Final statement from the consultation "Ecumenism in the 21st century"
30 November - 3 December 2004
"For the peace of the whole world,
the stability of the Holy Churches of God
and for the Union of All,
Let us pray to the Lord."
(St. John Chrysostom)
1. In the spirit of this prayer, the World Council of Churches invited a group of 106 representatives from churches, agencies/specialised ministries, regional and national councils of churches, Christian World Communions and international ecumenical organisations to a consultation on "Ecumenism in the 21st Century," held at Chavannes-de-Bogis, Switzerland from 30 November to 3 December 2004.
2. The need for such a consultation comes from the fact that Christians face new challenges in the world and that new and effective ways of working together are required in order to respond to the demands of the world from the perspective of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The ecumenical movement
3. There is a rich history of ecumenical traditions and achievements which served as the starting point for these discussions. The term ecumenical' embraces the quest for visible Christian unity, which is undertaken in theological study, in common witness in the world-wide task of mission and evangelism as well as in diakonia and the promotion of justice and peace.
4. Participation in the ecumenical movement follows from and leads toward shared faith in the Triune God and common Christian values. Before his crucifixion Jesus Christ prayed for his disciples and all Christians: "that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (John 17:21). Thus Christian unity is related to the unity of the Triune God. We are therefore urgently called to transform our self-centred mentality into selfless love for the other and the society of which we are a part. As Christ is one with his father we too as Christians have the vocation to be one. We have the duty to make evident that Christianity is a unity in which the many form a unique whole. Their belonging together is based on the unity of the work of God the Father through the Son and the Holy Spirit. Accordingly the renewal of the ecumenical movement is an invitation to all involved to go beyond the present boundaries, to interact with each other and with society. "It is a call to bear witness to unity by making an optimum use of the abilities, history, experience, commitment and spiritual tradition of everyone involved. This includes submission to one another and the search to understand the will of the Lord in a spirit of repentance and reconciliation."
5. The ecumenical movement today is carried out at different levels by churches acting through conciliar bodies (e.g. WCC, regional ecumenical organizations, sub-regional fellowships and national councils of churches) Christian World Communions, ecumenical communities, mission agencies, theological colleges and associations, ecumenical academies and lay training centers as well as agencies/specialized ministries, international ecumenical organizations and many other ecumenical bodies. It is obvious that the ecumenical movement is far wider than any one institution and includes all those who yearn for unity and all those who dream of a common Christian voice on the burning issues of the day.
A time of change
6. The ecumenical movement is living and operating in a world which is constantly
changing. The political constellation is very different from what it was during the 20th century. The world today is dominated by a concentration of extreme power and wealth. As people seek to affirm their identities in the light of globalizing forces, increasingly many are identifying themselves in terms of their religion.
7. It is a world of brilliant new technologies and a world in which millions of people suffer from hunger and die from rampant violence. The environment is threatened with destruction because of disrespect for creation.
8. People in many regions are increasingly embracing the view that another world is possible. They are seeking a world undergirded by a deep sense of spiritual discernment. The growth of civil society is transforming communities and nations. Those who have traditionally been marginalized and excluded are struggling to make a more just and peaceful world possible.
9. These changes are also affecting the churches. Declining membership in some European and North American churches will have consequences for the material resourcing of ecumenical bodies in the future, while at the same time prompting new relationships of genuine partnership between churches of the North and those of the South. The proliferation of non-governmental organizations has created a more competitive environment in which churches and their related organizations sometimes struggle for survival, but also opens up new possibilities of partnerships and coalitions in the cause of peace, justice and the care of creation.
10. This has changed the ecumenical life of the churches. There are important new ecumenical actors who are not formally included in the existing structures and there are some in the ecumenical family who do not feel valued by others. Many new ecumenical organizations have been created, giving rise to fears that all of these ecumenical bodies cannot be sustained. Churches complain that there are too many levels of "belonging." Insufficient programme co-ordination by confessional and ecumenical bodies may represent duplication of efforts. There are questions around membership and around funding of the ecumenical movement.
11. The primary structures of the ecumenical movement were established decades ago, when both the world and the churches were in a very different place. Today
the world challenges us in ways that we have not known before.
Ecumenism in the 21st century
12. In recent years, discussions about the effects of the changing world on the ecumenical movement have taken place in different fora. In November 2003, a consultation on "Reconfiguration of the Ecumenical Movement" in Antelias/Lebanon affirmed the urgency of the issues and called for further discussions to "re-vitalize the ecumenical movement and to ensure that our structures and our actions respond to the changing global realities." In this line, the meeting in Chavannes-de-Bogis continued the work and looked into the question of how to find a new configuration or re-shaping which strengthens ecumenical relationships and structures in face of the new challenges mentioned above. The new study of current ecumenical structures and relationships (Mapping the Oikoumene), the Reflections on Ecumenism in the 21st century, both published by the WCC (2004) and the reactions from the churches to the report of the Antelias Consultation (2003) provided insightful resources in the deliberations of this consultation.
Recognizing that any discussion of structures must be guided by the values and vision of the ecumenical movement, the following vision was identified:
13. We hope that the ecumenical movement in the 21st century will be a special space:
- where more and more Christians are involved in the work of Christian unity, and the fellowship among the churches is strengthened
- where open and ecumenically-minded culture is fostered in the everyday lives of people in their own contexts and where ecumenical formation is a central focus at all levels of church life, from the local to the global
- where spirituality is the basis of the life of Christians together and where, as individuals, churches and organizations, Christians can pray together and can encourage each other to discern God's will for their lives
- where all, including the marginalized and excluded, are welcomed into inclusive and loving communities
- where relationships, built on mutual trust, are strengthened between all parts of the ecumenical family
- where each Christian can be supported in practising responsible stewardship and where churches and Christian organizations can be mutually accountable to each other
- where diversity of cultures and traditions is recognized as a source of creativity
- where hospitality is manifest towards those of different faiths and where dialogue is encouraged
- where young people are encouraged to join in and to lead
- where women's visions of being church are shared
- where the ministry of healing is carried out in shared actions
- where the healing of memories leads to reconciliation
- where, together, we are enabled to be prophetic in confronting the injustices and violence of the world and to take risks in our commitment to justice and peace when Christ calls us to do so.
14. We recognize that there are still many issues that divide us which need to be overcome. But we still hope that the Holy Spirit leads us to the end that one day we can celebrate the Eucharist together as the sign of our unity.
15. The process of moving towards a new configuration of the ecumenical movement is urgent. Financial difficulties in many churches put pressure on the ecumenical movement to reconsider how it works. But the needs coming from a changing world also ask for a common agenda which harnesses collective energies to work together for the healing of the world. Moreover, a need is felt for more effective instruments in the quest for Christian unity given the changing landscape of Christianity.
16. A new configuration of the ecumenical movement will require change from our churches and our organizations. Structures are needed which are less rigid, more flexible, and which lead us to develop more collaborative initiatives with each other. Beyond structures, we seek to change the way we work and to find more creative and innovative opportunities for working together.
17. Participants expressed their hopes that the Global Christian Forum would provide an opportunity for broadening the ecumenical movement. Cooperation in the area of diakonia and mission was considered as a way to strengthen relationships between Pentecostal and other churches.
18. With any new configuration, WCC has a leading role to play in facilitating, networking, coordinating and challenging churches and organisations within the ecumenical movement.
19. The following section presents specific recommendations to the churches, the WCC, the REOs and NCCs, the Christian World Communions, the international ecumenical organizations, and the agencies/ specialised ministries.
Participants celebrated the fact that this diverse group of representatives from the broader ecumenical movement had come together at Chavannes-de-Bogis to reflect together on a new configuration of the ecumenical movement. This was a special event and participants expressed their joy at being together. In fact, some felt that WCC's role in facilitating such a gathering is a model for its future work in creating ecumenical space. While the recommendations below focus largely on issues of structures and relationships, participants affirmed the need for renewal, for "re-freshing" the ecumenical movement in a way which focuses less on institutional interests and more on fostering a spirit of collaboration. The need to develop more effective ways of working in order to witness to the world - in areas such as justice, reconciliation, and inter-faith dialogue - is a strong motivation for grappling with many and diverse structural issues.
Working groups during the meeting made many recommendations on specific issues which are incorporated into the summary report of this meeting. These provide broad and important suggestions for the work of the churches and other participants in the ecumenical movement. In particular participants recognized the essential role of ecumenical formation for the future ecumenical movement and urged all churches and organizations to make this a priority, for example in religious education and in selecting representatives to ecumenical events. Churches are encouraged to ensure that their members who have ecumenical experiences are able to share these experiences with their church.
The recommendations presented below focus on only a few concrete steps which can be taken in the immediate future. At the same time, it was recognized that the process of developing a new configuration of the ecumenical movement is a long-term one which will require discussion and reflection by the churches and indeed by confessional and ecumenical bodies.
1. A reaffirmation of the theological basis of the ecumenical movement
We affirm that theological dialogue about the nature of unity and the church is a priority for all ecumenical work and should be re-vitalized. The WCC's Faith and Order has a central role to play in shaping the multilateral dialogue on issues (both theological and social) uniting and dividing the churches today, and in monitoring and mapping the many bilateral dialogues on church unity. A statement on the church as local/universal, living in unity/diversity is now being prepared for the 2006 WCC Assembly. We strongly recommend that the WCC and its member churches continue theological reflection on the nature of the church, particularly on the biblical understandings and different theological interpretations of the church.
2. Mapping of programmatic work
WCC is asked to facilitate a mapping study of existing programmatic work of ecumenical and denominational bodies, identifying who is doing what in which area of work and the financial resources which support these programmes. This is intended to serve as a tool for avoiding duplication and fostering cooperation and could build on the annual WCC Ecumenical Partner Survey. Such a mapping exercise could also provide opportunities for mutual learning. As this is a substantial task, it may be necessary to limit the scope of the study.
