The WCC rules for the conduct of meetings, and these guidelines, are worded as applying to a meeting of the assembly of the WCC. They are to be used similarly in meetings of all bodies of the WCC.

1. Consensus procedures

The World Council of Churches (WCC) is changing its meeting procedures from a parliamentary style to making decisions by consensus. [For explanation of why that has occurred, see Appendix A: Background to Changing Procedures.]

There is hope that in adopting consensus procedures as the norm throughout all its functions, the WCC may be assisted:

  • to be as simple as possible;
  • to be transparent;
  • to enhance participation and dialogue in all meetings;
  • to limit the possibility of domination by any participant or small group;
  • to manage with courtesy, respect and grace discussions where participants bring deeply held, contending perspectives on matters at the heart of their Christian convictions;
  • to provide orderly deliberations and timely decisions;
  • to explore creative alternatives;
  • to encourage decisions to go forward when most are agreed, limiting the power of a few to obstruct decisions;
  • to ensure that moderators are enabled to move deliberations in the direction discerned by the meeting as a whole;
  • to strengthen the capacity of the churches in fellowship in the WCC to engage in common witness and service.

The rules of the WCC, including revised rule XX, "Conduct of Meetings", provide the authority for how meetings of all WCC bodies are expected to function. These guidelines are offered as a supplementary resource to help participants appreciate the potential of the changed procedures, as well as to explain some other features of the WCC.

2. Theological basis

The WCC is called to bear witness to unity in a world which is marked by tensions, antagonisms, conflicts, wars and rumours of wars (cf. Matt. 24:6). In this situation the WCC can bear witness not only by its programmes and resolutions, but also by the way it does its business. It can shape its rules and procedures in such a way as to express a faith "made effective in love" (Gal. 5:6). This means that member churches, as well as representatives of those churches, will treat each other with respect and will seek to build one another up in love (cf. 1 Cor. 13:1-6, 14:12).

Some churches around the world, and some parts of the WCC itself, have found that making decisions by consensus is a better way of reflecting the nature of the church as described in the New Testament than is the "parliamentary" approach. In 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, St Paul speaks of parts of the body needing each other. A fully functioning body integrates the gifts of all its members. Similarly, any ecumenical body will function best when it makes optimum use of the abilities, history, experience, commitment and spiritual tradition of all the members.

Consensus procedures allow more room for consultation, exploration, questioning and prayerful reflection, with less rigidity than formal voting procedures. By promoting collaboration rather than adversarial debate, consensus procedures help the assembly (or a commission or committee) to seek the mind of Christ together. Rather than striving to succeed in debate, participants are encouraged to submit to one another and to seek to "understand what the will of the Lord is" (Eph. 5:17).

The consensus model for decision-making also encourages prayerful listening to one another and growth in understanding between ecclesial traditions. At the same time it requires discipline on the part of participants and moderators. There must also be rules. But the aim is to arrive at a common mind rather than simply the will of the majority. When consensus is declared, all who have participated can confidently affirm: "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us..." (Acts 15:28).

3. Building community

Developing consensus outcomes requires a culture in which there is willingness mutually to seek God's will in humility and openness to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Because the WCC is a fellowship of churches with a common basis in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour,1 each time an assembly gathers there is fresh opportunity to affirm and express the rich relationship of being a community in Christ. Through those appointed to represent them, the member churches "seek to fulfil together their common calling to the glory of God".2 This assumes an awareness and appreciation of the contribution fellow participants bring to the meeting. As we seek to discern God's will on issues (often starting from very different viewpoints), we acknowledge that each has unique God-given gifts and insights, and that all contributions are worthy of respect and consideration.

An assembly draws together people from many different countries, cultures and church traditions. It takes time to build the trust and relationships that form real koinonia. As we acknowledge the Lordship of Christ and listen for the word of God in daily prayer and Bible study together, the bonds of community are strengthened. Our diversity and unity in Jesus Christ is celebrated also as we grow to understand each other better while eating, working, relaxing, talking and praying together in more informal ways throughout the life of the assembly. Gradually a climate of trust is able to be developed.

4. Small groups

Each member of an assembly is part of a small "home" Bible study group throughout the time of the meeting, providing valuable opportunity within that small unit of the whole to experience koinonia, through:

  • forming fellowship bonds which are necessary for the care and support of each other throughout the time of the assembly;
  • feeling safe, in a context where concerns and confidences can be shared, where prayer requests and probing questions can be raised; and
  • finding that theological differences can be enriching and that prior stereotyping is irrelevant as friendships form.

