The agenda included the presentation of the assembly programme for approval. The central committee received member church delegations to the assembly, nominated additional delegates and reviewed its report to the assembly – From Busan to Karslruhe. The central committee received the application for membership of two churches and approved addendums extending the WCC strategic plan and financial strategy to include 2022.
This was the first meeting of the WCC central committee using electronic communications. For some members it was first time to use Zoom and many members were participating in middle of the night their local time.
Dr Abuom: “We are committed to stay and move together”
In an opening address, moderator Dr Agnes Abuom provided a glimpse of how the global church is coping with the impact of COVID-19.
“COVID-19 has, with alarming speed, delivered a global economic shock,” said Abuom. “It has had devastating effects on women, the young, the poor, people employed informally, and those working in contact-intensive sectors.”
With more effective infection control and vaccine deployment, the world economy is expected to recover in 2021, she reflected. “To limit long-term damage to the economy and facilitate the recovery, governments largely chose to pursue expansionist fiscal policies, hence creating budget deficits and increasing public debt,” she said. “The global health and economic crises have generated steep contraction in all private financial flows to developing economies.”
“Unity is more important than ever,” reflects WCC acting general secretary
In his report, WCC acting general secretary Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca reflected on how the WCC adapted the work in the midst of the pandemic and how relevant its work for unity and reconciliation continues to be.
“Our unity, as one human family and as a fellowship of churches, is more important than ever,” he said. “We are living through a time of great suffering.”
Churches have lost many members and leaders, lamented Sauca. “The member churches have been incredibly resilient and responsive during the pandemic,” he said. “You are each a part of this transforming discipleship that has kept the church vibrant and alive.”
The pandemic continues to affect the entire fellowship, he also noted.
Remembering those lost
During an opening prayer, Most Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, presiding bishop of the Church of Norway and former general secretary of the WCC, described a “profound moment” in the world and within the WCC moving forward.
Tveit reflected on how the WCC central committee is coming together online to address the effects of COVID-19, and to discern how to take the next steps together.
“Together we mourn with our member churches who have lost significant numbers of their members and many leaders,” he said. “Some of you have lost your colleagues, friends and family members.”
In an online memorial service, the central committee remembered members, ecumenical friends and church leaders who passed away since the committee last met in 2018, praying for the faithful disciples of every generation.
As names were read aloud and seen on screen, those watching mourned loved ones and remembered their legacy of dedication to their families, their communities, and to the ecumenical movement.
Regional concerns and solidarity
At regional meetings, WCC central committee members gathered to pray together, share their concerns and map a way forward in solidarity. Regions included Africa, Asia, Caribbean, Europe, Latin America, Middle East, North America and the Pacific.
Across all regions, representatives shared a wide range of social, political and economic concerns that increased during the COVID-19. Division at the heart of society and a lack of hope were the biggest concerns worldwide.
African representatives focused on how they will share their gifts and strengths during the WCC 11th Assembly. The Asia region discussed how to prepare for assembly in a spirit of collaboration and unity. The Caribbean focused on how resilience shines even amid COVID-19 vaccine inequity. Europe representatives reflected on the transformation of the pandemic of death to a pilgrimage of life and faith. Latin America shared how the pandemic has hit vulnerable communities and increased social challenges. The Middle East reflected on continued holy witness on the road towards the upcoming WCC assembly. North American representatives discussed how borders can become shared spaces even amid racism and other divisions. The Pacific region focused on being pastoral, practical, vigilant and prophetic on the way to the assembly.
The WCC steering committee for the Green Village building project offered an update to the WCC central committee that focused on both achievements and challenges of the past three years since the master plan came into effect in 2018.
The project will ultimately offer about 60,000 square meters of gross floor space, as compared to 15,000 square meters initially on the site at Grand-Saconnex, Geneva. The phase one buildings now under construction include Montreal, the residential building, and Kyoto, the first office building.
“We recognize that we have not just one building project but six or seven," said Dr Anne Glynn Mackoul, Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East, USA, a member of the Green Village steering committee. “The WCC has to reimburse the pension fund loan; however it aims to achieve much more.”
The fabric of the WCC 11th Assembly
The central committee received the delegations of over 80 percent of the WCC member churches and took note of the churches that have not yet nominated their delegates.
Based on suggestions from the member churches, the central committee nominated an additional 104 delegates to strengthen the participation of women, youth, indigenous peoples, lay people and people with disabilities.
The central committee affirmed the importance of Pilgrim Team Visits as part of the methodology of the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace, and highlighted the importance of the WCC’s work on overcoming racism, discrimination and xenophobia.
Communicating in the 21st century
The WCC central committee focused on the ways in which the WCC, during the COVID-19 pandemic, has enabled the fellowship to stay together. The committee also looked back at history for lessons learned about communicating during troubled times.
Celebrating the ability to conduct “virtual gatherings” for the global fellowship, the committee also emphasized seeking to address economic and geographic gaps. Recognizing the limits of equitable infrastructure and lack of hardware in certain places in the world prevents and limits engagement in virtual gatherings.
A paper, “New WCC Communications report for the 21st Century,” was proposed that will briefly review the two communications statements that emerged at previous assemblies before focusing on the forthcoming 11th Assembly in Karlsruhe, with a draft to come in early 2022. The paper will also include the results of the upcoming symposium on “Communication for Social Justice in a Digital Age.”
New members and specialized ministries
The central committee accepted the applications for membership of the Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa and the First African Church Mission in Nigeria. With a two-step process to membership, the applications were accepted for an interim period of consultation and cooperation. The next central committee is expected to finalize the process and receive the new member churches.
The central committee also recognized the International Orthodox Christian Charities and the Amity Foundation as specialized ministries in a working relationship with the WCC.
The central committee received with regret the decision of the Cook Islands Christian Church to resign its WCC membership, and encouraged the church to maintain a connection with the WCC and the ecumenical movement. The committee discontinued the membership of the Church of Jesus Christ on Earth by His Special Envoy Simon Kimbangu (Kimbanguist Church) for theological reasons. The process of suspension, which began in 2016, included consultation with the All Africa Conference of Churches and the Organization of African Instituted Churches.
Financial impacts of COVID-19
The central committee expressed gratitude to the member churches and ecumenical partners for their financial contributions, for their constancy, and engagement in many ways with the work of the WCC. The WCC’s balance sheet had been strengthened by the first steps in the Green Village project; and following necessary action taken to revise budgets in 2020, the general reserves target of CHF 7 million had been attained, even after assigning CHF 0.6 million in favour of the assembly fund.
The committee emphasised that in planning for the future, particular emphasis should be placed on hybrid activities, with consultations by electronic means as well as in-person, resulting in cost efficiencies (less travel costs), as well as lower carbon impact, compared to previously used face-to-face models.