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GEN 3 Report of the General Secretary

22 February 2005

Introduction

1. It is with great pleasure and joy that I welcome you to this meeting of the Central Committee which is my first meeting to which I report as General Secretary. I wish to begin where we left off when you elected me on 28 August 2003. At the end of my acceptance speech, I appealed to you, members of the Central Committee, for your spiritual accompaniment, and I wish to thank you very much for your most positive response. I received messages ranging from a few lines of prayer or a poem to pages of spiritual meditation, to books on spirituality, to a package of several books with enriching articles or chapters on spirituality. I want to share with you that these have been my companions over the last fourteen months that I have been serving as General Secretary. I often return to these messages, and I have found them to be very uplifting indeed. They are for me a reservoir from which I am able to quench my spiritual thirst.

2. The transition from Konrad Raiser's time to the start of my tenure went very smoothly indeed. My brother Konrad, being the very disciplined and organized worker that he is, saw to it that everything to do with the handover process was well planned and arranged. For that I thank him very much. My staff colleagues have been extremely supportive, and together we have worked intensively during the period under review. In response to my request, many of them also contributed to my spiritual discernment. The programme highlights presented to the Programme Committee are a good summary of the breadth and scope of the programmatic work undertaken by the various teams and offices. The Finance Committee has also received a report on finance and management which has pronounced positive elements, especially given the challenging times we have gone through in the recent past. The financial recovery which had already started before I assumed this responsibility has continued, as will be shown by the Finance Committee report.

3. My report is in three parts. First, I would like to share with the Central Committee what I have heard during my visits to churches and regions. I will do this not with a view to go into details, but to consider how the issues and concerns identified would inform and impact our discussions and our understanding of ecumenism in the 21st century.

4. In the second part, I wish to lift up three areas of the work identified by this Central Committee as needing special attention and a special approach: the dialogue with the Bretton Woods Institutions, the Decade to Overcome Violence, and the Ecumenical Focus on Africa. Each had unique features and the approach adopted is congruent with a particular model from which specific insights and lessons could be drawn. Each of them now has attained a certain level of maturation, and yet each requires a measure of further continuity, either as an integral part as originally envisaged (DOV); or as a logical next step after having concluded a clearly identifiable phase (dialogue with BWIs); or a new series of challenges dictating a move to a higher level of engagement (EFA).

5. In the third part I will lift up three areas of an institutional and organizational nature: The Special Commission, to show that we are harvesting the fruits of what has been one of the most significant undertakings by this Central Committee. A brief section on staffing is included in this part to describe an emerging staffing profile as we move to the next Assembly. While a full report on Assembly preparations will be presented by the Assembly Planning Committee, I felt I could not conclude my report without a mention of how I view the Porto Alegre Assembly.

6. And finally, I include a brief piece on a matter which has grasped the world's attention because of its colossal effect on a large population around the Indian Ocean. Concerning the tsunami in the Indian Ocean, we seek the Central Committee's support through Living Letters for the proposed accompaniment of the countries affected.

Part I

Travel

7. During my first year in office, I decided to spend a reasonable amount of time listening to and introducing myself to the member churches and also to the world. My intention is to have visited all regions before the Assembly in February 2006. By the end of my first year, I had visited six regions. I have yet to visit the Caribbean and the Middle East, which I intend to do in the course of 2005. I am very grateful for the warm welcome and reception by distinguished church leaders of our member churches during my travel. I have experienced ecumenical hospitality in a real and meaningful way, be it in the Pacific, in North America, in Latin America or Asia, Africa or Europe.

8. As I have travelled, a number of key issues have become apparent to me through my engagement with ecclesiastic and international leaders:

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There is an air of anxiety borne of insecurity in a world of violence, terror and pre-emptive warfare. The disintegration of societies provokes worry, as does the likelihood of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of non-state actors.

The identity of peoples is increasingly important, as religious groups seek ways to clarify how the world's faiths may relate to one another more positively. A dialogue of identities, at the grass-roots level, is sorely needed.

Christianity's centre of gravity is undergoing a demographic shift from North to South, simultaneously with marked growth in the "informal sector" of Christianity represented by mega-churches and other expressions of post-denominationalism, including a "spirituality" not tied to traditional institutions.

In the field of economics, the potential of Asia and the global South as markets and centres of production raises the question whether the North is willing to see other regions as equal partners - economically, politically and militarily?

Patterns of human migration offer opportunities for travel, education and commerce, yet they also leave the vulnerable prey to harsh restrictions, hostility, xenophobia, racism and even trafficking and modern-day slavery.

The long-term confrontation between the West and the Arab world has been exacerbated by the war in Iraq and spiralling violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Opportunities for a just peace must be sought out and embraced.

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9. These impressions from my travels may seem to paint a bleak and gloomy portrait of the world. But there are equally as many signs of hope. From region after region, voices are raised vowing that "Another world is possible - New heavens and a new earth!" This is evidence of a rising spirituality of resistance and hope, of a world in which those who have been marginalized are taking action to transform their environment and institutions. It provides a vision of a world of people living in dignity, in sustainable communities. By God's grace, such a world is possible. And this vision deserves the support, prayer and action of the churches.

10. For the purpose of this report, I do not intend to develop or analyze these issues any further or more deeply. Rather, I will reflect on their implications for ecumenism in the 21st century.