In the course of plenary sessions, another type of small group may be used. From time to time this may be helpful for a brief period of discussion, perhaps in table groups (which is possible during central committee meetings) or among three or four neighbours of the same language preference seated close together in a plenary session. Complex issues can become clearer after a brief sharing time, and fresh approaches to a seemingly impossible dilemma may develop into a creative solution when the plenary resumes.

5. Categories of session

At the beginning of each session, the moderator announces whether it is to be a general, a hearing or a decision session. On occasions it may be necessary to move from one category to another within the same sitting of the assembly. Where this occurs, the moderator may announce a brief pause in proceedings for a time of prayerful reflection or the singing of a song.

a) General session

General sessions are the formal, ceremonial occasions. No discussion or decision occurs, and the content is pre-determined by the central committee or the business committee.

b) Hearing session

In a hearing session, information about reports or proposals is presented. All participants (delegates plus others who have the right to speak but not to participate in decision-making) may contribute in a hearing session when recognized by the moderator. The moderator encourages participants to explore a wide range of perspectives through question and comment, so that the meeting is fully resourced about possible options before a way forward is discerned by the assembly.

This may mean, if time allows and others are not left unheard, that participants are given the opportunity to speak more than once in the course of the discussion. Participants signify to the moderator their desire to speak, either by written request via a steward or by standing at one of the microphones until called by the moderator to contribute.

In some cases a moderator will turn to those who have queued to speak before all written requests to speak have been accommodated. Participants who had submitted requests to speak and still wish to do so may join those queueing for a turn to speak. A moderator may use the final portion of a hearing session to return to previously submitted written requests to speak.

No decisions are taken in a hearing session, except to deal with a point of order or procedural proposal if one arises, or to change to a decision session if it is agreed to finalize a particular matter in that same sitting.

c) Decision session

In a decision session, only delegates may speak. (Delegates will have been resourced in their decision-making responsibility by other participants when the issue was presented in an earlier hearing session.) Contributions are expected to develop a proposal progressively, each speaker taking heed of insights from other contributors in discerning the common mind of the meeting about the way forward for the assembly.

Because changes to an original proposal can occur during the discussion, care needs to be taken that the agreed wording at all stages is clear to everybody, and that time for interpretation is allowed as necessary. The session recorder3 has an important part in assisting the moderator in this role.

For the few agenda items where the rules specify that voting procedures are to be used, the rules provide an outline of how that is regulated.4 On rare occasions in a decision session when a consensus outcome cannot be reached, the meeting may choose to decide an urgent polarized issue by formal voting procedures also.5

6. Role of moderators

A number of different people share the work of moderating sessions throughout the assembly meeting. Moderators are designated prior to the assembly by the outgoing central committee, and if necessary during an assembly by the business committee.6 Each moderator is expected to have been trained in consensus procedures and to be familiar with the ethos and functioning of the WCC.

The responsibilities of a moderator are:

  • to preside in a manner that assists the assembly to be open to discerning the will of God;
  • to encourage the meeting to move towards a common mind; and
  • to ensure that the needs and purposes of the WCC are met in the way business is carried out.

In so doing, a moderator is expected:

  • to facilitate the exchange and development of ideas, encouraging trust and integrity in contributions;
  • to ensure respect and support for all who participate;
  • to seek indications of the delegates' response to each speech, and reflect back the mood of the meeting as it becomes apparent;
  • to summarize the discussion from time to time, assisting the assembly to focus the move towards a consensus outcome;
  • to encourage creative modifications of a proposal which take heed of insights expressed by earlier speakers;
  • to invite participants, as occasion demands, to spend a few minutes in conversation with near neighbours;
  • to test emerging agreement in decision sessions, to ascertain if the meeting is ready to move to a decision by consensus.

A moderator's role as a non-partisan facilitator is crucial to the flow of the meeting towards a consensus outcome. To that end, the moderator:

  • convenes the session, announcing which category of session it is;
  • announces any change in session category which may occur during a session, and may provide a brief break in the sitting at that time for reflective prayer or the singing of a song;
  • encourages a fair range of views in selecting speakers from those whose desire to contribute has been indicated either in writing or by queueing at the microphone;
  • liaises frequently with the recorder throughout the session, ensuring the wording of any agreed variation to a proposal is available to participants in an appropriately clear form;
  • does not participate in deliberations (unless arrangements are made to relinquish the role of moderator while the particular matter is being decided);
  • is entitled to a personal vote as a delegate of her/his own church in formal voting procedures, but not to a deciding vote where the outcome of a count is tied; and
  • closes the session.

