Latin American Council of Churches
The Latin American Council of Churches is an organization composed of Christian churches and movements which was set up in order to promote the unity of the Christians of the continent. CLAI, as it is commonly known, was founded in 1982, in Huampaní, Peru. The idea of creating a regional ecumenical body and what should be its shape took form at a large meeting of Protestant churches four years earlier, in 1978, at Oaxtepec, Mexico. The emphasis was on a council that would not run programmes and projects on behalf of its members but accompany the churches and provide space for participation and solidarity. It was also decided that the new council would not deal with project funding. From the beginning a decentralized model was adopted with secretariats in five sub-regions, in order to be closer to the churches in their daily life and context. The churches and movements which compose CLAI confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour according to the holy scriptures and seek to fulfil their common calling and mission in unity, to the glory of God.
CLAI is a consultative and coordinating body that has no authority over its members in matters of doctrine, governance, practice or worship. The main objectives of CLAI are to promote the unity of the people of God, to encourage and support its members in their task of announcing the gospel, and to promote the theological and pastoral reflection and dialogue on the Christian mission and witness in the continent. Over a quarter of a century, the churches and groups that form CLAI have journeyed together in obedience to the gospel, with the intention to restore, in ways that are visible, and through concrete acts of witness and service, the unity that has been given to them in Jesus Christ. Highlights of the common journey have been the assemblies:
Jesus Christ, a calling committed to the kingdom
Church: towards hope in solidarity
Being born anew for a living hope
Free to build peace
Buenos Aires (Argentina)
The Grace of God Justifies Us, the Spirit Makes Us Free
In the context of Latin America in the 1980s and 1990s, the churches and CLAI were very much inspired and motivated by the theme of hope and the building of a just and participatory society. CLAI has also focused on promoting peace in some of the conflict areas in the region, e.g. in Colombia and Guatemala. The changes that came with the end of the cold war have prompted CLAI to reorganize and strengthen its institutional viability, to bring the organization closer to the member churches, and to widen its approach to churches that hitherto did not participate in the established ecumenical movement, in particular the Pentecostals.
In order to achieve its objectives, CLAI maintains several programmes dealing with the issues of women and gender justice, youth, health, faith, economy and society, global environmental citizenship, liturgy, and communications. The five sub-regional secretariats are Andino (Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Peru); Brazil; Caribbean and Greater Colombia (Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Venezuela); Central America (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua); and River Plate (Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay). In recent years, CLAI has given much attention to the Pentecostal churches in Latin America (several of which are among its member churches) and to the involvement of Evangelicals and Pentecostals in the society and in politics. Exchanges have been organized between Pentecostal churches and other churches from different countries, e.g. between Brazil and Chile. Another priority of CLAI has been the dialogue with confessional families present in the continent, and with its partner churches and organizations in North America and Europe. CLAI has 139 member churches and organizations in 19 countries, representing some two million Christians. The head office of the organization is in Quito, Ecuador.
Periodicals: Nuevo Siglo (monthly, in Spanish and Portuguese);
LAEN (3 x per year, in English),
Signos (quarterly, in Spanish, focusing on faith and culture)