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Planners anticipate time of "inspiration and hope" at WCC ninth assembly

15 November 2004

The WCC ninth assembly in 2006 should be a time of "inspiration and hope" for the churches according to members of the international planning committee after their first visit to the assembly venue in Porto Alegre, Brazil, last week.

After a preparatory meeting that ended on 13 November, the committee moderator, Rev. Norman Shanks from Scotland, looked forward to an assembly that would "strengthen the ecumenical fellowship and Christian commitment" of the participants.

The WCC's ninth assembly will convene on the campus of Porto Alegre's Pontifical Catholic University (PUCRS) 14-23 February 2006 under the theme "God, in your grace, transform the world". It is expected to gather over 3,000 church leaders and ecumenical representatives from throughout the world for a week of prayer, reflection and celebration. The assembly is the highest governing body of the WCC, and is traditionally one of the broadest global gatherings of Christian churches.

In addition to visiting the venue for the assembly in the PUCRS' modern conference centre, the committee met with local and national committees preparing the event, and worked on the programme and participation arrangements.

Committee members joined leaders of the main Brazilian churches and ecumenical organizations, both Protestant and Roman Catholic, and hundreds of worshippers on 9 November at Porto Alegre's main Methodist church for an official and public launch of assembly preparations.

"The talents and potential of the local churches forms a microcosm of the diversity of the ecumenical movement and give us great hope for the success of the assembly," commented WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia, who preached at the ceremony. Kobia is presently touring Latin America on a visit to churches there.

Alongside the formal administrative tasks, the planning committee identified a series of theological and social themes to be explored during plenary sessions, including questions of church unity and the future of the ecumenical movement; alternative approaches to economic injustice; and the role of the churches in building a culture of peace in the world. In 2006, the WCC will reach the mid-point of its international Decade to Overcome Violence.

The assembly will be marked by the Latin American context, and many church members and young people are expected to join the gathering, culminating in a special Latin American ecumenical celebration in Porto Alegre.

Several new features will be included in the ninth assembly programme. A series of "ecumenical conversations" will enable delegates to debate crucial issues in the life of churches and the WCC. Around the formal programme of the assembly, a "mutirão" - which in Portuguese signifies coming together for a common purpose – will be open to other participants. This part of the programme will provide opportunities for churches and ecumenical organizations to arrange exhibitions, workshops, music and presentations during the assembly.

Daily prayer services drawing on the diverse traditions and practices of the churches will be a vital feature of the assembly programme. The assembly worship committee, which also met in Porto Alegre prior to the planning committee, was moderated Metropolitan Gennadios of Sassima (Ecumenical Patriarchate). "We have had a strong conviction from the start that prayer will be at the heart of the assembly, and that the daily worship, drawing on the riches of the assembly theme of grace and transformation, will inspire and support the participants during their work," he emphasized.

For the Rev. Ervino Schmidt, the general secretary of the Brazilian National Council of Churches (CONIC), which invited the WCC assembly to the country, hosting a WCC assembly for the first time in the region offers a "time of kairos" for the ecumenical movement and for the churches in Brazil. His hopes were echoed by Rev. Rui Bernard, WCC ninth assembly local coordinator: "We hope that the assembly can be a moment of spiritual renewal and authentic encounter among the local churches and the participants," Bernard said.

Further information: www.wcc-assembly.info