7. Setting the agenda

a) Programme agenda

The basic directions for the programmatic activities of the WCC are provided first by the programme guidelines committee for an assembly, and then developed by the programme committee of the central committee during the period between assemblies. Between assemblies, policy reference committees enable the central committee to take further initiatives by forwarding new proposals to the programme guidelines committee or to specific advisory bodies (such as commissions of the WCC).

An additional advisory body to the central committee and its executive committee is the Permanent Committee on Consensus and Collaboration (resulting from the work of the Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC). It helps between assembly meetings in guiding the process of programme agenda setting and in monitoring the overall balance of the work of the WCC, and during assemblies advises the business committee.

b) Business agenda

The business agenda of an assembly meeting is proposed by the central committee (through its assembly planning committee) to the first decision session of the assembly. A delegate may suggest an item of business through the central committee (prior to the meeting) or through the business committee, which has the responsibility during the assembly of monitoring when agenda changes should be brought to a plenary for approval.

The governing bodies of the WCC each have responsibility for specifically identified areas of business:

  • Assembly: election of presidents; election of central committee members; revision of the constitution; adoption of programme guidelines; reception of the accounts of the central committee.
  • Central committee: election of officers (moderator, vice-moderators, general secretary); election of executive committee; appointment of commissions and advisory groups; appointment of senior staff; budget and financial policy; programme policy.
  • Executive committee: administrative decisions; staff appointments (other than senior positions).

Normally, the officers and the executive committee monitor the setting of the business agenda of an assembly or the central committee, ensuring an annotated agenda with supporting documents is made available well ahead of the meeting. Some smaller agenda items may be included on the agenda of a sub-committee right from the start, rather than waiting for listing in a plenary before being referred to the sub-committee for more detailed consideration. To ensure widespread awareness of matters being considered, all participants will be issued with annotated agendas of the different reference or sub-committees. Hence those not involved with a particular sub-committee, who have any concerns or insights on a particular agenda item, can share them with the sub-committee before the matter comes back to the plenary for decision-making.

How individual members of governing bodies introduce a matter to the business agenda of an assembly is addressed in the sub-section: "How to raise concerns" under "Role of delegates and participants" in section 8.

8. Role of delegates and participants

a) How to contribute

When a participant wishes to contribute in a plenary session, she/he indicates this to the moderator and waits to be called. This can be done either by submitting a written request (name, church, country and essence of contribution) via a steward, or queueing at a microphone when the moderator so invites.

When called to speak, all remarks are addressed to the moderator. A participant states her/his name, church, country, language preference, and (in a hearing session) whether she/he is a delegate or other participant. If one of the working languages of the WCC is used, simultaneous interpretation will be provided. If participants speak in another language, it is their responsibility to provide interpretation.

Remarks are limited to three minutes to enable as many contributions as possible within one session. Speakers should have a clear idea beforehand of what they will say, with the main points crystallized to as few words as possible.

b) How to raise concerns

Any participant may raise concerns outside of sessions with a member of the business committee. Concerns may include the appropriateness of a proposal, its priority in the agenda or the manner in which it is to be addressed, or suggestions for additions to the proposed agenda.7

During a hearing session, procedural suggestions about how an issue is handled can be raised if necessary in the course of the discussion (consensus procedures are used for hearing sessions).

During a decision session, a delegate:

  • may raise questions about procedure;
  • may challenge the result of a vote if there is doubt about the outcome: a counted vote is then taken immediately;
  • may request a secret written ballot, such request needing to be seconded and agreed by a two-thirds majority before proceeding;
  • may appeal against a moderator's ruling on a point of order; the moderator will put to the meeting without discussion the question of whether delegates concur with the moderator's ruling, and it is decided by either consensus or voting procedures (according to which are in place at the time).

In either a hearing session or a decision session, if a delegate considers that a matter under discussion goes against the ecclesiological self-understanding8 of her/his church, there is a process for bringing that concern to the attention of the assembly.9

c) How to listen and respond (ethics of participation)

Consensus procedures assume all are listening for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as each speaker contributes. So participants try to build creatively on the insights of earlier contributions as much as possible, always keeping in mind the goal of discerning a way forward for the assembly on which the meeting can agree.

It is assumed that all contributions are made with integrity and conviction, and so all speakers are treated with respect even where their understanding is quite different from one's own. Growth in participants' awareness of the richness and diversity of the Christian church is always the outcome of WCC gatherings, whatever specific decisions are taken on particular matters.

Because a consensus outcome usually arises from progressive development of a proposal during the course of hearing and decision sessions, there is no place for proxy or absentee votes when the mind of the meeting is being discerned (or when a formal vote is taken). Only those present and participating can be part of the communal discernment which develops, about God's will for the way forward at this time.

