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Report of the Core Group of the Assembly Planning Committee

Report of the Core Group of the Assembly Planning Committee presented at the WCC Central Committee , 2003

02 September 2009

World Council of Churches
Geneva, Switzerland
26 August - 2 September 2003

Report of the Core Group of the Assembly Planning Committee


1. The Core Group of the Assembly Planning Committee held its first meeting at Bossey on 24-27 February 2003. Appendix 1 gives the membership of the Core Group. The Core Group started its work each day with morning prayer, shared with the Bossey students and staff, and used material from the Iona Community. The Group was helped considerably in its work by an initial series of reports from WCC staff on visits to and the local context in Brazil, by sharing experiences and impressions of previous WCC assemblies, and by information from those coordinating preparations for the Lutheran World Federation Assembly in Canada in July and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches' General Council in Ghana in 2004.

Matters referred by the Executive Committee

2. Size of Assembly. The Core Group endorsed the recommendation of the Executive Committee that the number of delegates should not exceed 700, that 85% of the seats would be distributed as defined by a distribution model (the remaining 15% to be designated by the Central Committee) and that 25% of the 85% should be reserved for Orthodox Churches. The Group noted that further work is to be done on the distribution model to ensure, as far as possible, an equitable balance between church families and adequate representation of smaller churches, women, young people and lay people. The Core Group also noted that the number of stewards, advisers, observers etc. (to be considered and determined at a later stage) would be subject to budgetary constraints, but stressed the need that any restrictions on numbers should not inhibit a strong youth presence at the assembly.

3. Timing of Assembly. The Core Group endorsed the Executive Committee's recommendation that the assembly be held for 10 working days from 14-23 February 2006 (at the Pontifical Catholic University, as decided at the last Central Committee meeting) subject to further consideration of the detailed programme and consultation with the university authorities in Porto Alegre and with the committee of local churches in Brazil.

Theme of Assembly

4. In the Core Group's discussion there was a clear recognition that the assembly's theme must satisfy a number of important criteria:

a. it must be relevant to the present situation in both church and world ;
b. it must have significance both globally and locally;
c. it must be challenging and prophetic, hopeful and energising towards action;
d. it must be readily intelligible, not cryptic but communicable;
e. it must be translatable, without losing or gaining nuances, into the various 'working languages';
f. it must have both Biblical and theological significance and resonance;
g. it should be capable of being linked with and expressed through prayer and worship;
h. it must be inclusive and generally acceptable, in no sense divisive between North and South, East and West, and the various church traditions;
i. it must reflect an ecumenical vision that is broad and open, and relate to WCC priorities, programmes and projects.

5. The Core Group, in developing its thinking on the theme, took account of issues relating to both background and context; the themes of the major ecumenical and other international events taking place between now and the Assembly, and the range of current concerns and issues, both globally and in Latin America; conflict and violence, the threat of fundamentalism, poverty and economic justice, social justice and human rights, etc. The Group was helped considerably in hearing of recent work done by the Latin American Theological Consultation around the theme of grace, recognising, however, that this has different resonance within different church traditions and that the word, as translated into German for instance, loses some of its rich connotations.

6. Nonetheless, in offering some suggestions for consideration by the Central Committee, and by the local churches, who have expressly asked to be consulted on the assembly theme, the Core Group felt that the idea of grace (whether or not the specific word was used in the assembly theme) offered promising possibilities in view of its richness of meaning across church traditions. There were strong views also that the theme should:

a. carry a clear Biblical connotation but also be understandable outside the church;
b. not be too abstract;
c. express respect for human dignity;
d. be geared towards action;
e. be future oriented;
f. reflect an understanding of the nature and purpose of God and the challenge to human response and responsibility.

7. The Core Group is now seeking to consult with the local churches in Brazil and to obtain, through correspondence, the preliminary reaction of Central Committee members on the themes that have emerged through its own initial process of reflection and discussion. The Core Group therefore would appreciate comments on the following suggested themes which attempt to express some or all of the criteria or considerations indicated above:

(a) Seeking God [or God’s grace] to renew the world

(b) God’s grace and human dignity

(c) God calls us to justice, peace and love

(Notes: (i) (a) in its alternative form and (b) both include the term ‘grace’: see paragraph 5 above for the difficulties this entails concerning translatability and difference in theological understandings.

(ii) (a) through the use of ‘seeking’ ( which, in its English form at least, carries a degree of ambiguity, God’s search for us and our search for God) both has a dynamic quality and a link with the widespread interest in spirituality.

(iii) (b) places less emphasis than (a) and (c) on human response and action but is brief and straightforward.

(iv) (c) is clear and action oriented.)

