World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

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Frequently asked questions

What is the World Council of Churches? What does the WCC do? When did the WCC begin? What is the aim of the WCC? How many churches...
Frequently asked questions

The pastor of Unalaska United Methodist Church listening to a child's questions. Photo: Paul Jeffrey/WCC

 

What is the World Council of Churches?
What does the WCC do?
When did the WCC begin?
What is the aim of the WCC?
How many churches were involved at the beginning?
How many member churches does the WCC have now?
Is the Roman Catholic Church a member?
How does a church become a member?
Have any churches ever been expelled from the WCC?
How is the WCC governed?
What does it cost to run the WCC?
Where does the money come from?
What is the annual membership fee?
How many people work for the WCC?
Who is the most senior official?
Where are the WCC headquarters?
Are there any other WCC offices in the world?
Why does the WCC use a boat for its logo?
What is the "Common Understanding and Vision" process?
How can I apply for a job with the WCC?
Can I apply for a WCC scholarship?


What is the World Council of Churches?

The World Council of Churches is a Christian organization dedicated to the search for Christian unity. It is a voluntary fellowship (association) of churches which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour. For more information click to About us.

What does the WCC do?

Churches in the fellowship of the WCC pursue the vision of ecumenism as they:
seek visible unity in one faith and one eucharistic fellowship;
promote common witness in work for mission and evangelism;
engage in Christian service by meeting human need, breaking down barriers between people, seeking justice and peace, and upholding the integrity of creation.

For more information: click to What we do

When did the WCC begin?

The World Council of Churches was formally inaugurated in 1948 at its first Assembly in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. For more information about the first Assembly and the history of the WCC click to WCC history.

What is the aim of the WCC?

The aim of the WCC is to pursue the goal of the visible unity of the Church. This involves a process of renewal and change in which member churches pray, worship, discuss and work together. For more information click to About us

How many churches were involved at the beginning?

147, mostly Protestant, who came predominantly from Europe and North America.

How many member churches does the WCC have now?

By  the end of 2013 the WCC had 345 member churches. Together, these churches represent more than 500 million Christians (though it is important to note that different churches have different ways of calculating membership). Today's member churches come from more than 110 countries on all continents and include Orthodox, Anglican, Protestant, United and other churches. A majority of member churches now come from the South. For more information click to member churches.

Is the Roman Catholic Church a member?

No, although there is no constitutional reason why the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) could not join; in fact it has never applied. The RCC's self-understanding has been one reason why it has not joined. The WCC has close links with the RCC. A WCC/RCC joint working group meets annually. The WCC commissions on Faith and Order as well as on World Mission and Evangelism include Roman Catholics who are members with full voting rights. A Roman Catholic consultant works with WCC staff on mission issues and a Roman Catholic professor is part of the faculty at the Ecumenical Institute Bossey. For more information click to Roman Catholic Church


How does a church become a member?

Applications for membership are submitted to the general secretary and are reviewed by the WCC Central Committee. There are various criteria to be met, as described in Rule I of the WCC Constitution:

Churches which agree with the WCC basis are eligible to apply for WCC membership.

Applicant churches are asked to give an account of their faith and witness as they relate to the purposes and functions of the WCC. A prospective member must evidence "sustained autonomous life and organization" and "constructive ecumenical relations" with other churches in its country. An applicant church must ordinarily have at least 50,000 members. Churches with more than 10,000 but less than and 50,000 members are eligible for membership without the right to participate in decision-making in an assembly.

Applications may be formally accepted by the Central Committee through consensus for an interim period during which the WCC member churches are consulted. Following this process, the Central Committee assess whether a consensus of member churches has developed in favour of the application, in which event the applicant church shall be considered a new member church.

Have any churches ever been expelled from the WCC?

No. A very few churches have withdrawn their membership. Three Dutch Reformed churches in South Africa withdrew their membership in the early 1960s over issues to do with apartheid. In the 1970s, the Salvation Army and the Presbyterian Church in Ireland withdrew their membership following grants for humanitarian purposes made from the WCC Special Fund to Combat Racism, to liberation movements in southern Africa.

How is the WCC governed?