 

Reconfiguration of the Ecumenical Movement

11. Since the last meeting of the Central Committee, we have carried forward the process of reconfiguration of the ecumenical movement. Two consultations have taken place. The first was held in November 2003 in Antelias, Beirut. It was attended by a diverse group of 36 persons in their individual capacities. The meeting was hosted by our Moderator, Catholicos Aram I, and was preceded by a consultation of young people on the same issue of reconfiguration of the ecumenical movement. The Antelias report which, I believe, many if not all of you have read because it was sent to all the members of the Central Committee, emphasized the importance of the issue of reconfiguration, identified a number of questions which need to be considered, and recommended that the WCC convene another meeting of a more representative group of ecumenical actors.

12. The second consultation was held at Chavannes-de-Bogis near Geneva, 30 November - 3 December 2004, following a very elaborate preparatory process. A mapping study was carried out by a consultant, Jill Hawkey, who will be presenting the findings of that study later during this Central Committee meeting. We subsequently wrote to all the WCC member churches, inviting their reflections on the issue of ecumenism in the 21st century. Third, we asked a number of individuals from different regions and different parts of the ecumenical family to reflect on two main questions: "What are your visions for the ecumenical movement in the 21st century" and, "What structures are needed to carry those visions forward?" We were conscious of the fact that the Central Committee directed that the reconfiguration of the ecumenical movement process be church-driven. In keeping with that directive therefore, 50% of the 94 participants at the second consultation represented WCC member churches. The findings of the consultation will be presented to this Central Committee meeting for discussion and decision.

13. In carrying forward this process of reconfiguration, it had already become clear to us in Antelias that what was at stake was not only the multiplicity of ecumenical structures, but also the need to address the content of ecumenism in the 21st century. These convictions have found resonance in the discourses I had as I travelled in different regions of the world. I have therefore done some deep reflection, and in the next section of my report I want to share what I consider to be some of the emerging challenges in the world today which we must take into account in our discussion of ecumenism in the 21st century. Likewise, I will identify developments within the ecclesial landscape which directly challenge ecumenism.

 

New Challenges to Ecumenism

14. In the early stages of the 21st century we are witnessing a new ideology which is not essentially driven by ideas of how to organize and facilitate constructive change in society, but is rather concerned with gaining greater capacity to control and dominate both the people and natural resources of the world. It perpetuates the logic of confrontation, competition, war and violence. The use of force today is accompanied by the power to interpret the world of the other by naming the "new enemies of humanity" in a manner that legitimizes a culture of violence. At a time when the triumph of secularism is at its peak in the northern or western world, the process of naming the so-called "enemies of public life" at the same time is full of religious symbolism of good and evil, in which God is invoked, and invoked arbitrarily, to suit a particular agenda for aggression. In this context, insecurity, fear and anxiety characterize the lives of many people in all regions. Today's world continues to be a threatening and unsettled one. Rather than seeking peaceful and just ways of addressing this trend, societies are putting more trust in military might. The quest for more sophisticated weapons of mass destruction is increasingly becoming the sole means to guarantee the security of the nation states in the developed world. But even the not-so-developed and not-so-rich nations are seeking to protect themselves by acquiring the same dangerous weapons of mass destruction that the rich and powerful are using to spread their hegemony in the world. The recent increasing tendency is for economic policies to be at the behest of political and military considerations rather than the basic needs for which they are intended or which they claim to represent. In other words, we are witnessing the emergence of the military state justified on the basis of democratic discourse whose primary aim is to facilitate regime change.

15. In this context, we see multilateralism under attack. The United Nations is not only under attack, but it is being weakened and even undermined as an instrument for global peace and security. This creates an unhealthy social climate in a world in which global resources are becoming a means of rewarding loyalty to the rich and powerful. Consumed by these hegemonic desires, some of the rich nations are constantly engaged in redesigning a new world in which the poor and the weak will have little or no voice. The other casualty of these trends and tendencies is the democratic gains of the last two decades that now are being rolled back. Worse still, the feeling of insecurity on the part of rich and powerful nations is resulting in the victimization and discrimination of migrants. In some countries the introduction of national identity cards is a bid to curb migration. Screening and detention of migrants without trial, and the use of anti-human forms of technology that violate people's privacy, are increasingly becoming fashionable in the industrialized world. Exaggerated measures against global terrorism only create another form of tyranny against migrant communities in those countries. The vulnerability of nation states, especially in the South, today extends to the weakening of the civic public realm and the reduction of capacity for alternative frameworks of engagement. These new forms of tyranny are more difficult to deal with because they derive their legitimacy and authority from popular democracy. Part of the prophetic task of the ecumenical movement in the 21st century would be to assist human communities in finding ways of going beyond the logic of violence and domination and establishing alternative non-violent ways of resolving conflicts.

16. Today we live in a world in which the basic ethical categories of understanding and acting on what it means to be human are being challenged. Part of this challenge is to seek refreshing ideas as far as authenticity and paradigm shifts are concerned. I believe it is in this way that we will be able to determine the identity and future of the ecumenical movement. The reconfiguration process, therefore, is an invitation to the world ecumenical movement to walk the new path of self-renewal and deepen the commitment to addressing the issues and dilemmas facing the world today. The re-articulation of the original vision of unity of humankind in the new oikos of God is the essence of the aspiration of the churches who have come together in fellowship within the WCC. The re-engagement of the churches together is meant to focus on activities which promote not only respect for human rights but also the enhancement of a new culture of peace and justice for preventing and overcoming all forms of violence in society. Our perennial commitment is to accompany the churches in their various ministries and initiatives, with critical insights and vocational reflection on what the future holds given the current trends in the world. This means that we move with confidence towards a redefined ecumenical engagement concomitant with the challenges and opportunities facing the church at the beginning of the 21st century.

