World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

Report of the Programme Guidelines Committee (as adopted)

23 February 2006

The following report was presented to and received by the Assembly.
Its resolutions were proposed by the Programme Guidelines Committee and approved by the Assembly through consensus.

Dissent expressed by Assembly delegates is recorded as endnotes.

I. Introduction 

1. One of the primary tasks of each Assembly of the World Council of Churches is to review the work and activities of the Council since its last Assembly and to set directions and priorities for the Council's programme in the future.  

2. The Programme Guidelines Committee (PGC) of this Assembly has taken its tasks seriously, using as a starting point the report From Harare to Porto Alegre, the Pre-Assembly Programme Evaluation and Recommendations from the 2005 Central Committee, and a background paper, entitled "A Changing World," prepared by WCC staff. Each of the PGC members also attended an Ecumenical Conversation to listen to Assembly delegates about future WCC priorities. Finally, the PGC shared in dialogue and reflection on the reports of the Moderator, the General Secretary, the thematic plenaries, hearing sessions, and many suggestions and ideas coming from Mutirão participants and constituency groups seeking to discern the mind of the Assembly and the call of God related to the unique role of the WCC within the ecumenical movement. 

3. In presenting this report, the PGC has been aware that the work of the Policy Reference Committee has reviewed, and will address, several important programme initiatives since the Harare Assembly related to strengthening and deepening relationships among the member churches (e.g., the Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC), with ecumenical partners, and with other Christian churches (e.g., the Joint Working Group with the Roman Catholic Church, Pentecostals, etc.).  

4. While the wealth of the input gathered by the PGC cannot be included in our Report to the Assembly, substantive documentation - including the reports from the 22 Ecumenical Conversations; the statements coming from constituency groups (youth, Indigenous Peoples, and persons with disabilities); the various proposals on specific issues from Mutirao workshops - will be referred to future governing bodies of the WCC in the important work of developing specific future programmes for the WCC. That documentation will inform them in their task of translating the broad policy directions included in this Report into programme. 


5. The Ninth Assembly receives with appreciation the report From Harare to Porto Alegre and the "Pre-Assembly Evaluation and Recommendations from the 2005 Central Committee"1

II. The Context of Our Work 

6. The Porto Alegre Assembly has taken place against the backdrop of a rapidly changing world. It is on this stage, even as the drama of changing contexts unfolds, that the churches are called to fulfill their mission and calling. Changes are taking place everywhere, and all are related: the changing ecclesial and ecumenical contexts (including church geography, statistics, and secularization), as well as the changing political, economic and social contexts (including growing inequalities, environmental destruction, migration, violence and terror). These changes present immense challenges to the churches and to the WCC that call for courageous visions of hope and greater commitment to make visible God's gift of unity and reconciliation in Christ before our divided churches, societies, and world. We were greatly encouraged by how our Latin American hosts presented their history of struggle and hope in responding to the challenges their continent is facing. However, concerns were expressed about the marginalization of Indigenous Peoples and Afrodescendants in the life of the church and in society in Latin America. 

7. We have been reminded that, "A divided church cannot have a credible witness in a broken world; it cannot stand against the disintegrating and disorienting forces of globalization and enter into meaningful dialogue with the world" (Moderator's Report, Para 17). We turn to God and pray, "God, in your grace, transform our lives, our churches, our nations and world". All programmes and activities of the WCC are thus to be responsive to this changing context in seeking to be a faithful expression of God's justice, peace, care for creation, healing, reconciliation and salvation: the "fullness" of life for all. 

III. Our Vision and Our Goals 

8. In its work at this first WCC Assembly in the 21st century, the PGC reaffirmed the stated purpose and functions of the WCC (as expressed in the Constitution, para. III.) as the basis for its work: "The primary purpose of the fellowship of churches in the World Council of Churches is to call one another to visible unity in one faith and one eucharistic fellowship, expressed in worship and common life in Christ, through witness and service to the world, and to advance towards that unity in order that the world may believe." In addition, that paragraph affirms as goals of the Council that it will:

  • promote the prayerful search for forgiveness and reconciliation in a spirit of mutual accountability, the development of deeper relationships through theological dialogue and the sharing of human, spiritual and material resources with one another;

  • facilitate common witness; express their commitment to diakonia in serving human need;

  • nurture the growth of an ecumenical consciousness;

  • assist each other in relationships to and with people of other faiths; and,

  • foster renewal and growth through unity, worship, mission and service.  

