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The World Council of Churches (WCC) is an inter-church organization founded in 1948. Its members today include most mainstream Christian churches, but not the Roman Catholic Church, which sends accredited observers to meetings. It arose out of the ecumenical movement and has as its basis the following statement:
The WCC describes itself as "a worldwide fellowship of 349 global, regional and sub-regional, national and local churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service." It is based at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva, Switzerland. The organization members include denominations, which claim to collectively represent some 590 million people, across the world in ca. 150 countries, including 520,000 local congregations served by 493,000 pastors and priests, in addition to elders, teachers, members of parish councils and others.
After the initial successes of the Ecumenical Movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including the Edinburgh Missionary Conference of 1910 (chaired by future WCC Honorary President John R. Mott), church leaders agreed in 1937 to establish a World Council of Churches, based on a merger of the Faith and Order Movement and Life and Work Movement organisations.
Its official establishment was deferred with the outbreak of World War II until August 23, 1948. Delegates of 147 churches assembled in Amsterdam to merge the Faith and Order Movement and Life and Work Movement. This was consolidated by a second meeting at Lund in 1950, for which the British Methodist Robert Newton Flew edited an influential volume of studies, The Nature of the Church. Subsequent mergers were with the International Missionary Council in 1961 and the World Council of Christian Education, with its roots in the 18th century Sunday School movement, in 1971.
WCC member churches include most of the Orthodox Churches; numerous Protestant churches, including the Anglican Communion, some Baptists, many Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian and other Reformed, a sampling of united and independent churches, and some Pentecostal churches; and some Old Catholic churches.
Delegates sent from the member churches meet every seven or eight years in an Assembly, which elects a Central Committee that governs between Assemblies. A variety of other committees and commissions answer to the Central Committee and its staff. Assemblies have been held since 1948.
An assembly last met in Porto Alegre, Brazil in February 2006, under the theme "God, in your grace, transform the world". During the first Assemblies, theologians Vasileios Ioannidis and Amilkas Alivizatos contributed significantly to the debates that led to the drafting of the "Toronto Statement", a foundational document which facilitated Eastern Orthodox participation in the organization and today it constitutes its ecclesiological charter.
The WCC policy towards the persecution of Christians in the Soviet bloc was seriously compromised by the presence of KGB agents on its committees.
At the 1961 conference, a 32-year old Russian Orthodox Bishop named Aleksey Ridiger was sent as delegate to the assembly, and then appointed to the WCC's central committee. He was an officer in the Estonian KGB. He was later elected as Russian patriarch in 1990 as Alexei II.
The Presidents of the World Council of Churches are:
|1948–1966||W. A. Visser 't Hooft||Reformed Churches in the Netherlands/Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches, Geneva||Netherlands|
|1966–1972||Eugene Carson Blake||United Presbyterian Church (USA)||U.S.|
|1972–1984||Philip A. Potter||Methodist Church||Dominica|
|1985–1992||Emilio Castro||Evangelical Methodist Church of Uruguay||Uruguay|
|1993–2003||Konrad Raiser||Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD)||Germany|
|2004–2009||Samuel Kobia||Methodist Church in Kenya||Kenya|
|2010–Present||Olav Fykse Tveit||Church of Norway||Norway|
There are two complementary approaches to ecumenism: dialogue and action. The Faith and Order Movement and Life and Work Movement represent these approaches. These approaches are reflected in the work of the WCC in its commissions, these being:
The WCC acts through both its member churches and other religious and social organizations to coordinate ecumenical, evangelical, and social action.
WCC's Faith and Order Commission has been successful in working toward consensus on Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry, on the date of Easter, on the nature and purpose of the church (ecclesiology), and on ecumenical hermeneutics.
Justice, Peace and Creation has drawn many elements together with an environmental focus. Its mandate is:
Attention has been given to issues around:
The largest Christian body, the Roman Catholic Church, is not a member of the WCC, but has worked closely with the Council for more than three decades and sends observers to all major WCC conferences as well as to its Central Committee meetings and the Assemblies (cf Joint Working Group).
The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity also nominates 12 members to the WCC's Faith and Order Commission as full members. While not a member of the WCC, the Roman Catholic Church is a member of some other ecumenical bodies at regional and national levels, for example, the National Council of Churches in Australia and the National Council of Christian Churches in Brazil (CONIC).
A Special Commission was set up by the eighth Harare Assembly in December 1998 to address Orthodox concerns about WCC membership and the Council's decision-making style, public statements, worship practices, and other issues.
The Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC represents the potential for fresh and creative high-level discussion about the structure and life of the Council, a discussion explicitly seen as continuing the foundations laid by the process and the policy document "Towards a Common Understanding and Vision of the World Council of Churches".
The WCC is also a prominent supporter and practitioning body for Peace Journalism: journalism practice that aims to avoid a value bias in favour of violence that often characterises coverage of conflict.
WCC general secretary, Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia, said in December 2009 the endorsement by the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem of the “Kairos Palestine” document “adds integrity, authority and force to the message of the document," which includes a call for an "end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and for a boycott of Israel."
The ACT Alliance, bringing together over 100 church-backed relief and development organizations worldwide, was born out of the merger of ACT International (Action by Churches Together International) and ACT Development (Action by Churches Together for Development) in March 2010. Both ACT International, established in 1995, and ACT Development (2007) were created through the leadership of the World Council of Churches (WCC). The two bodies coordinated the work of agencies related to the member churches of the WCC and the Lutheran World Federation in the areas of humanitarian emergencies and poverty reduction respectively.
The Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance was officially founded in December 2000 at a meeting convened by the WCC. There are currently 73 churches and Christian organizations that are members of the Alliance, from Catholic, Evangelical, Orthodox and Protestant traditions. These members, representing a combined constituency of tens of millions of people around the world, are committed to working together in public witness and action for justice on defined issues of common concern. Current campaigns are on Food and on HIV and AIDS.
The Ecumenical Church Loan Fund (ECLOF) was founded in 1946 as one of the world's first international micro-credit institutions in the service of the poor. Willem Visser 't Hooft, then general secretary of the "WCC in process of formation" played an important role in founding ECLOF. It was he who sketched the prospects and challenges for the proposed institution and gave specific ideas on potential sources of funds. His inspiration and team work marked the beginning of a long and fruitful cooperation between ECLOF and the WCC.
Ecumenical News International (ENI) was launched in 1994 as a global news service reporting on ecumenical developments and other news of the churches, and giving religious perspectives on news developments worldwide. The joint sponsors of ENI, which is based at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva, Switzerland, are the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches, which also have their headquarters at the Ecumenical Centre.
The WCC has not sought the organic union of different Christian denominations — it has however facilitated dialogue and supported local, national, and regional dialogue and cooperation.
Membership in a regional or national council does not mean that the particular group is also a member of the WCC.
in English-speaking countries