17. For the last fifty years, the world has seen the emergence of new social phenomena which have gained legitimacy entirely on the basis of informal ways of working. Before non-governmental organizations (NGOs) came onto the scene, it was mainly the churches and a few philanthropic institutions and networks that flourished in the arena of human development. The storming into history by the non-formal, non-organized ways of responding to human need has been so phenomenal that even governments in the South, let alone the churches, are in competition for resources with these social agencies. While it seems that the NGOs are exhausting the social space and are being challenged by the complexities and politics of resource mobilization, the institutional church is also facing new challenges posed by the phenomenal emergence of non-denominational forms of ecumenical congregations.

18. It seems that we are entering into a new epoch of ecumenism in which the formal arrangements, institutional structures and prerogatives are being challenged by new forms of primarily experiential expressions of faith. These expressions which are evident in all regions of the world are a clear defiance of what is being seen as over-bureaucratization and authority structures within historical churches. Since the days of the Reformation we have not seen such growing suspicion of bureaucratic institutions as today. Nor has there ever been such a huge migration of individuals from the institutionalized church to what I call informal structures. These post-denominational expressions of being church are increasingly becoming more attractive to youth, and to a very large extent also to the middle class, in the Third World. There is definitely a void in the modern ways of expressing faith that invites more creative, less bureaucratic and more relational values in Christian living. Underlying this phenomenon is the quest for authentic spirituality which connects us to our humanity. The issue here is how post-modernity continues to alienate human beings from their humanity. Without our basic desire to relate and share with one another who we are as human beings, Christianity would not make much sense. If post-modernity is threatening to rob us of our capacity to be human, then how can we even claim to be Christians? While 20th century ecumenism came out of the student Christian movements and ecumenical streams such as Faith and Order and Life and Work, it can no longer be sustained by those movements only. It would take a major transformation of those ecumenical streams, and much more besides, to be able to sustain ecumenism in the 21st century.

19. One of the things I have been doing quite a lot during my first year in office is to listen carefully to young people. What I hear over and over again is that many young people today are asking this very question: What is the moral and the spiritual basis for meaningful living? We need the kind of spirituality that embraces the goodness in every religious tradition, especially when it comes to pedagogies of peace. It is for this reason that we must continuously provide the space for dialogue between various religious traditions and expressions of faith. It is not uncommon these days to find young people from Christian homes going out in search of new ways of living their spirituality, sometimes even outside the Christian church. The ecumenical movement must therefore embrace the principal ingredients of faith in such a way that it meets the spiritual needs of the younger generation. The ecumenical movement in the 21st century is challenged to respond to the spiritual yearning of our time and especially the spirituality being sought by the younger generation. Ecumenism must relate organically to this yearning for more experiential dimensions of faith.

20. That spirituality has a significant role in the ecumenical movement was never in doubt. Our Orthodox friends and leaders have always reiterated this fact; but my conviction that spirituality will occupy an even bigger place in 21st century ecumenism has been deepened by two experiences I have had since taking up this position. The first is an encounter I had with a group of Danish young people who visited Geneva in early 2004. Talking with them as they stopped at the Ecumenical Centre I realized that each of them was searching for a more profound meaning in life than they were being offered by their society. But almost all of them were engaging in this search outside the traditional channels defined by their churches or other traditions. For them the old forms of religion ring hollow. They are looking for something of substance. What is it that so many established religions are failing to provide? The term that usually comes into play in discussing this phenomenon is spirituality understood as existing over against organized religion.

21. The second is an engagement I had with young people from the Nairobi Chapel in Nairobi, Kenya. The Nairobi Chapel is arguably the fastest growing congregation in Kenya today. From a very small University of Nairobi chapel which, barely ten years ago, was only able to attract a handful of worshippers, Nairobi Chapel today holds four services every weekend. They also have a mid-week service just to be able to cope with the ever-growing numbers. The members of Nairobi Chapel are almost invariably young people who have migrated from the denominations of their parents, the reason being that they could not find spiritual fulfilment in the mainline churches, like Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian and even Catholic, for indeed there are quite a good number of Catholics who are members of Nairobi Chapel. In answer to the question of denominational identity, they told me that they are simply Christians who come together to celebrate their commonality in Christ and out of a longing to understand each other through witnessing to what Jesus means in their personal lives. Together they have embarked on a dynamic process of listening, learning and sharing the faith. This process has deepened their spirituality not just at the place of worship, but also in their place of work, for most of them are well-educated young professionals.

22. These two examples represent a global phenomenon - young Christians wanting to adhere to their faith and generally searching for profound meaning in life. While the Kenyan young Christians have found an answer (Nairobi Chapel) which has become for them an alternative place and way of worship, the Danish young Christians are still searching. To me, Nairobi Chapel represents an example of post-denominational Christianity. For them, maintenance of doctrinal integrity or even loyalty to the denominations of their parents is not an issue in the way they live their faith. They represent an emerging grass-roots ecumenism full of energy and vitality. They are deeply involved in national affairs, including the struggle for social justice, poverty eradication and good governance. But their biggest pride, as they shared with me, is that their life and work are grounded in their spirituality.

