On 17-23 November, the Executive Committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC) met for the first time ever in China. The visit was hosted by the China Christian Council and the Three-Self Patriotic Movement. The Three-Self Patriotic Movement is a Protestant church in the People's Republic of China, as well as one of the largest Protestant bodies in the world.
Within three decades, China may be home to the largest Christian population in the world. Since China opened up to the world in the late 1970s, tolerance for religion has gradually increased, and today religious freedom officially prevails in China. In 1949, there were around 700,000 Christians in China. Now, the largest of the churches, the Protestant Church, has more than 38 million baptised members, and is growing by around 500,000 annually across 60,000 parishes.
The Executive Committee of the WCC visited the China Christian Council in Shanghai and met with church representatives in Nanjing. On Sunday, two separate church services were attended, with more than fifteen hundred people in each service. The leadership of the WCC visited Minister Wang Zuoan, head of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, in Beijing on 24 November for further discussions about the role of religion and the role of the churches in China.
Dr Agnes Abuom, moderator of the World Council of Churches’ Central Committee and the Executive Committee said “Now we have the first meeting of a governing body of the World Council of Churches in China. This is a historic moment. It is a result of twenty-five years of membership in the WCC of the China Christian Council, our host for this meeting. Since the assembly in Canberra in 1991, they have been part of the fellowship of the WCC.”
Abuom added, “The Busan assembly made clear that we are moving forward together on the pilgrimage of justice and peace, working for just peace through social change and renewal of the churches. On our common journey, the global fellowship of churches needs the contributions of the churches in China as much as you need the accompaniment of churches in other regions in shared solidarity and mutual accountability for the enormous task we are up to.“
WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit presented to the Executive Committee his report on the work done since the meeting of the Central Committee in Trondheim in June, focusing especially on the pilgrimage work, peace-building activities in Colombia, South Sudan and Korea, and the role of the member churches in China, the USA and the Middle East.
Moving forward together
Tveit said, “The pilgrimage of justice and peace is gaining momentum and becoming more and more an expression for where we focus and how we relate to one another in the ecumenical movement.” He added: “As people of faith, as churches searching for the way forward together in our ministry to the Triune God, we are committed to the “kingdom of God (that) is justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).
Tveit underlined in his report that “the prophetic role of the church to be faithful both in speaking the truth and in building bridges between peoples continues. In regions of increased violence, conflict, and war, particularly in Syria, people are struggling for their lives and their future; Many hostages of war or refugees are seeking new homes.”
Tveit added: “The invitation to come to China is highly appreciated and received with great joy, not only by the members of the Executive Committee but widely in the WCC and the ecumenical family.”
Tveit also mentioned, “We are inspired by seeing and hearing what the church is doing in this country, and we call for stronger cooperation from the worldwide fellowship with the church here.”
2017 programme plans adopted
At the Executive Committee meeting, the programme plans for 2017 was approved, with a particular focus on the pilgrimage of justice and peace with a focus on Africa, which is the overarching theme for the year ahead. A special focus will be placed on Nigeria, South Sudan and the DRC. The reference group for the pilgrimage of justice and peace will meet in Nigeria as early as February for joint discussions with representatives of the member churches in the region. The annual lenten campaign, #7Weeks4Water, will be launched at the February meeting. The Executive Committee agreed to establish special pilgrim teams for peace and justice. The teams will visit member churches in the years ahead. “This is one concrete way to show that we are praying, walking and working together in the fellowship – with a clear focus on justice and peace”, said WCC moderator Dr Agnes Abuom after the decision.
Priorities and focus areas for the WCC were discussed. In 2018, the theme will be Ecumenical Diaconia and Sustainable Development, alongside expanded collaboration with the ACT Alliance.
Abuom said: “In concrete terms, this will take the form of a joint reflection document on diaconia and a meeting between the members of the Executive Committee and the ACT Assembly, for in-depth discussion of diaconia.“
Budget aligns with strategic objectives
The budget for 2017 was approved and the meeting discussed a revised financial strategy for 2018-2021. During the meeting in China, the steering committee for the new ecumenical centre also met and timetables will be adjusted in line with decisions by the Executive Committee.
The WCC’s plans for 2017 have been revised to accord more closely with the strategic objectives adopted at the Assembly in 2013. The strategic objectives are as follows:
- strengthening the fellowship
- witnessing together
- encouraging spirituality, reflection and formation
- building relations of trust and understanding
- inspiring innovative communication
Tveit said: “The strategic plan and the strategic objectives are to be evaluated in 2017, and separate evaluations will be carried out regarding the work in health, focusing on HIV and AIDS, and the integration of the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance.”
Results of WCC-EAPPI evaluation presented
At the meeting in China, the results were presented for the wide-ranging evaluation of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), which was established at the request of church leaders in 2002 to engage in peace-building activities. Now, 15 years later, more than 1,800 accompaniers have taken part in the project. The evaluation indicates that 98% take the view that the programme is still relevant and delivers results, that manifestations of violence decrease when EA’s are clearly visible, parents feel that there is security for their children on their way to school, etc. As a result, the programme is one of the biggest initiatives in Palestine and Israel in the humanitarian sector.
Tveit commented: “We learned a great deal from this report about what is needed to redefine the original purpose and profile of this very significant programme for the WCC, as an ecumenical initiative under the WCC, called for by local churches and pursued in close cooperation with member churches and other ecumenical partners. I believe this report and the follow-up will strengthen the programme.”
Growing the fellowship, spreading the word
The clearly defined assignment of peace building work in the Middle East, South Sudan, the DRC, Korea and Colombia continues, as does the work on climate justice, water, HIV and AIDS, work on behalf of the stateless, and the churches’ commitment to children. A sharp focus will also be on the sustainable development goals, with a specific focus on peace building, climate justice, gender and youth.
Tveit concluded: “The WCC is with their member churches as a fellowship of churches in prayer, dialogue, service and advocacy.”
The Executive Committee also followed up on the work of implementing the new communication framework adopted by the Central Committee in June, with a clear focus on fellowship communication, the prophetic voice and capacity building. The Executive Committee calls for a more inclusive and pastoral language in the inter-church communication with their member churches. This issue will be reviewed ahead of the next meeting in June 2017.
The WCC has also received an application for membership from the Chinese organisation The Amity Foundation, which has also established an office in the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva, to become an International Ecumenical Organization officially in partnership with the WCC. The Amity Foundation was established in Nanjing in 1985 and began inviting Christians in the West to send English teachers or to start up social projects. The Executive Committee visited the Amity Foundation in Nanjing and discussed with the Foundation’s management the Foundation’s broadly-based operations, which include not only Bible production but also social outreach activities in and outside China. The Central Committee will make a decision regarding this membership in 2018.
At the meeting, three statements were made relating to climate justice, the Reformation and the role of the churches in China.
The calendar for meetings in 2017 was agreed. The next meetings with the Executive Committee will take place on 5-10 June 2017 in Bossey, Switzerland, and on 17-23 November 2017 in Amman, Jordan.
WCC Executive Committee commends Reformation dialogue (WCC press release of 28 November 2016)
WCC Executive Committee issues statement on climate justice (WCC press release of 25 November 2016)
WCC Executive Committee meets with China Christian Council, Three-Self Patriotic Movement (WCC press release of 25 November 2016)