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GEN 6 Programme Highlights 2004

23 February 2005

A comprehensive report of the programmatic work undertaken by the Council between Harare and Porto Alegre will be considered by the Central Committee members at their February 2005 meeting. The present report will comment only on the major highlights that have marked the year in review.  In addition, a number of activities have been implemented within each programmatic area, in accordance with the plans laid out for the triennial period 2002- 2005. Inmost cases, these activities are part of processes that will be finalized before the 9thAssembly.

1.       As we approach the mid-term of theDecade to Overcome Violence(DOV),  the process of ownership by churches from all over the world is becoming more obvious. A sign of this is the growing number of visitors to the WCC-DOV web site (an average of 40,000 visits per month in 2004).  Two outstanding achievements should be highlighted:

§          The Annual Focus on the USA, under the theme"The Power and Promise of Peace",generated a great number of activities all over the country. The US DOV Committee, together with the WCC US office, provided a remarkable leadership role, both in providing the content and helping to mobilize churches and the larger constituency. The campaign culminated at the US Conference Annual meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, in October. Attention was drawn to US churches' responsibility for peace and justice and participants were moved by the messages of solidarity and the challenges brought by a group of eight "living letters" from different continents. This gathering provided an opportunity to strengthen relationships with the Historic Black Churches.

§          For the first time, the WCC invited the churches from around the world to mark the 21st  September, as theInternational Day of Prayer for Peacechosen by the UN in 1981.Messages from 14 world Christian leaders and peace-makers were filmed and shown in different parts of the world, including during a celebration at the Ecumenical Center in Geneva. These messages were also posted on the WCC web site which received an unprecedented number of visits (250,000) during the month of September.

In 2005, the annual focus will be onAsiaunder the theme "Building Communities of Peace for All", which is also the theme of the 7thAssembly of the Christian Conference of Asia.

After the tsunami tragedy which brought death and suffering to so many communities in Asia, the annual focus should become a powerful symbol of the reality of a fellowship of solidarity and hope, raising the awareness of our common vulnerability and common responsibility to one another and to our planet earth.

2.       The central task ofStrengthening the One Ecumenical Movementhas been marked by a series of initiatives, of which the following should be highlighted :

§          An intensive programme ofvisitsto churches by the General Secretary during his first year of service (15 visits to 6 continents), carefully prepared in cooperation with staff responsible for the programmatic content and the communication aspect.

§          The completion of a series ofencounterswith different constituencies of the ecumenical movement, in particular:

-          The Joint Working Group with the Roman Catholic Church which held its last Plenary session in May 2004 and concluded the seven years mandate of the Group by adopting a report that was sent for information to the Central Committee and that will be presented at the 9thAssembly;

-          The Global Christian Forum which initiated in Asia, in May 2004, the first of a series of four consultations planned in major regions that will lead up to a Global Christian Forum meeting in 2007;

-          The Joint Consultative Group between the WCC and Pentecostals which held its fifth annual meeting in South Africa in September and prepared a report to be submitted to the Assembly.

§        The landmarkConsultation on Ecumenism in the 21stCentury,organized near Geneva (30 November - 03 December 2004)  brought together more than 100 participants from WCC member churches, from Catholic and Pentecostal churches as well as from Christian World Communions, regional and national ecumenical organizations, international ecumenical institutions and church-related agencies. During three intensive days of dialogue the participants shared their visions of ecumenism and looked at more effective ways to work together in today's rapidly changing ecclesial, economic and political contexts. There was a compelling call for a transformation of the ecumenical movement from the narrow confines of its institutions from the participants who stated that the challenges are many, and do not concern only the WCC. The report and its recommendations will be shared with the Central Committee members and a follow-up process has been designed to continue the reflection.

3.       Two outstanding contributions toBuilding the Unity of the Churchcan be highlighted:

§          TheFaith and Order Plenary Commission Meetingin Kuala Lumpur (26 July - 06 August 2004) ended with a message of hope. After thorough reflections on the reports of the studies mandated by the Faith and Order Commission, the participants concluded "there are still many questions we need to explore, but we became aware of reaching a moment of hope, having identified a framework which might enable churches to move forward in terms of mutual recognition". The study on theNature and Mission of the Churchin particular was considered as a major ecumenical tool for the 21stcentury.

§          The  Week of Prayer for Christian Unity2005 will mark the beginning of a new era of  collaboration between the WCC and the Roman Catholic Church as, for the first time, the text was not only jointly prepared but also jointly published by the WCC Faith and Order Commission and the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity.

4.       Promoting the Ministry of Reconciliation is the underlying thread interweaving the activities of the programme on Mission and Evangelism in the preparation for the World Mission Conference to be held in Athens in May 2005.  The following activities should be highlighted:

§          Life stories and theological reflections on core questions related to mission, evangelism, healing and reconciliation were shared at various meetings. The URM intercontinental Consultation held in Ghana in June 2004 under the theme "Mission from the perspective of people in struggle" emphasized the need for an understanding and practice of mission with the poor, involving the church and transforming its mission, as well as going beyond the church into diverse religious and social confines. Similarly, the world conference theme was subject to reflection from various perspectives and contexts at the Zambia Conference on Mission and Development, the school of Evangelism for the Pacific held in Fiji, the Afro-Asian mission consultation held in India on healing, reconciliation and power. To foster church reflection and action on their healing ministry, in particular in relation to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, a series of consultations was organized in all regions. Several theological and spiritual documents were published in the International Review of Mission and in book form.

§          Two statements were prepared to summarize new insights in theology and mission: one on mission from the perspective of the message of reconciliation, the other on the intrinsic relation between the healing mandate of the church and its missionary calling.

§          Majornetworking and advocacy workwas developed in relation to HIV/AIDS in close cooperation with the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, such as the support for the Code of Good Practice for HIV/AIDS and the active contribution at the 15thInternational AIDS Conference in Bangkok where faith-based organizations made their voices heard in an unprecedented manner.

5.       The Ecumenical Initiative on HIV/AIDS in Africa , with its dedicated team of consultants based in Africa and coordinated from Geneva, continued to develop its activities in the form of consultations, workshops, training events and publications all over the continent. In view of the fact that there are still too many church leaders who remain silent or stigmatizing in front of the epidemic, much emphasis is put on approaching present and future church leadership through seminars with theologians to "read the Bible in times of HIV" and on bringing the issues at stake into the curricula of theological training institutions. In 2004 aprocess was started to bring this theological approach at a congregational level, in particular through materials for Sunday schools and appropriate liturgies. For 2005 acommon Activity Plan on HIV/AIDS work was set up between WCC-EHAIA and AACC.

6.       The Challenge of Ecumenical Formation is perceived even more acutely in the framework of the reflection process on the Ecumenism in the 21stCentury. Three main developments can be highlighted:

§          Thelearning resource materialproduced in the form of study guides and CD-ROM  try to model approaches that go beyond transmitting information and that are appropriate for different regional contexts. Training seminars were organized for staff of the WCC and of church-related agencies. Following a recommendation from the WCC Round Table Meeting, a four-day training seminar was offered to some 30 staff members of specialized  ministries in December 2004. Modalities for interfaith education are being studied.

§          The strategy of appointing regional consultants for Asia/Pacific, Central and Eastern Europe and Latin America/Caribbean is proving to be effective forEcumenical Theological Educationthat requires contextual approaches. Examples include the HIV/AIDS theological curriculum for Africa, which is now used as a model for other regions, and the curriculum on disability, taking up the recent EDAN statement. Work continues to help women have access to theological education and to encourage churches to engage them.

§          New efforts are being developed to treatscholarshipsas a real opportunity for ecumenical formation. A brochure was published and stories are being collected to illustrate the benefit of this activity to churches, communities and church related organizations. There continues to be a disproportionate lack of funds for scholarships for theological studies. An external evaluation of  the WCC Scholarships programme will take place in 2005.

7.       The Ecumenical Institute of Bossey is a privileged place providing ecumenical formation in an intercultural and ecumenical setting, through formal courses offered to residential students and short term seminars on critical issues.

§          The number of students registered at theGraduate schoolsessions is increasing (30 for the semester 2003-2004, 38 for the semester 2004-2005).  The theme of the Graduate School for this semester is "God's Power and Human Accountability". The year 2004 marked the first year when the Bossey Institute was offering a Ph.D. in Ecumenics. The students will soon be able to enjoy working at the new Library-Research Center which  should open in the middle of  2005.

§          A total of fiveseminarsbrought together a large number of participants from the whole spectrum of the Christian family as well as from other faith traditions. The seminars were organized in cooperation with WCC staff and other ecumenical organizations.

8.       WCC is increasingly expected to provide analysis, resources and guidance onInter-religious dialogueand cooperation. Most of the programmes have integrated this dimension into their activities. Among the many contributions to inter-religious dialogue the following could be highlighted:

§          After a two-year study process involving three networks and teams of Inter-religious Dialogue, Mission and Evangelism, and Faith and Order, a study document on a theological approach to"Religious Plurality and Christian Self Understanding"was produced and should serve as a background document for the Plenary on the same theme at the Porto Alegre Assembly.

§          The 6thVisser 't Hooft Memorial Consultationon "Religion, Power and Violence"was held in Bossey in June. Participants from various faith traditions identified models, resources and networks for inter-religious peace-building. They stressed the need to move beyond analysis and to develop coalition for peace at grass-root levels and to share liturgies and resources for peace.

§          A multifaith consultation, jointly prepared by the WCC and the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue on theContribution of Africa to religious and spiritual lifewas organized in Ethiopia in September. A publication is underway.

§          A planning group involving  partners from other religions started to prepare for the WCC  inter-religious conference scheduled for June 2005 . Under the title"A critical moment in Inter-religious Relations and Dialogue:thinking together, assessing the present and imagining the future" this conference should be a sign of both a renewed commitment to, and a change in inter-religious dialogue.

§          The WCC and  the Inter-religious Platform in Geneva are also planning another series of inter-religious events during a week-end in Geneva in November 2005, to incite people, and particularly the young generation, toLive Together in Religious Plurality.

9.       A number of processes developed since the last Assembly within the programme onEthics of Life, Alternatives to Globalizationwere brought near to completion in view of the next Assembly.

§          TheAGAPE Process(Alternatives to Globalization Addressing People and Earth) culminated with a meeting to harvest the findings of a regional process of consultations. A study document was drafted and will serve as a background for the Assembly Plenary where a short statement will be presented. The role of the WCC in promoting ecumenical coordination at the World Social Forum was noticeable both in India in 2004 and in Porto Alegre in 2005.

§          The signing of the Kyoto Protocol by Russia was particularly welcomed by the WCC network onClimate Changewhich significantly contributed to this achievement. The network started to broaden its cooperation with other ecumenical partners, linking the work on Climate Change with the commitment to ensure clean water for all.

§          Thedialogue with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fundconcluded in October with a high level encounter between the leadership of the WCC and of the two institutions, after a careful preparatory process. The common commitment of all institutions to eradicate poverty was affirmed, while many questions remain open on the meaning of "development": priority on economic growth for the Bretton Woods institutions, priority on ethical approaches for justice, human rights and equality for the WCC. It is now proposed to continue to work jointly on country case-studies to assess the impact of the WB and IMF programmes on people's lives.

§          Members of churches and organizations working onracial justicereflected on the theme "Living out the challenges of transformative justice" and made proposals to bring these issues to the Assembly, at a time when racism continues to be a challenge everywhere with exclusive migration policies, and increasing trends of xenophobia and racist violence. The Resource Guide onTransformative Justice: Being Church and Overcoming Racismwas published and widely distributed.

§            TheIndigenous People'sprogramme put emphasis on the loss of land and resources and the loss of indigenous languages. Moving the office to Bolivia has helped the work to be more focused on the daily experience of indigenous people and of the churches in their local context.

§            Women theologians from the USA and Canada met with an internationally constituted steering group to continue the reflection onWomen's Voices and Visions: on Being Church.Attempts are being made to bring forward the ways churches can respond to women's aspiration for community, justice and solidarity. Two publications are underway.

§            A Global Church Campaign on Violence again Women was launched by the WCC on November 25 and lasted until December 10. Entitled"On the Wings of a Dove",this campaign focussed on the efforts made to overcoming violence against women and children. Brochures, posters and an active web site were made available to churches.

