Violence in the name of religion echoed in the distance, demanding a response, through the November 2015 meeting of the 25-member Executive Committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Bogis-Bossey and nearby Geneva, Switzerland as it planned the work of the Council in the coming years. Following close on brutal attacks by religious extremists in Baghdad and Beirut, the committee was in session at the time of subsequent atrocities in Paris and northeastern Nigeria.
In his opening report to the committee, WCC general secretary Olav Fykse Tveit pointed to the theme of “religion and violence” as a significant focus for the Council in the years immediately ahead.
In addition to issuing public statements condemning religion-based violence and reaffirming the WCC commitment to a “pilgrimage of justice and peace” undertaken with “all people of good will”, the committee solidified programmatic plans for dialogue, campaigning and peace-building through projects undertaken both within the institution and in cooperation with other parties.
The committee reviewed recent developments in finance and staffing of the WCC. Largely because of the stress put on Geneva-based operations by unfavourable exchange rates for the Swiss franc, the WCC administrative leadership has found it necessary to make adjustments in budget and staff numbers during 2015. Nine employment contracts have been terminated, effective in early 2016. The Executive Committee “expressed with sadness its understanding” of decisions taken, and pledged to continue monitoring the financial situation closely.
“Religion, overcoming violence and peacebuilding” will provide the focus for 2016 in the WCC Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace, and the central focus for the plenary of the 150-member WCC Central Committee when it meets in June 2016 at Trondheim, Norway. The pilgrimage will also have a regional emphasis on justice and peace in the Middle East during 2016, and on a region of Africa in 2017. Activities related to these emphases will be developed in collaboration with leaders and members of regional churches.
The committee authorized the general secretary to begin the process of organizing a planning committee for the 11th Assembly of the WCC. Ten previous assemblies have been held, from the First Assembly at Amsterdam in 1948 to the 10th Assembly at Busan, Republic of Korea in late 2013. The next assembly, at a venue to be determined, is tentatively set for early 2021. The general secretary will also begin a process to identify a committee for planning services of common prayer at the 11th Assembly.
The WCC reaffirmed its commitment to the interfaith call for a fair and binding agreement at the COP21 climate conference to be held at Paris in late November and December, and it reasserted its intent to sponsor “climate pilgrimage” activities around the world.
On 19 November, key leaders of the executive committee remained in Geneva to participate in a joint colloquium of the WCC and UNICEF on the rights of children and the resourcing of “child-friendly churches”. In September, the two organizations signed an agreement of cooperation for the defence of children’s human rights.
The moderator of the WCC Central and Executive Committees is Dr Agnes Abuom from the Anglican Church of Kenya. She shares leadership of the meetings with vice-moderators Metropolitan Gennadios of Sassima, from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, and Bishop Mary Ann Swenson of the US-based United Methodist Church.
For further information, contact: Marianne Ejdersten, WCC Communication Director
WCC Executive Committee convenes to review ecumenical progress (WCC press release 13 November)
WCC more united in the pilgrimage of justice and peace (WCC press release 13 November)
WCC strongly condemned terror attacks (WCC press release 14 November)
Read full text of the WCC statement on terrorist attacks in Paris (14 November) (also available in French and Arabic)
COP21: WCC reaffirms commitment to address climate change (WCC press release 15 November)
Common prayer in Geneva responds to acts of violence (WCC press release 16 November)