement.