Today, it´s exactly 73 years ago since the World Council of Churches (WCC) was founded in 1948 in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands.
The WCC is a global fellowship of churches whose relationship with one another and activities together are an expression of their common faith in Jesus Christ and their common calling to the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
It was on the 23rd of August 1948, in Amsterdam, that the World Council of Churches was officially founded by 147 churches from different confessions and many countries came together to commit themselves to the ecumenical movement.
At the assembly in Amsterdam, four sections were organized to examine aspects of the theme "Man's Disorder and God's Design":
- the universal church in God's design,
- the church's witness to God's design,
- the church and the disorder of society,
- the church and the international disorder.
In today’s world, unity is becoming increasingly threatened by forces of fragmentation, polarization, and conflict. Anxiety and fear are being used to feed suspicion, hatred, racism and xenophobia. While fears tend to cast out love, our witness to Christ compels us to do the opposite. We are called to be a witness of God´s hope and love in the world. We are on the joint journey called the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace. We are the witness of Justice and Peace.
The World Council of Churches is the broadest and most inclusive among the many organized expressions of the modern ecumenical movement, a movement whose goal is Christian unity. It is a community of churches on the way to visible unity in one faith and one eucharistic fellowship, expressed in worship and in common life in Christ. It seeks to advance towards this unity, as Jesus prayed for his followers, "so that the world may believe." (John 17:21)
The historical roots of the World Council of Churches are found in student and lay movements of the 19th century, the 1910 Edinburgh world missionary conference, and a 1920 encyclical from the (Orthodox) Synod of Constantinople suggesting a "fellowship of churches" similar to the League of Nations. Leaders representing more than 100 churches voted in 1937-38 to found a World Council of Churches, but its inauguration was delayed following the outbreak of the second world war.
Predecessor bodies that have been incorporated in the Council over the decades include international conferences on "faith and order" (theology, sacraments, ordinances) and "life and work" (social ministries, international affairs, relief services), the International Missionary Council (IMC), a world alliance of churches for global peace as well as a council descended from the 19th-century Sunday school movement.
Two pioneering WCC projects were launched in co-operation with the IMC in 1946: the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA), and the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey, Switzerland.
When the WCC came into being at the First Assembly in 1948, there were 147 member churches. In June 2021, the membership stood at 349 churches. Predominately Protestant and Western in its earliest years, the WCC's profile and identity evolved during the 1960s with the influx of many Orthodox churches from the East and newly autonomous churches from formerly colonial regions in the South. The Second Vatican Council greatly improved relations between the WCC and Roman Catholics. The third Papal visit to the WCC in June 2018 marks a historical milestone in ecumenical relations.
The WCC´s worldwide fellowship of churches has the capacity, through its members, to mobilize more than half a billion Christians in every community around the world for the pursuit of justice, peace and more equitable societies. The WCC brings together Christians, those of other religious faiths and non-religious communities, to call on governments to be accountable to those who are suffering and are excluded from the benefits of a peaceful and just world.
As the COVID-19 pandemic caused widespread loss and hardship, people across the world have drawn the fellowship closer to the World Council of Churches, showing increased interest in many channels of communication. During the global pandemic, WCC’s online presence has been a resource for prayers, bible studies, reliable information, interviews, new publications, online meetings, online consultations and webinars. We have now been asking how we move forward together as a fellowship of churches and adapt to continue using electronic communication in our daily lives and work. The WCC is much more needed than ever 73 years later.
We continue to uphold to the World Council Churches in our prayers, a WCC that has journeyed with the fellowship of churches for 73 years. We pray for strengthened mission partnerships ahead so that we all can, together, carry forward the mission of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Let´s pray today the prayer of Nathan Söderblom, a Swedish clergyman who served as the Church of Sweden Archbishop of Uppsala between 1914 and 1931. In 1930 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to unite the churches for peace.
"Lord, be before us to guide us, be behind us to push us, be beneath us to carry us, be above us to bless us, be around us to protect us, be in us so that in body and soul we serve you for the glory of your Name."
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You can read the full report of the first assembly of the World Council of Churches, held at Amsterdam, August 22nd to September 4th, 1948, The Amsterdam Assembly series vol. 5 : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive