Ecumenical News International
The World Council of Churches (WCC), the biggest global Christian grouping, is considering proposals that would open its next assembly scheduled for 2013 to a wider network of Christian organizations and churches. al
John Thomas, general minister and president of the U.S.-based United Church of Christ told a meeting in Geneva of the WCC's main governing body, its central committee, that a world growing ever more diverse requires a more unified voice by Christians.
"Our interfaith partners are seeking to engage Christian churches in dialogue and they'd like a common word in return," he said on Feb. 14. "If they're to receive a coherent word in response to urgent problems, we must find ways to do that."
The proposal follows a call by WCC general secretary, Samuel Kobia, at the last WCC assembly in 2006 for the next such gathering to be held as a combined event with other global denominational bodies.
"Too many churches are stepping back from ecumenical to unilateral activities and positions. An expanded assembly would be a counterpoint to that," Thomas stated.
A paper presented to the WCC central committee outlined three possible models for coordinated assemblies. "From the plethora of discussions, there is a strong interest in pursuing a WCC-led ecumenical event that will gather the churches and affiliated ecumenical partners," it stated. The models for the assembly include a series of coordinated events over a three-year period; a series of events at the same time and in the same place; and a single all-encompassing event.
Some Orthodox church members of the WCC governing body, however, expressed concern about the proposal. "It would make us a minority of the minority," said Metropolitan Bishoy of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt. "We have worked hard to bring consensus to WCC. In an extended Assembly what would we do? We must study this matter very deeply so we don't destroy what we've built up in the past."
Still, noted Orthodox Archbishop Makarios of Kenya and Irinoupolis, "Our duty is to pave the way to a fraternal exchange of views for understanding, trust and acceptance with our brothers and sisters."
When the WCC held its once-every-seven-years assembly in Harare in 1998, Orthodox churches had threatened to leave the grouping over a decision making process at its governing bodies that had left them as a permanent minority. Subsequently, the WCC adopted consensus arrangements to help participation by Orthodox churches.
The WCC central committee has before it a recommendation for the creation of a 28-member committee to also include non-WCC representatives that will consider "how the ethos, structure, planning and coordination of an expanded assembly might strengthen both the fellowship of WCC member churches and the coherence of the one ecumenical movement."
"Not one of the proposed models meets all needs," said WCC staff member Doug Chial, "so if a new style of assembly is to succeed it would be wise to move from a listening process to a process of discernment."
By Jerry Van Marter, Ecumenical News International