23. Another reality to take note of is the fact that the Evangelicals who in the past eschewed involvement in socio-political issues are no longer apolitical. As we have seen in the presidential elections in the USA, they are now politically engaged, a development that is likely to continue as a feature of their social responsibility. Moreover, new "ecumenical alliances" are emerging between Evangelicals and others on the basis of shared values around moral, social and political issues. I refer to these alliances in quotes because this involves Evangelicals who used to belong, or still belong to mainline Protestant churches, on the one hand, and Roman Catholics, on the other. The collaboration between Evangelicals and Roman Catholics is, of course, not new. We remember that Evangelicals and Catholics Together is a document which was published in 1994 and which, of course, was not received too kindly in some circles of Evangelicals and Roman Catholics at that time. But it is very clear that this alliance provided a framework for collaboration around the cultural, moral and social issues during the last presidential election in the USA.

24. The process of ecumenism in the 21st century must take into account these emerging realities. They obviously call for new ecumenical engagement that goes beyond traditional bilateral dialogues to embrace the local spiritual needs. To what extent the Global Christian Forum will provide a platform for such engagement certainly needs to be explored, but the time has also come for us to consider the challenges which these local realities pose to the ecumenical conciliar bodies, National Councils of Churches and Regional Ecumenical Organizations. These are also challenged to pay more attention to and develop capacities to assist the churches in articulating the relationship of self-understanding (ecclesiastical) and self-representation (ecclesiology) among different churches and communities.

25. In concluding this part, I wish to reiterate that three main characteristics of post-denominationalism will feature prominently in 21st century ecumenism: non-denominationally based congregations, inter-Christian alliances formed around shared values on moral and social issues, and thirdly, the search for spiritual meaning and moral guidance, especially but not exclusively among the young people, doctrinal differences notwithstanding. All these will have far-reaching implications for the World Council of Churches as a denominational membership organization, as well as for the conciliar ecumenical bodies and the mainline national denominations.

26. As we look to the future as the WCC, how do we respond to these challenges and what is the vision that will guide us in discerning the signs of the time and charting the future course of the ecumenical movement? I do believe that the theme of our forthcoming Assembly points us into the right direction: "God, in your grace, transform the world". The process of change required by us is not just a matter of structures and organizational outlets and arrangements. We are to engage in a process of transformation that must be rooted in the conversion to the source of our lives and the life of all creation, the Triune God whom we confess together.

27. We trust that there will be a future, that indeed "another world is possible" because we trust in the loving grace of God. Sinful human beings are called to become children of God united in the one body of Christ and serving all of humanity and God's creation to flourish. I am confident that the discussions at the Assembly will reflect what I saw again in my visits to the churches in the different regions, i.e. that the churches hold together the different dimensions that I have outlined above: the commitment to the unity of the church and God's household of life, the readiness to move beyond our own communities and to work together with people of other faith for peace and justice, to speak to power with truth, and to nurture a spirituality strong enough to resist the temptations of our time and to sustain our communities.

28. It is the task of the WCC to facilitate such common engagement, to assure the coherence of the ecumenical movement and the efficacy of multilateralism, and to foster a strong, clear and credible ethical voice with capacity to offer a different reading of the global reality.

Part II

 

Encounters with Bretton Woods Institutions

29. The Harare Assembly in 1998 mandated us to work on globalization to build upon and strengthen existing initiatives of churches, ecumenical groups and social movements, support their cooperation, encourage them to take action, and form alliances with other partners in civil society working on issues pertinent to globalization, particularly formulating alternative responses to the activities of transnational corporations, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB), in order to identify the harmful as well as positive impact of their policies in a competent manner.

30. This mandate was translated as a commitment to develop guidelines for the churches aiming at a consistent response from member churches and ecumenical organizations to institutions promoting economic globalization (Central Committee, Potsdam, 2001). Guidelines were developed through a background document called Lead Us Not Into Temptation: Churches' Response to the Policies of International Financial Institutions. The document was shared with churches and the Bretton Woods Institutions (WB and IMF). Based on this, the IFIs requested a dialogue with the WCC.

31. While the WB and IMF expected the encounters to focus on how the churches can assist in implementing their instruments such as the Poverty Reduction Strategy Programmes and the UN-initiated Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the WCC expected the encounters to focus on addressing the root causes of the present injustices. The WCC stressed that the concern should be on critical analysis and the ethical implications of neo-liberal economic policies in the world today so as to discern whether they will have a far-reaching impact in addressing current global economic inequality and related violence. The WCC entered the debate with the assumption that there are alternatives to the current unjust economic system. From the outset, there were these two marked differences in perspective that continued to persist throughout all the encounters.

32. The process included three successful WCC/WB/IMF encounters and an internal meeting of the churches and related agencies within a period of two years. The first encounter was held in Geneva in February 2003. The second was an internal encounter held in Geneva in September 2003 to prepare the churches for the process. The third encounter was held in Washington D.C. at the World Bank and IMF headquarters in September 2003. The fourth meeting was the high-level encounter, held in October 2004 at the Ecumenical Centre here in Geneva. It involved the President of the World Bank, the Deputy Managing Director of IMF, the WCC President from Africa and myself. Additionally there was an invited representative group of church leaders, representative related agencies and staff from the three organizations.