The highest decision-making body is the Assembly which meets approximately once every eight years. The 10th Assembly was held in Busan, Republic of Korea, 30 October to 8 November 2013 under the theme : "God of life, lead us to justice and peace". WCC assemblies are both business and celebration events. Some 3,000 participants, representing 345 member churches of the WCC, including youth, WCC staff members, stewards, co-opted staff, interpreters and more than 1,000 Korean church members and day visitors, attended the 10th Assembly. In between assemblies, a 150-member Central Committee (elected by the Assembly) meets every two years to monitor and develop policies set by the Assembly. The current moderator of the Central Committee is Agnes Abuom, from the Anglican Church of Kenya. For more information click to Organizational structure.

What does it cost to run the WCC?

In 2012, WCC's total income was CHF 30 million, including CHF 1 million in contributions for the assembly fund, while its budgeted income for 2013 is CHF 31.3 million, including CHF 2.7 million in assembly contributions. WCC's running costs, including building maintenance, IT, finance and other administrative services, are offset by rental and other income derived from those services. The resultant net cost of running WCC was CHF 3.9 million in 2012, and is budgeted to be CHF 3.8 million in 2013.

Where does the money come from?

Contributions to the WCC, including membership, totalled CHF 22.6 million in 2012 (75% of total income), while CHF 7.4 million was generated principally from rental income from both the Ecumenical Centre and a residential building, and from the increased activities of the Ecumenical Institute guest house and conference centre. In 2012, WCC reported CHF 0.5 million in investment income and foreign currency gains. Of WCC's contribution income of CHF 22.6 million, 83% came from Europe and 13% from North America. The main contributing bodies were churches and church-based or church-related specialized ministries. For more detailed information click to Annual Review and Financial Report.

What is the annual membership fee?

The annual membership contribution is calculated using a method that is fair, transparent and objectively determined for all members. A formula is used that takes into consideration the size of the church and the relative wealth of the country or countries where it is situated. For further details on "How to calculate your church's membership contribution" please contact the membership income coordinator.


How many people work for the WCC?

As of June 2011, WCC staff consists of 143 people, working in 97 full time equivalent positions. 131 of these staff members are based in the WCC offices in Geneva, Switzerland.

Who is the most senior official?

The general secretary is Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit who is a member of the Church of Norway. He took up his post in January 2010. Dr Agnes Abuom is the moderator of the Central Committee, which oversees the work of the World Council of Churches in the years between WCC assemblies.

Where are the WCC headquarters?

Because the WCC is its member churches, there is no "head office" as such. The WCC's administrative centre is in Geneva, Switzerland. The address is: route de Ferney 150. For more information click on Visits to the Ecumenical Centre and the WCC.

Are there any other WCC offices in the world?

Yes, there are other WCC offices:

Why does the WCC use a boat for its logo?

This WCC symbol portrays the church as a ship afloat on the sea of the world with the mast in the form of a cross, itself the symbol par excellence of the Christian faith. It is not clear when the symbol was first adopted for the ecumenical movement but it was in use before the inauguration of the WCC in 1948. The minutes of meetings held during the years when the Council was in "process of formation" carried the symbol on the cover page. It is likely the symbol of a boat has its origin in the Gospel stories of the calling by Jesus of Galilean fishermen and the stilling of the storm by Jesus on the lake of Galilee. For more information: click to Logo


What is the "Common Understanding and Vision" process?

During the WCC's Eighth Assembly in December 1998 in Harare, Zimbabwe, delegates representing all the WCC's member churches were asked to approve a major policy document setting forth a shared understanding of and vision for ecumenical engagement. The hope is that this text, building on the experiences and lessons of fifty years of life together in the WCC, will serve as a point of reference and charter for renewed ecumenical commitment in the years ahead. The process of study and consultation towards a statement on common understanding and vision (known in WCC circles as "CUV") was launched in 1989 by a decision of the central committee meeting in Moscow. For more information click to Common Understanding and Vision.


How can I apply for a job with the WCC?

Vacancy notices are published on the WCC website. Full details for an open position, together with the general conditions of service and application forms may be obtained from and must be returned to the Human Resources Office. For more information: click to Job openings.

Can I apply for a WCC scholarship?

The WCC Scholarships Programme only accepts applications from member churches and related organizations. Individuals cannot apply for support for their personal learning programmes. For more information click to scholarships programme

 

What if my question is not in this list?

If you have an important question about the WCC which is not listed here, you can contact our staff via the online contact form.