8. In the light of the response through these consultations the Core Group will offer a range of possible themes to the Central Committee at its meeting in August. Once the Central Committee has decided on the theme, the Assembly Planning Committee and the Assembly Staff Group will develop proposals for publicity and study material, subject of course to budgetary constraints (see paragraph 12 below) and with a view to restricting so far as possible the volume of material circulated beforehand.

Style of Assembly

9. The Core Group considered that the planning should be guided by the following principles:

a. the assembly should combine celebration, theological reflection and business;
b. the assembly should be oriented towards the future;
c. the assembly should be joyful and inspiring;
d. the assembly should give space and impetus for creative thought and action;
e. the assembly should deepen understanding of the common Christian identity;
f. the assembly should become a space which reflects the dynamic of the wider ecumenical movement;
g. the assembly should reflect the local context.

10. Since there is a limitation to the number of days, there is a need to ask: What is it absolutely necessary to do?

a. common prayer;
b. bible study in small groups;
c. meeting with local churches;
d. plenary on local context;
e. opening and closing celebration;
f. facilitate shared theological reflection on the challenge to the churches’ witness and presence in the world today;
g. review work done;
h. give guidelines for future work;
i. elect presidents and Central Committee members;
j. revise the Constitution;
k. receive the report of the Moderator;
l. receive the report of the General Secretary.

11. The Core Group makes the following recommendations:

a. Sessions should start in the morning with common prayer and small groups/Bible study. The rest of the day should include three sessions, a lunch break, dinner and evening prayer. Normally there should be no evening sessions except for one evening with a cultural event. Two evenings could possibly be set aside for regional meetings and meetings of confessional world families. The daily timetable should be carefully discussed with the local partners (summer time, long warm days).
b. Business sessions should be limited as much as possible to enable the maximum time to be available for deliberative work.
c. Thematic work should be inaugurated in an early plenary session. The assembly should then work in ‘sections’ (probably 6-10 in number) on sub-themes, related to the main theme. From each section a short report should be produced which deals with programmatic implications of the discussion in the sections. These reports would be forwarded to the Programme Guidelines Committee. Sections should thus have completed their work before the weekend to let the Programme Guidelines Committee have sufficient time to prepare its report.
d. Programmatic issues which need to be highlighted (e.g. DOV, Faith and Order statement on unity, report from CWME conference) can either take place in a plenary session or in a "hearing"(we should find another name!).
e. Hearings, or deliberative/exploratory sessions outside the plenary meetings, could be held, possibly with several running in parallel, to raise topical issues relating to both the WCCs continuing work (e.g. relationship to pentecostals and evangelicals; discussion with Bretton Woods institutions) and other matters.
f. The following Committees should be set up:

1. Nominations Committee – as required by Rules 4.
2. Business committee – as required by Rules 5.
3. Policy Reference Committee I – which deals with the relations of the WCC.
4. Policy Reference Committee II (in Harare III) – to prepare possible changes in constitution and rules.
5. Public Issues Committee.
6. Programme Guidelines Committee - initially to work on an assessment of activities between Harare and Porto Alegre, and then to work on the basis of the report of the sections and formulate a proposal; "determine the overall policies of the World Council…" (Constitution V1c4). (This removes the need for a Policy Reference II Committee as at Harare.)
7. Message Committee – to start its work towards the end of the assembly. Committee work should be done alongside work in sections/workshops and not during meal breaks.

g. Workshops (broadly similar to the Harare Padares; ‘oficinas’ in Portuguese, but the precise term to be decided in the light of local consultation) should be offered in a few sessions. They should offer a free space for exchange of ideas, giving insights into work which could inspire others, etc. They should be limited in numbers, but not limited to those who could pay for themselves; and a process and criteria for arranging the workshops should be developed later.
h. An ‘accompanying event’ (precise name to be decided later) should be arranged alongside the assembly. This could be formatted in such a way that it became especially attractive to young people. It could partly have its own programme and partly take part in events at the assembly.


12. Staff is working on an assembly budget which will not exceed CHF9 million, in comparison to the 8th Assembly actual costs of CHF13.4 million. Certain expenses will be less than in Harare because of the decision to go to Porto Alegre and because of the planning committee recommendations: fewer number of days, 700 delegates rather than 1,000, stricter subsidy policy, less expensive site, fewer staff people needed because of the extensive services offered by the hosting university, no assembly financing of regional meetings and possibly less responsibility for the visitors’ programme.

Within the framework of the discussions of the Assembly Planning Committee, a detailed budget will be presented to the Central Committee. It is not able to be prepared at this time because staff is still waiting for a written offer from the hosting university. Also, staff is waiting for contribution figures from the churches. Requests have gone to the churches, and before Central Committee an estimate will be made of the income on which the Assembly budget can be based.

Subsidy policy

13. The Core Group recommends that the Central Committee endorse a proposal (that has been developed in the context of the current work on WCC membership) that subsidies for travel and accommodation will be paid only to delegates from member churches that have paid their membership contribution for the 3 years prior to the Assembly (i.e. 2003, 2004, 2005). If this is accepted the Assembly Planning Committee will do further work on detailed aspects of the subsidy arrangements and report back, as necessary, on the likely budgetary implications of these to the Finance and Executive Committees.

Language policy

14. The Core Group recommends that translation and interpretation facilities should be provided in the WCCs 4 'working languages' (English, French, German, Spanish) and, in addition, to secure maximum local impact, in Portuguese. Every effort will be made to restrict costs (through, for example, limiting the production of paperwork, using volunteers where possible, etc.), and there will be discussion with the local churches' committee concerning, in particular, the provision of Portuguese translation and interpretation. Some further exploration is necessary, in consultation with the churches concerned, to establish the need for translation and interpretation into Russian.

Preparatory meetings and events

15. The Core Group recommends, as indicated in the evaluation of the Harare Assembly, that a one-day on-site orientation should be provided for women and youth delegates. In the light of previous experience, and in the present financial situation, the Core Group does not consider that preparatory regional events are sufficiently useful to justify WCC funding. There are other effective ways of preparation that can be undertaken by regional and national bodies. It is understood that the Latin American churches (CLAI) plan to have an enlarged pre-assembly meeting, to include delegates, which will not involve any WCC funding. It will be open to national bodies to arrange and finance gatherings of delegates where considered necessary or worthwhile.

16. After a full discussion on the question whether, as has happened prior to the Vancouver, Canberra and Harare assemblies, the WCC should arrange a meeting to enable representatives of the Orthodox Churches to reflect on the assembly theme, the Core Group recommends that, subject to budgetary constraints:

a. the Orthodox Task Force (of WCC staff) should explore appropriate processes for preparing delegates from the Orthodox Churches so as to enhance their participation in the assembly;
b. consideration should be given to the possibility of promoting joint theological reflection (whether through an event, a publication or use of the internet) with input from a range of church traditions, both for the benefit of assembly delegates and the wider church community.

17. The possibility and feasibility (in terms of both financial and human resources) of local church visits by assembly delegates, prior to or after the assembly, should be pursued with the local churches' committee as soon as it is established.


18. The arrangements for a pre-assembly stewards' programme will be considered separately at a later stage.

‘Accompanying event’

19. The Core Group recommends that, as with several assemblies prior to Harare, the provision of a programme for assembly visitors should be the responsibility of the local churches' committee, with whom discussion on this should be initiated as soon as possible. As mentioned in paragraph 11(h) above, it is suggested also that the possibility should be explored of integrating part of this programme with assembly events and of including a major youth emphasis in the programme.

Assembly Planning and Worship Committees

20. The Core Group understands that the Central Committee will, during its 2003 meeting, appoint an Assembly Planning Committee, comprising the Core Group and a number of other Central Committee members, and a Worship Committee, to work together in a complementary way through a degree of cross-membership. The Core Group has drawn up a provisional meetings schedule involving at least three meetings: from 2-6 February 2004 (probably in Porto Alegre) prior to the Executive Committee meeting later that month, before the February 2005 Central Committee meeting and, finally, a further meeting later in 2005 before the assembly itself. Since the timetable of the various meetings means that the Assembly Planning Committee will have to do much of its work without reference to the Central Committee, to which it is accountable, it may be necessary, to allow overall direction by the governing bodies, to enable more interaction between the Assembly Planning Committee and the Executive than has been the case in the past.

21. The Core Group has noted the comment endorsed by the Executive Committee regarding 'the aspiration of churches and ecumenical bodies to move toward greater collaboration in planning of major assemblies' and intends accordingly to invite representatives of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Lutheran World Federation to future planning meetings. It is also recommended that the Central Committee should initiate a process, continuing and developing the links that already exist, whereby the 10th assembly is coordinated with assemblies/world meetings of major confessional families.

Local churches’ committee

22. This report contains several references to the dependence on and consultation with the committee of local churches in the preparations for the assembly. The Core Group heard at its meeting that it was hoped that this committee would start work very soon after its own meeting at Bossey. The Core Group emphasised the importance of securing local participation by representatives of indigenous peoples, and of the evangelical and pentecostal churches, in the work of the local committee. It recognised the importance of the contacts that have already been made by WCC staff and of the continuing interaction that will develop and strengthen the links and facilitate the cooperation that will be necessary. Building on this work, the Core Group looks forward itself to meeting with the local committee when it visits Porto Alegre, probably in February 2004.