33. From this elaborate process we can draw several lessons. All three institutions are committed to eradicating poverty (WCC) or poverty alleviation (WB/IMF). The World Bank's mission statement calls "for a world free of poverty" through growth. The IMF is committed to poverty alleviation through financial stability and growth. The World Council of Churches has always emphasized that poverty eradication can be achieved only by addressing injustice and inequality and the roots of this lie in the present unjust economic order. It was clear from the beginning that while there are commonalties in stating economic and social problems, there are also sharp differences in understanding these problems, and the appropriate ways of resolving them.

34. The final paper on Common Ground and Differences and the joint statement indicate that the WB/IMF will not shift from the concept of growth as the panacea to alleviate poverty. They claim that they are not mandated, nor do they have the expertise, to promote human rights which in their understanding is the task of the UN. The IFIs believe, however, that their work contributes to human rights in the sphere of economic development and related social policies, thereby complementing the work of the UN. As far as Voice and Vote in the WB and IMF is concerned, they believe that the votes will continue to be determined largely by measures of relative economic size of participating countries.

35. In order to bring these encounters to address the specific impact of the policies of the IFIs on the ground, four areas have been identified that will be approached through case studies of specific countries to address the following:

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Conduct country-level case studies on Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers.

Conduct joint activities addressing the issue of governance.

Conduct joint activities addressing the issue of Indigenous Peoples' struggles.

Conduct joint activities on the issue of HIV and AIDS.

Conduct joint activities on community development programmes.

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36. In making our way forward, WCC-related agencies and churches are therefore called to participate in this venture. The case study on Honduras, already prepared by the German development agency EED with the research agency Südwind, could be the starting point for the continuing process in 2005. The WCC's commitment to ensuring the gospel imperative of social justice for all will continue to be the framework for our engagement with the IFIs.

 

Decade to Overcome Violence

37. The Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV) has provided a framework for a growing number of churches around the world to address violence holistically in its many forms and develop creative ways to overcome violence. Building on the experience during the first half of the DOV, the next phase will include opening up different entry points for churches and networks, building and maintaining momentum, and refining the framework of the Decade. Programmatic implementation happens on the ground. The DOV coordination function is thus more that of a conveyor than a convenor.

38. The efficacy of a regional focus as a methodology has been borne out by experience. Through a regional focus, the issues around violence become visible among churches in the regions. This was the case with the US churches during the 2004 Annual Focus. Using a thematic focus helps the churches to be more specific in terms of concrete activities. The Power and Promise of Peace stimulated the US churches and brought creative and energetic input into the year-long activities and reflections on overcoming violence. The Annual Focus provides a dynamic framework for concerting resources and efforts by the churches. It also provides opportunities for expressions of solidarity from elsewhere in the ecumenical family. In the case of the USA, Living Letters brought messages from around the world which provided stimulating input and space for discussion at the culminating meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, in October 2004.

39. One of the insights gained during this first half of the Decade is that the Annual Focus has taken on a pivotal role for the DOV: it opens up new spaces and creates new synergies for churches and communities in the region of the focus, while allowing for international exposure, solidarity and celebration.

40. Another significant component of the DOV is the use of consultations to sharpen and deepen the issues of overcoming violence. The 6th Willem Visser 't Hooft Consultation, jointly arranged with the Ecumenical Institute Bossey, took place once again within the framework of the DOV, under the theme "Religion, Power and Violence". This was an inter-religious consultation which stood out from traditional consultations in that it focused specifically on process and interaction where 30 participants from various religious traditions and different geographical backgrounds lived and worked together for six days. Profound issues around the meaning and challenges of overcoming violence from an inter-religious perspective emerged out of this unique experience. The major finding of the consultation was that our common humanity precedes our particular religious, ethnic or cultural identity.

41. In 2004, for the first time, the World Council of Churches called member churches to join the annual UN-initiated International Day of Peace on 21 September by observing an International Day of Prayer for Peace. The DOV web site offered resources for prayer and liturgy, and messages of peace from church leaders and personalities from every continent were recorded. These messages were sent to the US churches and publicized on the DOV web site. The web site saw a record high during that time, with hits being six times as many as usual - some 250,000 hits in September alone. While the IDPP is not the only occasion of prayer for peace offered to Christian churches worldwide, it does represent a good opportunity to join in prayer with faith communities all around the world, thus strengthening both the ecumenical and the inter-religious dimensions of our common work.

42. The DOV continues to receive and compile resources related to overcoming violence as they are being developed and tested by churches. This shows that DOV has developed along the lines defined by this Central Committee. Rather than being a programme of the WCC, DOV has become an instrument for highlighting what churches and ecumenical networks are doing to overcome violence, and sharing this widely.

43. Preparations for the DOV Annual Focus on Asia in 2005, in cooperation with the Christian Conference of Asia, are also part of the activities of DOV. We take this opportunity to thank Dr Ahn Jae Woong, outgoing General Secretary of the CCA, for his ecumenical commitment to the churches in Asia and globally. We wish him all God's blessings.

44. In the run-up to the 9th Assembly, which also marks the mid-Decade, preparatory work is under way for the 2006 focus. The DOV mid-term activities include overcoming violence components in the World Mission Conference in Athens, May 2005, and the 9th Assembly. Finally, the DOV was linked up with the UN-Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World specifically through participation in the International Coalition for the Decade. In this context the WCC and the DOV were represented at the First International Exhibit of Peace Initiatives in Paris.

45. The fruits of the first five years of DOV will inform the Assembly plenary on overcoming violence. Based on these and the experience at Porto Alegre, the Assembly will be expected to provide guidelines for the second half of the Decade.