Similarly, where a participant has chosen not to attend a designated sub-committee that has been part of the process of considering a particular report or issue, it is generally inappropriate for her/him to raise objection to the outcome, or to record a minority opinion, when the report is presented in a subsequent plenary session. The place for the objection to be heard would have been in the smaller committee forum, where a different conclusion might have been reached in listening to others' contributions.

In central committee where a substitute for a delegate is allowed in certain circumstances, it is the responsibility of the delegate to fully brief the person taking her/his place.

d) How to report afterwards (advocacy for decisions of assembly)

Participating in a WCC assembly is a rare privilege. It is the responsibility of participants to ensure that the fruits of the experience are made known back in their home churches. This means advocacy for the resolutions of the assembly, even when in some particular instances the outcome might not have been the participant's first preference for wording.

And of course the rich ecumenical encounters will colour participants' total involvement in the life of their home church for years to come!

9. Making decisions - consensus10

a) Understanding consensus

Consensus is a process of seeking the common mind of the meeting without resort to a formal vote, engaging in genuine dialogue that is respectful, mutually supportive and empowering whilst prayerfully seeking to discern God's will.

A consensus outcome is declared when one of the following occurs:

  • all those entitled to make decisions are in agreement about an outcome (unanimity); or
  • most are in agreement and the few for whom it is not their first preference nonetheless accept they have been fairly heard and could live with that outcome, and so agree to consensus being recorded as the mind of the meeting.

Agreement about an outcome is not limited merely to approving the wording of a proposal. That may be what is agreed. But it may be that consensus is reached about another outcome, including such possibilities as agreeing to reject a proposal, or to refer a matter for further work, or to affirm that a variety of positions may be held by Christian churches on this issue.

There are no formal amendments in consensus procedures. Speakers may suggest variations to the wording of a proposal as discussion proceeds, and incremental changes can be agreed by the meeting as a possible outcome progressively becomes apparent. Consensus procedures assume all are eager to listen for insights from others that may help in the search to discern God's will for the way forward. Hence there will be an attitude of respectful anticipation, as all delegates work towards the common goal.

b) Indicator cards

In a big gathering, hearing all contributions and being aware of how delegates are responding to the ideas expressed by each speaker may be difficult. Indicator cards can assist in this process in both hearing and decision sessions. Blue and orange cards are provided for each delegate's use.11 After a speaker finishes his or her remarks, the moderator gauges the proportion of those supportive of that point of view by calling for delegates to hold a card discreetly at chest level - orange to indicate warmth towards an idea or acceptance of it, blue to show coolness or disapproval. By reporting to the meeting what is visible in response each time, the moderator is able to help the meeting understand what aspects need more exploration, and thus gradually move forward to an outcome acceptable to all.

Indicator cards may also be used to show the moderator that a delegate considers it is time to move on - a speaker may be getting repetitious or irrelevant, or the points may have been well made already by other speakers. In this case, a delegate may hold the two coloured cards crossed in front of the chest as a silent indication to the moderator that prolonging debate does not seem helpful. If the number of crossed cards indicates that many delegates are of the same mind, the moderator may ask the speaker to conclude, or invite one with a different perspective to contribute next, or check whether the meeting is ready to move to recording a consensus decision.

c) Small conversation groups

Breaking into small conversation groups is one way of enabling fuller participation - just turning to near neighbours of the same language preference in a plenary setting for a few moments of sharing ideas. Often an apparent deadlock can be relieved by such a technique, and when the plenary resumes, fresh insights may have emerged which lead to a creative way for an outcome to be achieved.

d) Checking for consensus

As discussion proceeds, it may become clear there are basic principles the meeting is able to affirm immediately, before the continuing search for a common mind on more diverse aspects of the proposal. The moderator can state what seems to be an underlying agreement, and then check with the meeting with such a question as: "Do we have consensus on this aspect at this stage?" Delegates are invited to show indicator cards, and the moderator is able to see if:

  • all are in agreement (orange), in which case the consensus agreement is recorded, and continuing discussion can focus on the more contentious aspects;
  • there is still a mixed response (many of both orange and blue), in which case more discussion on the whole issue is clearly needed; or
  • only one or two are unable to agree at this point (mostly orange, one or two blue), in which case the moderator's next questions can check whether those few feel their point of view has been heard, and whether they can accept the position reached by the others and agree to a consensus outcome being recorded, even though the wording is not their first preference.

e) When consensus seems elusive

After a reasonable attempt to achieve an agreed outcome, if it seems a consensus outcome is still elusive and the meeting is polarized with more than one potential outcome, one of a number of possibilities is available to the meeting (perhaps guided by the moderator), including:

  • agreeing to refer the matter to a select working group to report back to a later session (ensuring the group's membership includes people from each of the firmly held positions);
  • agreeing to refer the matter to another body or to member churches for more work, and not considering it further at this assembly;
  • agreeing to affirm that there are various opinions Christian churches may hold;
  • agreeing that the matter be no longer considered.