§            The statement prepared by EDAN (Ecumenical Disabilities Advocate Network) and Faith and Order" Church for All"was translated and widely distributed. The coordination of the EDAN network is housed in the AACC building in Nairobi and plans are underway to make it a joint programme between the WCC and AACC in 2005.

10.   The year 2004 provided ample reasons for promotingEcumenical Advocacy and Peaceful Resolutions of Conflictsat a global level. Beside the various interventions recorded in the Public Issues report, the following initiatives should be underlined:

§            TheWCC Advocacy Week at the UNwas organized for the second time in New York in November. Some 80 participants from churches and partners came together for a week of  mutual sharing and common strategizing. Four public seminars were held in the UN building on the Millennium Development Goals, Nuclear Proliferation, the UN Reform and the situation in Sudan.

§            While the responsibility to monitor and intervene in any conflict situation as needs arise remain, the CCIA Commission identified the need for a more proactive role infour regional casesfor a time-defined period leading up to the Assembly:

-          Israel-Palestine: Ecumenical Accompaniment programme and ongoing efforts to establish a Jerusalem Ecumenical Center in the old city.

-          Korea: Convening of carefully prepared consultation on Peace and Reunification between North and South Korea in Tozanzo, Japan, in October.

-          Zimbabwe: Close cooperation with the Zimbabwe Council of Churhes which led to a strategic encounter in Geneva in November between church leaders, specialized ministries' representatives and WCC staff to assess the present situation and decide on future cooperation.

-          Cuba: Process of preparation for an international ecumenical delegation in 2005 to accompany churches in the actual critical period.

§            In response to the increasing interaction between religion and politics, a seminar was organised in December on "Spiritual Accompaniment on Political Processes". A publication will follow.

11.   TheEcumenical Accompaniment Programme(EAPPI) is presently the most comprehensive ecumenical response to a conflict situation. Since the programme was launched in August 2002 until the end of 2004, 168 ecumenical accompaniers, from more than 30 churches in 12 countries, have served a minimum of three months with local churches, Palestinian and Israeli NGOs as well as with local Palestinian communities. The work of the accompaniers for justice and reconciliation between Christians, Muslims and Jews and the WCC's role have been praised by a delegation of Jerusalem church leaders who visited the places concerned in August.

12.   Staff of theDiakonia and Solidarityteam coordinated some 54 round tables, convened regional group meetings in most of the regions, and conducted capacity-building seminars in all regions. Considerable progress was made in establishing church-based networks working on children's issues in Asia.

Among the many activities carried out in each region, the following initiatives should be highlighted:

§                 A review of thePacific Officewas carried out in July in conjunction with a meeting of the Pacific church leaders.  It was noted that the office's presence in the region had both positive and negative aspects, and it was recommended that the possibility of returning the office to Geneva after the WCC and PCC assemblies be considered by the next Central Committee. A review of the Middle East Office will be carried out in 2005.

§                 An external review of theMultilateral Sharing programmewas completed during the year. It called for WCC to continue to play a role in multilateral sharing but recommended that the work be refocused, that clear criteria and terms of reference be developed and that relationships with the funding partners be strengthened.

§                 Work withuprooted peoplecontinue to be a high priority, particularly as conditions affecting refugees, migrants and internally displaced people worsened in most regions of the world. Regional working groups meetings were held in most regions and the annual meeting of the Global Network on Uprooted People took place in September with a particular focus on gender-based violence and HIV/AIDS among refugees and migrants.

§                 Cooperation with ACT is increasing. Considerable time was spent in working on the implementation of ACT's new membership policy to ensure that WCC member churches and related bodies register their membership with ACT and that churches facing a disaster are able to access necessary resources.

13.   Communication

A revised approach to information and communication had been recommended by the Central Committee in order to strengthen the Council's profile and visibility.  Arevised communication strategywas discussed by the staff and the Communication Advisory Group, focussing on key institutional messages, expansion of core audiences and a thorough reorganisation and consolidation of the instruments and channels of communication.

This revised strategy framework will be presented to the Programme Committee in February 2005.

Among the many initiatives undertaken this year, two outstanding productions should be highlighted:

§                 The newWCC Annual Review 2003presenting the WCC's work in a new and attractive format.

§                 The long awaited publication of the third volume of theHistory of the Ecumenical Movementlaunched in December in presence of many of its authors.