World Alliance of Reformed Churches News Release 19 February 2007
Milan Opocensky: a friend to the ecumenical movement
Milan Opocensky, former general secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC), was a "gift to the ecumenical community," his successor Setri Nyomi said in a moving tribute at a memorial service in Prague on 17 February.
Opocensky died on 31 January in Prague after a brief illness. He was 75. A long time ecumenical leader, he was WARC's general secretary from 1989 to 2000.
"I come with a sense of gratitude to God for his life * a life fully spent in dedication to God and in making a difference in the world," Nyomi said at the solemn service held at St. Clement's Church, a congregation of the Evangelical Church of the Czech Brethren, Opocensky's home denomination.
"Church leader, ecumenist, scholar, Milan was also a leader, mentor and friend to so many of us in the ecumenical movement."
Nyomi said Opocensky was also known to many people in WARC as a passionate leader who was a source of both inspiration and challenge. "We continue to hold Milan in our hearts."
His tribute echoed the words of WARC president Clifton Kirkpatrick, who wrote in a letter to Opocensky's wife, Jana Opocenska, "I give thanks to God for the life and witness of Milan Opocensky and am deeply grateful for his life of service to the church and the world."
Opocensky still had many plans he wanted to fulfil for his church, added Pavel Smetana, the former moderator of the Evangelical Church of the Czech Brethren, during his sermon at the Prague memorial.
"More than others, he perceived the Christian responsibility for the miserable people of this world. The smallest of all, unable to get justice * he wanted to serve them truthfully as a Christian."
During his tribute Nyomi spoke of the difficult decisions Opocensky faced as a Czech church leader during the Cold War, reminding those in the packed church sanctuary that while not everyone understood his choices at that time, Opocensky's decisions were the result of deep spiritual discernment.
"We in the World Alliance of Reformed Churches are happy to note that when Milan chose to return to serve his church and people before the fall of the iron curtain, he was doing so out of a clear conviction that this was a mission which had risks he was willing to take because he loved his people.
"At a tragic time for the Czech people, and at the risk of his own freedom and a cost for his family, he chose to stay with his church and people. He took the risk of going home at a very difficult time and thus contributed to the formation of many who passed through the Comenius (Theology) faculty," Nyomi said.
In a sermon at the same church the following day Nyomi called upon all to be agents of transformation in a world "in which exclusion and oppression is the source of fear for many in our homes, churches and communities * where diseases are destroying many, where the dreams of working people are dashed against the hard floors of unemployment and poverty."
And he particularly thanked God for Opocensky and his wife Jana Opocenska for their ministry among Reformed churches on behalf of the oppressed and excluded of the world.
A second memorial service is scheduled for Tuesday 20 February at 4 p.m. at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva.
The World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) brings together 75 million Reformed Christians in 214 churches in 107 countries - united in their commitment to making a difference in a troubled world. The WARC general secretary is Rev. Dr. Setri Nyomi of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Ghana. WARC's secretariat is based in Geneva, Switzerland.
Contact: John P. Asling Executive Secretary, Communications World Alliance of Reformed Churches 150 Route de Ferney P.O. Box 2100 1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland tel. +41.22 791 6243 fax: +41.22 791 6505 web: www.warc.ch