In reaching any of these conclusions, certain questions should be asked, such as:

  • "Must a decision on this matter be made today?" If no, the matter should be deferred to a later session (tomorrow, next week, or some other time). Further seasoning by a committee and informal discussion among those with strong views will often bring the meeting to a different level of agreement at a later session. If yes (and this is quite rare), the attention of the meeting must shift from approving or not approving the proposal at hand to finding other ways of meeting the pressing or time-critical need. Interim solutions can sometimes be found while the meeting searches for consensus on the original question.
  • "Can this proposal be acted upon, on the understanding that some members (or member churches) cannot support it?" If no, the proposal should be deferred for further work, as above. If yes, the effect is that those persons, or member churches, or parts of the Council, being of a dissenting opinion, nevertheless allow a policy or programme to go forward without endorsing it. This is sometimes called "standing aside". In social and political issues it may sometimes be appropriate for some member churches or some committee or agency of the WCC to speak without committing the Council as a whole to one point of view.
  • "Have we asked the right question?" When agreement on the issue, as posed, is not possible, this should not be regarded as failure. Sometimes a different question will yield a consensus. Sometimes it is helpful to ask, "What can we say together?" The meeting may not be of one mind on a particular statement on a difficult issue, but may find great value in articulating its various perspectives and the fruits of its discussion. There may be foundational principles on which we all agree. A clear articulation of these, followed by a description of the diverse conclusions that Christians of good conscience have reached, can be a powerful product of a discussion.

f) When a decision must be taken NOW

If in the opinion of an officer or the business committee it is vital for a decision to be made before the meeting concludes and yet the meeting is nowhere near a consensus outcome, the rules provide a process for the business committee to re-formulate the proposal.12 When the reworded proposal is then brought back to a later session, it is the responsibility of the meeting to decide (by consensus procedures) whether it agrees a decision must be made at this meeting, and whether it is prepared to continue working towards a consensus outcome on the reformulated proposal. If a decision must be made immediately, but opinion remains divided about what that decision should be, the meeting can agree by at least an eighty-five (85 percent majority) to decide the matter by formal voting procedures.

10. Making decisions - formal voting procedures

a) Exceptions to using consensus

It is expected that all decisions of the WCC will be made by consensus, except for:13

  • changes to the constitution;

  • elections; and

  • adoption of annual accounts and financial audit report.

Each of these matters will initially be presented in a hearing session, where questions and discussion using consensus procedures may occur. At the start of the decision session where the matter will be decided, the moderator announces that the method to be used is voting by show of hands or cards. Simplified rules for formal voting procedures14 are then employed for determining the matter, in which:

  • all motions must be moved and seconded by a delegate;
  • the mover has the right to speak first;
  • an amendment may be introduced and if seconded it will be considered along with the motion;
  • no one may speak more than once except that the mover may answer objections immediately before the vote is taken;
  • withdrawal of a motion requires the permission of the meeting;
  • any delegate may move to close the discussion, waiting for a call from the moderator before so doing;
  • voting is by show of hands or cards, those in favour first, those against next and then those abstaining;
  • anyone voting with the minority or abstaining may have his or her opinion recorded in the minutes, the report of the meeting and the session record;
  • there is provision for reconsideration of an earlier decision of the meeting;
  • points of order and procedural proposals may be raised;
  • approval requires two-thirds of those present to be in favour (unless otherwise specified or agreed by the meeting).

b) Moving from consensus to formal vote

Very rarely it may be necessary to resort to formal voting procedures when it is imperative that an outcome be decided immediately and it has not been possible to reach consensus. The process for moving from consensus to formal voting procedures requires the moderator to announce that a vote to decide this change will be taken, eighty-five (85) percent of delegates present being needed to agree to do so.15

11. Procedural proposals and points of order

a) Procedural proposals

Any delegate in the course of either a hearing session or a decision session, or any participant in the course of a hearing session, may ask for clarification of the pending matter or may raise suggestions about procedure which can be considered by the meeting and decided immediately. A delegate seeking to do so may not interrupt a speaker but must wait for the call of the moderator.

b) Points of order

Points of order may be raised by any participant during either hearing or decision sessions at any time, even by interrupting another speaker. A participant gains the attention of the moderator with the words, "point of order!" The moderator asks the participant to state the point of order and then (without debate):

  • rules on it immediately; or
  • asks the assembly to decide the matter.