9. These purposes and functions demonstrate the breadth of the vision of the WCC, and provide a foundation for the programmatic work of the Council.  


10. The Ninth Assembly re-affirms the document "Towards a Common Understanding and Vision of the WCC" (referred to in From Harare to Porto Alegre, pp. 175-181) as an expression of the vision of the WCC as a fellowship of churches and as a servant of the one ecumenical movement. Ways need to be found to make the content of the CUV document more accessible and understandable in order to facilitate greater ownership by the churches and by the ecumenical movement at large.  

IV. Guiding Principles and Methodological Recommendations 

11. Building upon the very helpful material and recommendations in the "Programme Evaluation Report from the 2005 Central Committee" (referred to in From Harare to Porto Alegre, pp.203-216), and receiving a strong and sobering recommendation from the Finance Committee of this Assembly related to the anticipated financial situation of the WCC in the coming years, the PGC identified seven basic principles to guide the WCC in setting its programme priorities in the future:

  • to keep its focus upon what the WCC uniquely might do as a global fellowship of churches in providing leadership to the whole of the ecumenical movement;

  • to do less, to do it well, in an integrated, collaborative and interactive approach;

  • to lift up its central task of the churches calling one another to visible unity;

  • to keep in tension the work of dialogue and advocacy, of building relationships and promoting social witness among churches and with different sectors in society;

  • to foster greater ownership and participation by the churches in building as much as possible on initiatives of the churches and partner organizations;

  • to bring a prophetic voice and witness to the world in addressing the urgent and turbulent issues of our times in a focused way;

  • to communicate WCC activities to the churches and the world in a timely and imaginative way. 

12. The PGC also identified several methodological elements in defining how future WCC life and work would be carried out, including:

  • articulating a clear theological basis for all of its work;

  • developing a comprehensive planning, monitoring and evaluation process that will include a clear time-line and goals;

  • designing a strategy for communication, engagement and ownership by the churches;

  • facilitating the coordinating role of the WCC in seeking partnerships in networking and advocacy with other ecumenical organizations, including Christian World Communions, REOs, NCCs, Specialized Ministries, faith-based organizations, and NGOs (as appropriate) - with the hope that many of these programmes can be implemented in collaborative ways of working;

  • encouraging capacity-building of member churches and ecumenical partners;

  • accompanying churches and peoples in critical situations and enabling and facilitating their action.  


13. The Ninth Assembly endorses these guiding principles and methodological elements as the basis for establishing the Council's future programme priorities. 

V. Major Areas of Engagement  

14. In light of the changing context, the vision and purpose of the WCC, and the guiding principles and methodological elements, the PGC offers four major interactive "areas of engagement" for shaping the future life and work of the Council. Each of these emphases is already reflected in the current programmes of the WCC. What is being proposed here is that there be greater integration among the programmes and standing Commissions (Faith and Order, Mission and Evangelism, International Affairs), while exploring greater collaboration with current ecumenical partners and specialized ministries in development of these emphases in the future. 

15. Three additional words of introduction to these areas of engagement: 

  • The PGC strongly endorses promoting ecumenical leadership development of youth in the life of the WCC, including the full participation of youth in all programmes of the WCC. Their voices, concerns and presence must be brought more directly into the decision-making and leadership of the work and governance of the Council.

  • The PGC continues to affirm and celebrate the role and contributions of women in all areas and arenas in the life of the WCC, and endorses the continued participation of women in the whole of the WCC.

  • The PGC urges that the WCC seek the full inclusion of Indigenous Peoples and Dalits, people of African descent, persons with disabilities and marginalized people all over the world in its life, work and decision-making.  


