Ecumenical News International

Memorial Service for Theologian Philip Potter in Lübeck Cathedral

April 17, 2015

Lübeck (epd). On Thursday a memorial service was held in Lübeck Cathedral for Philip Potter, former general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC). With his love, his outstanding intellect and good humour Potter had worked for unity between the churches in the world, said Desmond Tutu, former Anglican archbishop of Cape Town (South Africa) and Nobel Peace laureate, speaking to over 300 international guests. Bishop Kirsten Fehrs called Potter a "big-hearted person and ground-breaking ecumenist".

Potter died in Lübeck on 30 March at the age of 93. Since 1985 he had been married to Bärbel Wartenberg-Potter, who was bishop of Lübeck from 2001 to 2008. He will be buried in the coming days with only the closest family members present.
Tutu underlined that Potter had helped to cast off "the colonial yoke". Tutu was particularly grateful to him for his support in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. He was sure that Nelson Mandela would throw a party for Potter when he arrived in heaven, joked his longstanding comrade and friend. And the Lord would say to him, "Well done!"

Potter was born on 19 August 1921 on the Caribbean island of Dominica. After university studies in Kingston (Jamaica) and London he was active in the Student Christian Movement (SCM). In 1950 he went to Haiti for four years as a Methodist minister. After that he worked in different functions at the WCC, where he also met his later wife Bärbel. Serving as general secretary of the WCC from 1972 to 1984, he was the first representative of the developing world in this office.

Potter had suffered racist attacks very early in life, said Bishop Fehrs. He had always clearly formulated his concerns: against apartheid in South Africa, against nuclear arms build-up and for a new community of women and men in the church. Fehrs: "He was a living thorn in the flesh - especially in the churches that had compromised with the powers of this world."
WCC General secretary Olav Fykse Tveit called Potter a "pilgrim on the path of justice and peace". He had made a difference - to himself, the church and the international community. He had taken Christian unity forward with vision and passion.

Ophelia Ortega, a former president of the WCC, remembered Potter's commitment to the Christians in her home country, Cuba. He had conveyed to them a vision of the radical message of the Bible and the mission of the church. It was thanks to him that so many Christians had not left Cuba despite anti-religious hostility.

After retiring as general secretary, Potter and his wife moved from Geneva to Jamaica, where they each taught theology at Kingston University. When Bärbel Wartenberg-Potter was elected bishop of Lübeck in 2001 they moved to that city in northern Germany. His 90th birthday on 19 August 2011 was celebrated in grand style there with many international friends and colleagues.



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