 

Ecumenical Focus on Africa

46. At the Harare Assembly the covenant by Africans both from the continent and the diaspora affirmed the cultural and social wealth of the churches in Africa and their wonderful gift of faith to the global ecumenical family. In response to the Africa plenary, the WCC committed itself to accompanying the churches in Africa in their struggle to actualize the fullness of life to the people of the continent. The motif of consensus-building during the Harare Assembly was enriched by the language of ecumenicity, as the Assembly experienced Padares as the market place of ideas towards building new communities of hope in Africa.

47. The Ecumenical Focus on Africa (EFA) was mandated by this Central Committee following the Harare Assembly. This was meant to be a process that would go on until the 9th Assembly. The EFA has worked closely with the African churches and the AACC. It provided a framework for WCC's accompaniment of AACC during a very critical period when the latter went through a serious leadership crisis. The "Journey of Hope for Africa" as the EFA theme for the process of accompaniment facilitated work on theological education, ecumenical formation, democratic change, peace and reconciliation, conflict resolution, as well as economic justice, development and addressing public issues. In partnership with AACC, NCCs and Regional Fellowships, significant work was done in addressing ethical, economic and missiological issues around the motif of "Behold, I create a new Africa". The Ecumenical HIV/AIDS Initiative in Africa (EHAIA), which is the most comprehensive ecumenical initiative on HIV and AIDS, was established within the framework of the EFA.

48. Special mention should be made of our accompaniment of the peace talks for Sudan. It was with joy and thanksgiving to God that we welcomed the signing in January of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement for Sudan. In our congratulatory message to the principals of the peace process we stressed that the peace dividends must be extended to Darfur which is today the worst human-made disaster in the world.

49. The fruits of the EFA process will be brought to the 9th Assembly through a major publication.

50. Since Harare there has been the historic transformation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) into the African Union (AU) and the invigoration of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), the re-invention of regional economic zones, and the emergence of an African Parliament. These are signs that Africa is on the brink of a new season of hope. At the same time, those developments are frustrated by continuing conflicts in several parts of the continent. The burden of debt continues to weigh heavily on the shoulders of African states and African people. Without doubt the biggest problem in Africa today is HIV and AIDS. The cumulative effects of this pandemic are frightening and bring about a tendency towards an attitude of social nihilism among African men, women and children.

51. Today Africa is the only continent which is retrogressing in economic terms. Some call Africa the lost continent! Yet there is an emerging trend in the way part of the world is relating to Africa. After a period of seeming neglect, the international community is beginning to "look at Africa with new eyes" - something the WCC started to do more than a decade ago.

52. Among the governments in the industrialized world Britain is taking the lead in fighting poverty in Africa. This has been done by elaborating clear policies geared to produce tangible results within the period of the UN-initiated Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The British government approach includes setting up the Commission for Africa, and the proposed International Finance Facility meant to accelerate the MDGs by raising $50 billion each year until 2015. The British government has been exploring ways in which the churches in Africa, with their vast grass-roots infrastructure, could be involved in these development efforts. Towards that end, a senior minister in the Treasury (Rt.Hon. Paul Boateng, a former PCR Vice-Moderator) visited the WCC to exchange ideas. A similar visit had been made to the Vatican. Given that the churches are already participating in various aspects of development, we decided to engage in dialogue to explore what this could mean in concrete terms. The AACC is involved in this process. We invite the Central Committee's advice on concrete ways of ecumenical engagement in this significant process.

53. In the run-up to the 9th Assembly, we see the ecumenical accompaniment of Africa reaching a new level in the area of peace and conflict resolution. In partnership with AACC and Church World Service of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, an organized and sustainable framework of intervention, namely the Eminent Persons' Ecumenical Programme, has been established. Other initiatives in multifaith dialogue and cooperation are showing hopeful signs in a region where the politicization of religion is likely to be a source of conflict. Ecumenical formation, the search for new ways of being church to the younger generation, poverty eradication and addressing climate change issues are other initiatives taken within the framework of the EFA.

54. At this juncture, ecumenical engagement with Africa should be deepened. This is not a call for yet another special focus on Africa, but it is an indication that this region should remain one of the main WCC priorities in the foreseeable future.

Part III

 

Special Commission

55. The work of the Special Commission comes progressively to fruition. The harvest permeates the theological, institutional and relational spheres of the Council's life. The best illustration of this could be found in the agenda of this Central Committee, which will have to deal with matters of capital importance for the Council's present and future role within the ecumenical movement. Let me give two examples.

56. Ecclesiology. The Special Commission had placed particular emphasis on ecclesiology. Today we have before us the Draft Statement on Ecclesiology for the Ninth Assembly, prepared by Faith and Order. It takes up what Faith and Order had been discussing in the past years, builds on the content of previous Assembly statements, goes further than the Canberra Statement on Unity, and focuses our efforts and deliberations on our fundamental concern for the unity of the Church.

57. I do not intend to comment on the entire Statement here. I would simply like to highlight, as a powerful example, its emphasis on baptismal theology. This emphasis should also be considered in light of the study document elaborated by the Joint Working Group between the WCC and the RCC on Ecclesiological and Ecumenical Implications of A Common Baptism, which intends to assist and sharpen the discussion on ecclesial and ecumenical implications of the recognition of a common baptism and to take the appropriate steps to manifest a greater degree of communion. This same emphasis on baptismal theology should also be considered in light of the Theological Criteria for Membership in the WCC, prompted by the work of the Special Commission and elaborated by the Membership Study Group. These new criteria, which will become part of the WCC's Rules, attempt to capture the potential of placing baptism at the very heart of the fellowship and to invite member churches to commit themselves towards recognizing one another's baptism as a fundamental element strengthening and nurturing the fellowship.