Unity, Spirituality and Mission 

16. Seeking unity and engaging in common mission and evangelism have been foundational elements in the ecumenical movement. New understandings of both unity and mission have continued to develop in the life of the WCC as member churches have engaged each other in responding to their growing relationships and expanding encounter with the diversity of theologies, ecclesiologies, and traditions. Future work in the area of mission and evangelism should engage the churches in their commitment to explore new forms of church ways of ecclesial life, fresh ways of experiencing the Christian faith, and the discovery of new contextual ways of proclaiming the gospel, including a critique of competitive missional activities.  

17. Here at in Porto Alegre, the need of the WCC and its member churches to focus upon the nature of Christian spirituality and the work of the Holy Spirit in the church and the world has become ever more urgent and obvious, both for the integrity of our work for visible unity and in our mission to the world. Unity, spirituality and mission are interrelated, and their mutuality is dependent upon each receiving distinct and dedicated attention by the WCC and its member churches. 

Ecumenical Formation 

18. One of the issues that challenges the whole of the ecumenical movement today is that of ecumenical formation. As reported by the General Secretary in his report to this Assembly, "If contemporary Christians, including the church leadership, are to participate creatively and responsibly in the search for unity, and grow together, appropriate means of ecumenical formation must be offered to enable better, richer contributions to our common life." This is especially true for the students, young adults, laity and women in our churches as they increasingly take on leadership roles in the ecumenical movement for the 21st century.


19. The Ecumenical Institute at Bossey of the WCC was highlighted as a model for ecumenical formation, especially in its efforts in recent years in expanding its programme to include evangelicals and Pentecostals in its courses and seminars, as well as reaching out to provide greater inter-religious encounter. Providing a platform for churches and ecumenical partners working on challenges of science and technology to faith in cooperation with other parts of the WCC could be another opportunity. These trends are suggestive of the way forward, and a cause of hope.


20. Ecumenical formation also includes the role of the WCC in creating "safe spaces" for cross-cultural and cross-theological encounter as to engage in honest encounter around issues that divide our churches and our communities, in particular, to continue the dialogue on issues issues such as family life and human sexuality. related to human sexuality.  

Global Justice  

21. Throughout this Assembly there has been the urgent call to work together in the ecumenical movement for a dynamic, global understanding of justice. Justice requires transformation of relationships at all levels of life in society and in nature towards life in dignity in just and sustainable communities ([transformative justice):]

  • responding to those who suffer the consequences of injustice, racism and casteism,

  • denouncing the scandal of a world divided along lines of wealth and poverty and contributing to the transformation of unjust economic and social structures,

  • integrating the care of creation and, faith perspectives and the use and mis-use of science and new technologies such as bio-technologies, information technologies, surveillance and security technologies, energy technologies, etc.,

  • challenging and facilitating the church's response to HIV/AIDS,

  • including a clear voice in prophetic diakonia as an inseparable part of Christian identity and witness to societies, starting from life in family and community,

  • engaging in efforts and processes aiming at conflict resolution and reconciliation.  

Such work will require the WCC and its member churches "to re-direct our programmes toward more intentionally building truly inclusive and just communities which safeguard diversity, where different identities and unity interact, and where the rights and obligations of all are fully respected in love and fellowship" (Report of General Secretary, p. 14). 

Public Voice and Prophetic Witness to the World 

22. In fulfilling its historic responsibility on behalf of its member churches, the WCC is challenged to be a strong, credible ethical voice as it offers a prophetic witness to the world. This voice and witness must be spiritually and theologically grounded if the churches are to be heard among competing voices in the world. Churches have a contribution to make to strengthen cooperative multilateral icooperation and the international rule of law in dealing with human rights, militarism and peaceful resolution of conflicts.  

23. At this Assembly the urgent need for churches and the WCC to engage in inter-religious cooperation and dialogue was strongly affirmed. In its future engagement with other religions, it is important for the WCC to continue its work in the context of religious plurality and to further develop , and not simply a dialogue and common action related to political social, theological or ethical issues. 

24. This Assembly marked the mid-term of the initiative launched at the Harare Assembly on the Decade to Overcome Violence. For the second half of the decade, the PGC affirmed that the style of networking local and regional initiatives in peace-making should increasingly shape the WCC's programmatic life and work. In addition to the regional foci, the DOV should be attentive to situations of deep crisis, such as Northern Uganda and Haiti. 