Points of order which may be raised are:

  • to question whether procedures being followed are in accordance with the rules which allow for a personal explanation if a subsequent speaker grossly misrepresents his/her remarks;
  • to raise objection if remarks are thought to be offensive or derogatory;
  • to request that the meeting move to a closed session until the matter under discussion is decided (closed session requires that all but delegates leave the session).

If the moderator's ruling on a point of order or a procedural proposal is challenged, the challenger may speak and the moderator reply before the delegates present decide the question either by consensus or by two-thirds majority vote, according to the decision-making procedures then being employed.

12. Safety valves

Seeking the common mind of a meeting about the way forward needs some safeguards. No delegate or member church need feel pressured into an unacceptable position. All opinions are valued and on the occasions when, after careful consideration and listening, a minority cannot accept what has become the general mind of the meeting, there is reassurance in the following provisions.

a) Consensus outcome on what?

A consensus outcome may be reached that a variety of stances are appropriate for member churches to hold on a particular issue, and so the wording of the agreed resolution notes and affirms those differing perspectives.

b) Definition of consensus - not only unanimity

The definition of consensus is not confined to unanimity. It also includes the situation where most are in agreement and those few who cannot completely agree are satisfied that their point of view has been heard, that the discussion has been both full and fair, and that their church is not compromised in having a consensus outcome recorded on this matter.

c) Recording minority opinions

After every effort to discern a consensus outcome, occasionally a decision cannot be reached even though it is necessary to finalize the matter immediately. Among the possible outcomes for such a scenario is the provision for accepting the discernment of most delegates with some few others recording a different point of view. This can occur when those who cannot agree with the majority are yet satisfied with the outcome and exercise the right to record their opinion opposing the resolution in the minutes and to have their viewpoint noted in the record of the session.

d) Ecclesiological self-understanding16

Where a matter being raised is considered by a delegate to go against the ecclesiological self-understanding of his or her church, the delegate may request that it not be submitted for decision. The moderator shall seek the advice of the business committee in consultation with this delegate and other members of the same church or confession present at the session. If agreed that the matter does in fact go against the ecclesiological self-understanding of the delegate's church, the moderator shall announce that the matter will be removed from the agenda of the decision session and may be considered in a hearing session. The materials and minutes of the discussion shall be sent to the member churches for their study and comment.

e) A member church may act after the assembly

If after the close of an assembly a member church finds it cannot support a decision of the assembly, there is provision for that to be officially recorded.17

13. Language

Normally there are five working languages of the assembly - English, French, German, Russian and Spanish. Participants may contribute in another language if they can provide interpretation into one of these. The business committee will assist such participants to be able to contribute as fully as possible.

14. Election process

a) Assembly committees

During the first decision session of the assembly, the business committee will present nominations for election of the membership of all assembly committees (including the nominations committee). Committees begin their work immediately.

b) Central committee

  • Prior to the assembly, member churches are invited to nominate candidates for the central committee from amongst assembly delegates. Consultation between churches in each region is encouraged, such that a name supported by more than one church will carry more weight for the nominations committee.
  • During the assembly, regional meetings provide opportunity for discussion about particular nominations.
  • Principles guiding the work of the nominations committee:18
    the personal qualifications of the individual for the task for which she/he is being nominated;
    - fair and adequate confessional representation;
    - fair and adequate geographical and cultural representation;
    - fair and adequate representation of the major interests of the WCC;
    - the general acceptability of the nominations to the churches to which the nominees belong;
    - not more than seven persons from any one member church;
    - adequate representation of lay persons - men, women and young people.
  • Early in the life of the assembly, the nominations committee presents a first proposal on the anticipated profile of the central committee (without names) for consideration and approval by the assembly.
  • Subsequently, a first reading of nominations is presented in a hearing session, during which discussion about the list in general is encouraged. No proposed changes to names will be considered in this session.
  • Delegates may bring proposals for changes to specific nominations to the nominations committee outside of the plenary meeting. Any change needs to offer a replacement with the same demographic profile (region, gender, age, etc.), and must be signed by six delegates from the same region.
  • When the second reading of the list of nominations is brought to a decision session, the nominations committee gives an account of the proposals suggested for changes to the slate of names, and any variations resulting from them. If the assembly is not ready to approve the list, further time is given for out-of-session proposals as described above, and the list is brought to a subsequent decision session for the election.

c) Presidents

  • Prior to an assembly, staff will seek advice from regional ecumenical organizations and pre-assembly regional meetings about appropriate names to be considered by the nominations committee, in preparing nominations for the eight presidents of the WCC.

d) Voting

  • Elections are determined by formal voting procedures.


1 WCC constitution art. 1.

2 Ibid.

3 Person appointed by the business committee to follow the discussion of a decision session, to record the languages of the emerging consensus, including final language of decisions taken, and to assist the moderator of the session in discerning an emerging consensus. Recorders shall also assist the moderator in ensuring that the final agreed wording of a proposal is translated and available to delegates before a decision is made. Normally a delegate will be appointed recorder. Rule XX.5.

4 Rule XX.10.

5 Rule XX.9.e, 9.f.

6 Rule XX.3.

7 Rule XX.6.a, 6.c.

8 The self-understanding of a church on matters of faith, doctrine and ethics.

9 Section 12: safety valves; rule XX.6.d.

10 See appendix B: flow chart of consensus procedures.

11 These colours are chosen because even those who are colour blind can distinguish between orange and blue.

12 Rule XX.9.e.

13 Rule XX.10.a.

14 Rule XX.10.; appendix C: flow chart of formal voting procedures.

15 Rule XX.9.f.

16 Rule XX.6.d.

17 Rule XX.5.e.

18 Rule IV.4.c.



When the WCC was founded in 1948, the majority of member churches were located in Europe and North America. Procedures for decision-making were based on those customarily used in Protestant church councils and secular parliaments in those parts of the world.

With the widening of WCC membership to a global fellowship of churches since then, and with greater participation of women and youth in leadership in member churches across time, many have been expressing increasing frustration with parliamentary processes. Hopes and expectations have arisen that methods by which the WCC governs its life might more appropriately reflect the changes in the organization that have taken place since its inception. And while parliamentary procedures have served some member churches well, for others such an adversarial approach is quite unfamiliar both in ecclesial practices and within the cultures in which they are set.

The eighth assembly in Harare received the document Towards a Common Understanding and Vision (CUV), and more clearly defined the WCC as a fellowship of churches seeking together to fulfil their common calling. Building on CUV, the Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC brought its report to the central committee in September 2002. In recognizing the critical role the WCC has played in helping churches to work together to fulfil their common calling, the Special Commission affirmed:

  • member churches belonging to the fellowship of the WCC are the subject of the quest for visible unity, not the Council;

  • member churches belonging to the fellowship of the WCC teach and make doctrinal and ethical decisions, not the Council;

  • member churches belonging to the fellowship of the WCC proclaim doctrinal consensus, not the Council;

  • member churches belonging to the fellowship of the WCC commit themselves to pray for unity and to engage in an encounter that aims to find language for resonances of the common Christian faith in other church traditions;

  • member churches belonging to the fellowship of the WCC are responsible for developing and nurturing the sensitivities and the language that will allow them to sustain dialogue with each other.

The Special Commission went on to recommend, among other changes, that the WCC move to consensus decision-making. This was in order to address long-standing concerns of Orthodox churches that, as a numerical minority in various governing bodies, they would continue to encounter substantial difficulties in having concerns and perspectives heard and addressed. This recommendation resonated deeply with others' convictions that the time for a change to consensus procedures had come.

Increasingly throughout the world, churches are seeking how to address potentially polarizing and contentious issues in a way that will not result in a church being internally divided. Some member churches of the WCC have experience in changed procedures that show signs of hope in this regard. Some WCC commissions and committees tend to function by a consensus method already, finding it ensures a more efficient and effective use of the time and talents of members in reaching a common goal.


All Africa Conference of Churches

adoption of a report

Following reception of a report, the assembly may agree to adopt some or all of its contents as ongoing policy or agreed statement


A person invited by central committee to participate in an assembly because of specific expertise or significant association with the WCC


assembly planning committee


Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission

business committee

[see rule IV.5.]

The body with responsibility for the business agenda of an assembly. For central committee meetings, its executive committee acts as the business committee


Christian Conference of Asia


Caribbean Conference of Churches


Consilium Conferentiarum Episcoporum Europae


Conference of European Churches


Conseil d'Eglises chrétiennes en France (Council of Christian Churches in France)


Latin American Episcopal Conference


Commission on Inter-Church Aid, Refugee and World Service


Consejo Latinoamericano de Iglesias (Latin American Council of Churches)

central committee

The body elected by the assembly to carry out the work of the WCC between assembly meetings

consensus process

A process of seeking the common mind of the meeting without resort to a formal vote, engaging in genuine dialogue that is respectful, mutually supportive and empowering whilst prayerfully seeking to discern God's will