Supplementary note
by Moderator of Assembly Planning Committee Core Group

1. This note seeks to bring Central Committee members up-to-date on certain developments that have taken place since the Core Group's meeting in February, in the light particularly of views expressed by Central Committee members on the theme (following the consultations mentioned in paragraph 7 of the report), the General Secretary's visit to Brazil in May, and further work done by the Assembly Planning Staff Group.

2. Seat allocation (paragraph 2). A separate document (see GEN 9.1) is presented to the Central Committee, submitting the framework of a model for seat allocation at the assembly. This model had been elaborated in the light of the guidelines drawn by the Executive Committee, subsequent discussions at the APC Core Group and consultation with the Officers.

3. Theme (paragraphs 4-8). Ten Central Committee members responded to the invitation to comment on the three possible themes suggested by the APC Core Group in paragraph 7. Perhaps predictably no consensus was evident in the views expressed! There was some support for each of the Core Group's suggestions; certain translation problems were highlighted ('ing' forms in German; the concept of 'grace') and some adjustments and other possibilities were proposed:

  • God calls us to justice, kindness and humility
  • God's grace - human dignity
  • Wash us with your grace, that we may know and do your will
  • God's grace calls (us) to reconciliation and healing
  • Hunger for bread, thirst for water and desire for peace
  • "Give them something to eat" (Mk 6:37)

Views have also been sought from the churches in Brazil, and it is hoped that these will be available by the time of the Central Committee meeting.

4. Budget. In addition to what is said in the report (paragraph 12) a more detailed draft budget will be available for consideration at the Central Committee meeting.

5. Local Churches' Committee. Discussions are continuing on a range of issues concerning the relationship between the work to be undertaken by the local churches and the Assembly Planning Committee (APC) and staff group. These include, for example, the responsibility for organizing local church visits by the assembly delegates (paragraph 17), the responsibility for 'the accompanying event' (paragraph 19), and the timing of the APCs visit to Porto Alegre (paragraph 22 - now likely to be later than February 2004 in view of when the local coordinator will be appointed).

Norman Shanks

Appendix 1

Core Group of the Assembly Planning Committee
Bossey, 24-27 February 2003
Participants List

Rev. Canon Dr Trond Bakkevig
(Church of Norway)
Niels Henrik Abels vei 11
N-0851 Oslo
Tel: +47.2259.1730/34
Fax: +47.2256.4710

Ms Lois Dauway
(United Methodist Church)
United Methodist Church Global Ministries
Women's Division
475 Riverside Drive, Room 1502
New York, NY 10115
United States of America
Tel: +1.212.870.37.34
Fax: +1.212.870.37.96

Ms Alice-Jean Finlay
(Anglican Church of Canada)
50 Castle Frank Road
Toronto, Ont M4W 2Z6
Tel: +1.416.975.13.16
Fax: +1.416.975.08.11

Rev. Ying Gao
(China Christian Council)
2nd Area Bulg.1 Unit 3, Rm 301
An-hua-xi-li Chao-yang District
Beijing 100011, P.R.C
Tel: +86.10.6522.9984, +86.10.6513.3549, +86.10.6524.2193
Fax: +86.10.6522.9984, +86.10.6513.3549, +86.10.6524.2193

Metropolitan Prof. Dr Gennadios of Sassima
(Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople)
Rum Patrikhanesi
TR-34220 Istanbul
Tel: +90.212.531.96.70.76
Fax: +90.212.531.96.79

Mr Welly Esau Mandowen
(Evangelical Christian Church in Tanah Papua)
Perum Uncen
Jl. Lap. Trikora III No 1
Jayapura, Irian Jaya
Tel: +62.21.967.582.779
Fax: +62.21.967.582.779

Rev. Dr Héctor Méndez
(Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba)
Salud 222
Habana 10200
Tel: +53.7.862.12.19 or +53.7.862.12.39
Fax: +

Bishop Mdimi Godfrey Mhogolo
(Anglican Church of Tanzania)
P.O. Box 15
Tel: +
Fax: +, +

Ms Idah Njobvu (apologies)
(Reformed Church in Zambia)
Kamwala Reformed Church in Zambia
Box 32301
Tel: +, +
Fax: +, +

Bishop Serapion
(Coptic Orthodox Church)
Diocese of Los Angeles, South California & Hawaii
4909, Cleland Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90042
United States of America
Tel: +1.323.254.33.33
Fax: +1.323.254.23.40

Rev. Norman Shanks (moderator)
(Church of Scotland)
1 Marchmont Terrace
Glasgow G12 9LT, Scotland
United Kingdom
Tel: +44.141.339.4421

Rev. Cibele Kuss
(Evangelical Church of Lutheran Confession in Brazil)
Av. Visconde de Inhaúma, 1557
Beirro Pedreira
Belém - Pará
Tel. +55. 91 276 2254
Fax: +55. 91 276 3196
E-mail: cibele (at)