25. The Ninth Assembly affirms these four areas of engagement in shaping the WCC's future life and work. 


26. In particular, in regard to specific programme areas that have been identified in pursuing these four "areas of engagement", the Ninth Assembly:


  • affirms that comprehensive attention be given to unity, spirituality, and mission, both theologically and practically. The WCC and its member churches are encouraged to address the sharp ecclesiological questions set out in the report of the Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC, and to give priority to the questions of unity, catholicity, baptism and prayer.

  • encourages churches on local, national, regional and global levels to commit themselves to the task of continuing ecumenical formation for all. In this role, the WCC should facilitate and initiate dialogue and possible cooperation between religious and political actors on the role of the church in civil society and between religions in areas of mutual understanding 2.

  • affirms that a follow-up of the AGAPE process be undertaken and expanded, in collaboration with other ecumenical partners and organizations, to engage in (1) the work of theological reflection on these issues that arise out of the center of our faith; (2) solid political , economic and social analysis; (3) on-going dialogue between religious, and economic and political actors; and (4) sharing practical, positive approaches from the churches 3.

  • in looking to the second second half of the DOV, endorses that the regional foci be continued; that more sharing of successful examples be developed to encourage churches and local congregations to respond to overcoming violence in their own contexts supported by international mutual visits; that a process of wide consultation be undertaken towards developing an ecumenical declaration on "just peace"; and finally, that the conclusion of the DOV be marked by an international Ecumenical Peace Convocation.  

VI. Post-Assembly Planning 

27. The period between the Assembly and the 2006 Central Committee meeting will be a time of intensive reflection led by the WCC leadership in consultation with churches and key ecumenical partners to receive the policy guidance from the Assembly and shape its programmatic work. 


28. In looking to its task of shaping future programmes for the WCC, the Ninth Assembly approves the following process:

  • a working group made up of the leadership of the Assembly's Programme Guidelines Committee, Policy Reference Committee, Public Issues Committee and Finance Committee be asked to accompany the WCC leadership in developing future programme recommendations;

  • clear, well-functioning planning, monitoring and evaluation mechanisms be established for each programme;

  • a clear distinction be made between issues that are either of long-term nature, time-bound, or specific urgent;

  • a two-way communication strategy be developed for each programme and carried out with the various constituencies;

  • clear exit strategies be established in phasing out, reconfiguring, or reshaping programmes taking into account both the limited human and financial resources of the WCC and also the possibilities to cooperate and share responsibility with other ecumenical partners;

  • sustained dialogue with member churches and specialized ministries regarding ways of generating additional financial support to programmatic work of the WCC.

29. The Ninth Assembly affirms that WCC should claim a clearer and stronger public profile in its witness to the world. To that effect it is hoped that the WCC will focus its energy and attention on a limited number of issues that cry out for response by the churches together. HIV/AIDS (including the ecclesiological implications of this pandemic in most parts of our world) should be one of these issues.  

1 Dissent was registered from Bishop Barbel Wartenberg-Potter, delegate from the Evangelical Church in Germany, who feels that the Central Committee's decision on "common prayer" hinders God's Spirit from speaking in diverse and inclusive images and symbols.

2 Dissent was registered from:

  • Hulda Gudmundsdottir, delegate from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland, who wished to insert the words "focusing also on dividing issues such as human sexuality" at the end of the first sentence.

  • Four delegates who wished to insert the words "focusing especially on youth, women, persons with disabilities, Indigenous Peoples, Dalits, and people of African descent" at the end of the first sentence. The four delegates were: Carmen Landsdowne, delegate from the United Church of Canada; Rev. Robina Winbush, Presbyterian Church (USA); Rev. Dr. Tyrone Pitts, Progressive National Baptist Convention Inc.; and Mr. David Palopaa, Church of Sweden.

3 Dissent was registered from Herr Klaus Heidel, delegate from the Evangelical Church in Germany, who wished to put the main emphasis of the recommendation on concrete activities and action.