Churches Together in Britain and Ireland


Towards a Common Understanding and Vision of the World Council of Churches, a document of the World Council of Churches


Commission on World Mission and Evangelism

decision session

A session when delegates make decisions about agenda matters - other participants do not contribute at this stage


A person appointed to an assembly as an official representative of a member church, with the right to speak and the responsibility to participate in decision-making

delegated observer

A person officially designated by a non-member church and invited by the central committee to participate in an assembly

delegated representative

A person officially designated by an organisation in relationship with WCC and invited by the central committee to participate in an assembly

ecclesiological self-understanding

The self-understanding of a church on matters of faith, doctrine and ethics


Ecumenical Church Loan Fund


Ecumenical News International

executive committee

Elected by central committee, responsible for monitoring programmes and activities of the WCC between central committee meetings; responsible for administrative decisions and staff appointments (other than senior staff)


Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences

finance committee

Elected by central committee to present annual accounts, reviews, budgets and recommendations regarding all WCC work

general session

A session reserved for ceremonial occasions, public acts of witness and formal addresses

hearing session

A session in which matters are presented with careful attention to the broad range of perspectives member churches hold, issues arising are discussed by participants, and progress is made towards a possible outcome for the assembly. No decisions are taken in this session


Irish Council of Churches


International Council of Christians and Jews

indicator card - blue

Held at chest level after a speaker has concluded, it indicates coolness towards a point of view, or not ready to approve

indicator card - orange

Held at chest level after a speaker has concluded, it indicates warmth towards a point of view, or ready to approve

indicator cards - both

Held at chest level at any stage, crossed cards indicate a delegate's opinion that it is time to move on


Lutheran World Federation


Middle East Council of Churches


The official record of general, hearing and decision sessions of an assembly or central or executive committee meeting, including a record of the discussion, motions and decisions. The minutes will normally incorporate by reference any report of the meeting


Appointed by the business committee to record the official minutes of general, hearing and decision sessions of an assembly or any meeting for which formal minutes must be kept. The minute-taker is usually designated from WCC staff


The moderator of the assembly


A person designated to moderate a session



Activities surrounding the assembly in Porto Alegre (celebration, exhibition, reflection, discussion, Bible studies, lectures):

- to help participants better understand the issues being discussed

- to provide a forum for airing concerns of members churches and ecumenical partners

- to encourage participation and ecumenical formation of those new to WCC events

- to widen horizons through interaction with the many cultures gathered for the assembly


National Council of Churches


National Council of Churches in Australia


Moderator and vice-moderators of central committee, and the general secretary


A person participating in the work of the assembly - includes delegates and those with the right to speak but not to participate in decision-making (advisers, delegated representatives of ecumenical organisations, delegated observers from non-member churches, representatives of associate member churches, retiring members of central committee)


Pacific Conference of Churches


Permanent committee on consensus and collaboration


Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity


Meeting in session of the entire assembly in the one place

point of order

An interjection by a participant to make personal explanation if misrepresented, to object to offensive language, or to seek for the issue under discussion to be dealt with in private


One of up to eight eminent persons elected by the previous assembly to promote ecumenism and interpret the work of the WCC especially in her/his region; ex-officio a member of central committee

procedural proposal

A proposal for a variation to the procedures; may be offered during decision sessions


Person appointed by the business committee to prepare an account of the discussion of a hearing session or report of a committee meeting for which minutes are not kept. A rapporteur appointed for a committee meeting shall function as a recorder of that meeting

reception of a report

Agreement to consider the substance of a report. No action is implied as a result - either the report as a whole must be adopted if its substance is to become policy, or specific proposals arising from the report must be considered in their own right before agreement to act can be assumed

record of session

An account of the discussion during hearing or decision sessions including final language of decisions taken


Person appointed by the business committee to follow the discussion of a decision session, to record the language of the emerging consensus, including final language of decisions taken, and to assist the moderator of the session in discerning an emerging consensus. Recorders shall also assist the moderator in ensuring that the final agreed wording of a proposal is translated and available to delegates before a decision is made. Normally a delegate will be appointed recorder


Regional ecumenical organization

Report of a meeting

Summary of a meeting including a presentation of major themes and specific proposals


Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar


A gathering of ten Bible study groups for integrated reflection


A sitting of the assembly in one of general, hearing or decision sessions (as defined)


Appointed by the business committee to act as scrutineers for elections, and to count votes where necessary


One of the Officers of the WCC elected by the central committee with responsibilities to act in place of the moderator as necessary


World Alliance of Reformed Churches


World Council of Churches