The WCC and the ecumenical movement
The modern ecumenical movement began in the late 19th and early 20th century, when Christians began to pray and work together across denominational boundaries.
In 1937, church leaders agreed to establish a World Council of Churches, but its official organization was deferred by the outbreak of the second world war until August 1948, when representatives of 147 churches assembled in Amsterdam to constitute the WCC.
Since then, a growing number of churches on every continent has joined in this search for Christian unity.
What are some of the ecumenical movement's major achievements?
- New councils of churches and other ecumenical bodies in different countries and regions have created a genuinely worldwide ecumenical network of which the WCC is an integral part. The creation of this network has inspired its members to share an extraordinary number of resources of all kinds - theological, liturgical, spiritual, material and human.
- The Roman Catholic Church is a full member of many national ecumenical and several regional ecumenical organizations and has a regular working relationship with the WCC.
- Shared convictions on faith, life and witness are increasingly enriching theological reflection undertaken from strictly confessional perspectives. For example, theologians from different church traditions working together in the WCC's Faith and Order Commission produced a statement on baptism, eucharist and ministry that has led to new worship patterns within churches, and to a greater understanding and changed relationships between churches of different confessional traditions.
- During the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Christians are drawn together into the prayer of our Lord that all may be one so that the world may believe. This Week, whose theme is developed each year by the Faith and Order Commission with the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, draws churches at the local level into deeper fellowship.
- Since its creation, the WCC has supported and inspired church participation in struggles for justice, peace and creation. One example is the highly-valued support given by the churches, through the WCC's Programme to Combat Racism, to the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Support to efforts to bring about an end to the two decades-long civil conflict in Sudan, or to reunification of North and South Korea, or to the defence of human rights in Latin America during the decades of brutal military dictatorships in that region are three among many other examples.
- Recognition of the importance of inter-religious dialogue and relations with other faiths, as well as of the churches' responsibility for the integrity of creation, have been particular hallmarks of the ecumenical movement.
Today, both the ecumenical movement and the WCC are changing. New forms of ecumenical commitment are emerging; young people are finding their own expressions (and thus assuming ownership of) ecumenism and church; amidst the multiplicity of ecumenical bodies, the WCC is redirecting its energies to doing what it does best and is uniquely equipped to do.
The WCC shares the legacy of the one ecumenical movement and the responsibility to keep it alive. As the most comprehensive body among the many organized expressions of the ecumenical movement, the Council's role is to address global ecumenical issues and act as a trustee for the inner coherence of the movement.