This mapping could be supplemented by case studies by appropriate bodies, in which a small group of people analyze and learn from specific examples of programmatic collaboration or overlap.
3. Clarifying the respective roles of WCC, REOs, and NCCs
We see a need for the WCC, the regional ecumenical organizations (REOs), and national councils of churches (NCCs) to clarify their programmatic roles, to discuss and formulate a common agenda and to stimulate collaborative action in order to achieve greater ecumenical coherence. WCC is asked to work with REOs and NCCs to develop an appropriate process for furthering these discussions, by building on work carried out through the Common Understanding and Vision process.
The principle of subsidiarity -- ensuring that decisions are made closest to the people affected -- may be helpful in delineating roles. Greater coherence could also be fostered by:
- Linking governing bodies (for example, the REOs could organize joint meetings in each region)
- Clearer accountability of representatives participating in ecumenical bodies to the churches they represent
- Clearly formulated agendas for regular meetings between WCC, REOs and NCCs
- Organizing meetings between REOs and Christian World Communions
REOs and NCCs also have a responsibility to encourage ecumenical formation among their constituencies and they are asked to work with theological institutions in their regions to organize seminars on ecumenical formation.
4. Clarifying the role and space of agencies/specialized ministries within the ecumenical movement
As diakonia is an essential part of being church, and as agencies/specialized ministries are recognized as an integral and indispensable part of the ecumenical movement, the Consultation agreed to ask:
- WCC to invite the agencies/specialized ministries to discuss together the shape and form of their institutional space
- WCC to include agencies/specialized ministries in its strategic planning and on-going work in the field of diakonia and development, relief and advocacy
- Similarly, agencies/specialized ministries to share their plans with WCC which in turn will seek to share them more broadly with ecumenical partners.
5. Towards enhanced collaboration with Christian World Communions
WCC is asked to facilitate a consultative process to explore the nature and form of a common Assembly or process that will draw the Christian World Communions, international ecumenical organizations, REOs and the WCC into a common ecumenical agenda. The possibility can also be explored of working with WCC's Faith and Order Plenary Commission and the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism in planning future meetings.
Further work is also needed to discuss ways in which Christian World Communions can more effectively participate in the work and life of WCC.
6. Exploring possibilities for greater financial stability
In light of the financial difficulties being faced by many ecumenical organisations, WCC is asked to facilitate a task force in which representatives from different ecumenical bodies, including from agencies/specialized ministries, can explore together additional and new ways of funding ecumenical work. Collaboration between churches, NCCs, REOs and WCC is needed in the regions to increase possibilities of raising funds for the common ecumenical movement. The Consultation stressed that building relationships is essential to efforts to increase financial support for ecumenical work.
7. The role of WCC
Participants affirmed that WCC is a privileged instrument, entrusted with ensuring the coherence of the ecumenical movement. As a fellowship of churches it has an important prophetic role.
All organisations within the ecumenical movement, including WCC, need to change to address the challenges of today. The consultation recommends that in setting its priorities, WCC includes the following:
- Providing space for the ecumenical movement to formulate a common ecumenical vision for the 21st century
- Considering comprehensively the results and significance of bilateral theological dialogue at national, regional and international levels
- Facilitating a common theological understanding of diakonia among churches and agencies/specialized ministries
- Providing a forum for exchange of information and common advocacy against injustice, perhaps through coordinating advocacy vis-à-vis the UN
- Facilitating constructive cooperation and accountability between different partners in the ecumenical movement
- Facilitating a process of bringing the specialised staff of ecumenical organisations into regular and systematic conversation and information-sharing in order to develop common work plans.
In terms of structures it is recommended that WCC consider a balance between permanent tasks and time-limited, urgent projects.
8. Establishment of a continuation group
In order to continue this process, a continuation group will be established as soon as possible and will be composed of 15 representatives of different constituencies, as follows:
5 representatives of member churches (to be selected by the WCC Executive Committee)
1 representative of the Roman Catholic church
1 representative of Pentecostal churches
2 representatives from ecumenical youth organizations
1 each from REOs, CWCs, NCCs, agencies/specialized ministries, international ecumenical organizations and ecumenical renewal communities.
Each of these constituencies will name their own representatives by 14 February 2005 and the names will be shared with the WCC Central Committee for information.
WCC will convene this group and a first meeting will take place in the first half of 2005.
Terms of reference for the continuation group:
- Review the recommendations from this meeting, establish timelines and monitor their implementation to determine which can be implemented in the short and long term
- Set priorities among the recommendations, and
- Decide and accompany the process of working towards a new configuration of the ecumenical movement. (This may include, at some point in time, another consultation.)
9. The need for inclusive participation
The continuing process of developing a new configuration of the ecumenical movement must include the increased participation by women and youth and priority should be given to participation from the South.
10. Going forth
As only 106 representatives participated in this consultation, Ecumenism in the 21st Century, participants agreed to discuss the issue of a new ecumenical configuration with their churches and constituencies and to refer relevant measures to their respective governing bodies. The continuation group is asked to provide regular updates on this process to participants in this consultation as well as to the broader ecumenical constituency.