58. Looking at all these efforts together, one may say that the expectations formulated in Harare or by the Special Commission may not have been fully satisfied, but the journey has been remarkable and the material at our disposal is promising for the coming years.

59. This promise and challenge takes a tangible form in the way participants in the Inter-Orthodox Pre-Assembly meeting, held in Rhodes, Greece, have drawn attention to the need for Orthodox churches and theologians to begin confronting systematically the fundamental ecclesiological questions raised by the report of the Special Commission. They consider such a study "necessary and timely, both in response to the respectful challenge posed by the Special Commission, and also in order to achieve a greater clarity and consistency regarding this question among Orthodox churches".

60. Consensus. The Central Committee will be invited first to implement, on a trial basis, and then to adopt the new Rule XVI: Conduct of Meetings (replacing the "Rules of Debate") thus introducing into the Council's institutional life a radical shift, from a parliamentary voting system to a system designed to discern consensus.

61. The Steering Committee of the Special Commission, in its meeting in Minsk, Belarus, has rightly underlined that "the new methodology of consensus, based on deliberation and discernment, is a move to a new ethos and culture requiring a change of attitudes. This shift has the potential to strengthen and deepen the fellowship of churches." Some member churches have already found in their own internal life and witness that making decisions by consensus is a better way of reflecting the nature of the church as described in the New Testament. Some other member churches argue very strongly that the WCC can bear witness today within a world which is marked by conflicts, tensions and war not only by its programmes, but also by the way it does its business.

62. Certainly this shift will not be easy. Many are those who fear a paralysis of the Council when it comes to decision-making on particularly sensitive or urgent matters. Many are those who emphasize the need for adequate preparation and training as the consensus discernment and decision-making will require both a new know-how and new ways of being together. Many are those who insist on the need for some sort of "security valves" to be built into the new Rules, allowing both the institution to move ahead when necessary and the member churches to feel listened to with respect.

63. Those who laboured in crafting the new Rule will agree with me that all these legitimate concerns were taken very seriously. Thus we are now ready to move ahead with both humility and trust that the change to consensus will enhance the potential for the Council to be a fellowship of churches, to entail a spiritual commitment that will challenge all member churches, to maintain its prophetic voice.

Staffing

64. In the last few years, a considerable number of developments have taken place with regard to the Council's overall staffing situation: while, on the one hand, the numbers of the core staff decreased significantly, on the other hand the numbers of decentralized consultants to programmatic activities were increased (EEF; EHAIA); offices were located in the regions (Middle East and Pacific Desks; Indigenous Peoples' Programme; Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network); specialized consultants were invited to accomplish concrete tasks (Publications; Reconfiguration); new possibilities for seconded staff were explored and created (Finances; Communications; International Affairs) and the practice of inviting young interns was consolidated. In addition, programmes invited specialists or have employed young stagiaires with short-term mandates, while volunteers generously offered their services to the Council.

65. With all this, one may argue that the overall profile of the staff has changed and that we have already reached a new stage in dealing with staffing matters. I would agree that the changes are obvious and important, but I would hasten to add that there is still a lot to be done in this area. And in this regard we shall study carefully the findings and recommendations of the management component of the Pre-Assembly Evaluation Report.

66. I wish to re-affirm that the CUV best describes the Council's vision. The fundamental question we should ask ourselves is what are the staff resources needed for bringing this vision into action in the coming years.

67. The Assembly Programme Guidelines Committee and, subsequently, the Central Committee will determine the strategic foci and the areas of programmatic work for the Council. I am fully aware that, in listening carefully to these guidelines and decisions, and in implementing them, we shall be expected also to determine very carefully the staff needs of the Council.

68. We feel more and more the need for the Council to play a leading role in exploring the nature and character of the ecumenical movement in the 21st century, entering into creative relationships with many ecumenical co-workers and partners. Ours will be the delicate task of carefully assessing how the Council should renew its human resources in order to respond to the new and increasing demands within the ecumenical movement.

 

Ninth Assembly

69. Since the Central Committee last met, tremendous progress has been made towards the 9th Assembly, which will open one year from now in Porto Alegre, Brazil. When we last met, this body selected the theme "God, in your grace, transform the world". This prayer has been the guiding vision of our preparations to date.

70. The Report of the Assembly Planning Committee (Doc GEN 5) will bring the Central Committee up to date on the programme as it is envisioned. In spite of having a shorter and a smaller Assembly, the event promises meaningful deliberation and a new way of making decisions. And it will gather not simply the constitutional quota of delegates and representatives, but also many other members of the wider ecumenical movement.

71. This will be the first Assembly to take place in Latin America. The testimonies of the churches and the challenges faced by the societies throughout the continent will inform our work in Brazil. Having visited the region at the close of 2004, I witnessed a great hope for political and economic renewal as so many people attempt to heal the wounds of decades of military rule. The role of the WCC in expressing support and solidarity with the Latin American people during those difficult times is gratefully acknowledged and appreciated. Many look at the Assembly as an opportune moment to testify to the world and thank the WCC for being in critical solidarity during their great hour of need. The Porto Alegre Assembly will also be a platform from which the ecumenical journey of the Protestant, Pentecostal and Catholic churches in Latin America could inspire churches elsewhere to envision new ecumenical horizons.

