The governing body focused on follow up from the assembly, planning for 2023—including the budget and programme plans—and statements that respond to critical situations affecting the fellowship of WCC member churches.
In his first report to the newly-elected executive committee, WCC moderator Bishop Dr Heinrich Bedford-Strohm reflected on why the world’s grave challenges are not God’s last word.
“We trust that God’s ways for us will not lead into darkness but into a new heaven and a new earth,” said Bedford-Strohm. “Christ has risen.”
At the WCC 11th Assembly, the fellowship experienced that this confession is not only empty words, Bedford-Strohm reflected.
“In our prayer services we have felt how the Holy Spirit has brought us together as people with completely different backgrounds and yet united as brothers and sisters in Christ,” he said.
In his last report to the executive committee, WCC acting general secretary Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca expressed gratitude to WCC leadership and staff—and shared his reflections on moving forward.
“I never expected to serve as acting general secretary, certainly not for nearly three years,” he said. “What we achieved, we achieved together.”
Sauca also shared reflections from the WCC 11th Assembly. “Churches have asked us to remain the platform that brings Christians together even in very difficult times,” he noted. “Particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the requests that WCC has received from member churches have been for spiritual resources, biblical resources, or worship resources.”
WCC general secretary-elect Rev. Prof. Dr Jerry Pillay offered remarks on plans for 2023 as well as harvesting the fruits of the WCC 11th Assembly.
“Our task as the WCC is not only to work towards visible Christian unity but to also uphold and champion the call for justice and peace in the world,” said Pillay. “This includes a prophetic and public ministry which takes sides with the poor, oppressed, abused and neglected in the world.”
Pillay said he envisions a “culture of participation” at the WCC. “While member churches and ecumenical partners are crucial to the WCC, I envision the extension and expansion to engage, and welcome other churches that are not already part of the WCC, especially if they share in the common mission of proclaiming Christ to the world,” he said.
Each day of their gathering, the WCC executive committee gathered in daily prayers and various encounters with the students at the Ecumenical Institute.
The executive committee released public statements that respond to the crises in the world.
COP27. A statement on COP27 notes that there are communities and nations already facing catastrophic impacts of climate change but whose urgent appeals other members of the international community have failed to heed.
“COP 27 is a critical occasion for governments to together re-envision, develop, commit to and implement a roadmap towards a fossil fuel-free, post-growth, equitable and sustainable tomorrow, and to tackle the greatest existential challenge to life on the planet,” reads the statement.
Digital justice. The statement urges that “technologies are placed at the service of people rather than governments or corporations,” and it addresses the ways in which new technologies are transforming our world and the multiple spaces in which we live, work, and witness.
Christian witness. The statement urges “Christian witness and action for human dignity and human rights,” and confesses “our unfulfilled responsibilities to protect and lift up those whose God-given dignity and worth is not respected.”
Health. The executive committee urges a commitment to global health-promoting churches. The “Global health and wellbeing” statement notes that the terrible experience of COVID-19 awakened us all to the real and continuing threat of pandemics in our hyper-connected and over-exploited world.
“Other longstanding challenges to health and wellbeing have been masked—or in some cases exacerbated—by the pandemic,” the statement reads.
Plans for 2023
The executive committee will meet online in December to approve the 2023 budget by the end of the year, as well as prepare for the 2023 central committee meeting on 21-27 June 2023 in Geneva. The executive committee will meet online 22-26 May 2023 and in person 19-20 June 2023 and 8-14 November 2023.
The agenda of the central committee 2023 will include developing the strategic direction and programmatic response to the assembly as a pilgrimage of justice, reconciliation and unity (strategies, objectives and policy guidelines). This includes adopting a strategic plan to guide the work of the council until the next assembly and deciding on an programme structure.
The WCC executive committee reviewed terms of reference for the process for developing the WCC Strategic Plan 2023-2030 under the leadership of the general secretary. A draft will be presented to the executive committee in May 2023 and finalized for presentation to the central committee in June 2023. The terms of reference include establishing a Strategic Plan Advisory Group to accompany the process.
The governing body received the WCC Communications Strategy for the 21st Century, and the proposed timeline therein. The methodologies used were identified as being very helpful in moving forward in programmatic work.
The executive committee also discussed the composition of commissions and reference groups based on experience and expertise on the matter at stake as well as relational ties to the WCC constituency. They discussed also the concept note for the new WCC Commission on Climate Emergency, Sustainable Development and Economic Justice
The governing body approved the reports of the Governance-Staffing-Nominations Subcommittee, the Programme Subcommittee, the Finance Subcommittee, and the Public Issues Subcommittee.
New director of Faith and Order Commission
The executive committee appointed Dr Andrej Jeftić as the new director of the Commission on Faith and Order.
Jeftić, from Serbia, an Eastern Orthodox theologian, has been serving as a research fellow at the Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory at the University of Belgrade. He has also been serving as a theological consultant for the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe.
Involved in the ecumenical movement since he was a student, his doctoral research focused on the work of ecumenical theologian Thomas F. Torrance. In 2013, he was delegated as a representative of the Serbian Orthodox Church to the WCC 10th Assembly in Busan. Since then, he has served as a member of the WCC central committee and since 2018 as a member of the WCC Assembly Planning Committee. He was also invited to be a course facilitator in the 2022 program of the Global Ecumenical Institute (GETI).
A thank-you and farewell ceremony took place on 12 November in the main hall at the Ecumenical Centre. Those gathered commended the work of the outgoing acting general secretary Sauca, as well as WCC deputy general secretary Prof. Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri, and interim deputy general secretary and Faith and Order director Rev. Dr Odair Pedroso Mateus. They also recognized the work of Diana Chabloz, assistant to the general secretary, who is leaving after more than 30 years of service in the WCC. They are all serving until the end of December 2022.
To end the meeting, the executive committee drew together in a sending prayer at the Bossey chapel.