72. The Assembly will be marked in addition by a coming of age within the membership of the World Council. Delegates will embark on a journey of consensus-model decision-making, seeking new ways to come to agreement on important statements and actions by the Assembly. Similarly, the past years' discussion on ecumenism in the 21st century indicates that shared commitments and experiences, rather than common membership, will be the hallmark of our ecumenical future. This Assembly marks a new phase in ecumenism.

73. We have also set the goal of making this the youngest Assembly in the history of the World Council of Churches. As is often said, young people are not simply the future of the Church, they are the Church today. They are surely tomorrow's leaders of the Church and the ecumenical movement. If we are serious about our future, we must be as serious about allowing young people to lead the way.

74. Young people will play a key role in the Porto Alegre Assembly. There will be youth delegates, representatives and advisors to the Assembly. There will be 150 youth present as stewards. The host committee proposes a "youth camp" for 250 youth from Brazil and Latin America. All the Assembly youth will gather for three days of preparation and celebration before the Assembly begins. The Assembly Planning Committee has proposed that young people attending the Assembly, in any category, be invited to join the delegates in their Ecumenical Conversations.

75. And yet, we need to go further. The reduction in size of many delegations means there may be fewer youth delegates than at previous assemblies. How the Central Committee decides to allocate the 15% of delegate seats that it is responsible for nominating is a concrete way to redress this.

76. In the past weeks we have welcomed to Geneva a brand new youth team within the WCC staff that includes Natalie Maxson as executive secretary, Lukasz Nazarko as a consultant and five interns. They will need our support and commitment.

77. Gathered here, we are in the presence of 28 young people from around the world, assisting us in our tasks as stewards. The opportunity to listen to the young people assembled here should be seized by all of us as we prepare the decision that will carry our preparations for the Porto Alegre Assembly forward.

 

WCC's Response to the Tsunami Disaster in Asia

78. One of recent history's greatest natural disasters rocked South and South East Asia one day after Christmas in December 2004. The massive quake of 9.0 magnitude off the Indonesian island of Sumatra sent 500-mph waves surging across the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal in the deadliest known tsunami since the one that devastated the Portuguese capital Lisbon in 1755 and killed an estimated 60,000 people. The official death toll has reached over 200,000. One of the most grievous facts coming out of this tragic scene is that an estimated one-third or more of the victims are children.

79. Ever since the tsunami disaster was reported, the WCC and ACT have been concerned with this and colleagues have been in touch with our member churches and councils in the affected countries. Among other things, the Asia Desk staff interrupted their holidays and started functioning from 29 December onwards. The Asia Desk worked closely with ACT and responded to the needs expressed by some member churches and implementing bodies, and a regular flow of information from various churches and NCCs was shared widely in the ecumenical family. Staff have been deeply involved in meeting human needs, globally and locally in the respective countries. The Asia Secretary visited tsunami-affected areas in Sri Lanka and India along with the leadership of the NCCs and of the member churches in the affected areas.

80. ACT issued two appeals with a projected budget of US$ 41.8 million which is already fully covered by its contributing members of the ecumenical family. The local churches in the tsunami-affected countries and their neighbouring countries also have been engaged in special missions to express their solidarity to the suffering people in the affected areas.

81. Ecumenical solidarity with churches and peoples affected by the tsunami was expressed in a pastoral letter sent by the Moderator of the Central Committee and myself. As we expressed deepest sympathies on behalf of the WCC, we also noted with deep appreciation the exemplary efforts of our member churches in responding to the tragedy. In our prayers we yearned to God that we may all overcome the anguish of being in a world shattered with the debris of despondency together with people of other faiths in our plea for the grace of compassion. And indeed, not only the people of faith, but the international community came together in support of our brothers and sisters in the affected areas. There was an unprecedented response to an unprecedented disaster. That is one of the lessons to draw from the tsunami tragedy: that with social and political will the international community has the capacity to mobilize all the resources required to meet the needs of the people of the world. This is a one-off action, yet we wish it could be extended to overcome other tragedies facing humankind. But at any rate we have witnessed how loss and grief can also draw the human family together and cast away the stigma of difference.

82. Another lesson to learn from the tsunami is that we live in a fragile world. Faced with cosmic upheavals, human beings can be helpless. On 26 December, we saw how the unleashing of frightening forces of the cosmos can bring us to the brink of desolation; this should remind us of our own vulnerability in the face of cosmic tragedy. When terrifying things happen in life, there is always a tendency to become apocalyptic. Some people have rushed to interpret the Indian Ocean tsunami as the wrath of God against a sinful community. Not only is this unhelpful, but when such views are held by Christians it creates doubts in the minds of already traumatized and agonized people. This is no time to blame the victim.

83. The consequences of the tsunami are both immediate and long-term. The physical needs following such desolation are many and overwhelming: food, water, clothing, shelter. However, the desolation has also deep traumatizing effects. The psychological and emotional needs of individuals, families and whole communities of people will continue long after the media stop their coverage of the situation. It is with such needs in mind that we propose to send Living Letters to the tsunami-affected countries. From the experiences of the past, the most recent being in the USA following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, we know that spiritual accompaniment through Living Letters contributes greatly to the healing and psychological recovery of a people struggling to come to terms with the effects of a tragedy. We hope that in the coming months we shall be able to organize a team or teams of church leaders and other Christians from Asia and other regions of the world to visit the people in the affected areas.