From the Worldwide Faith News archives


Date 04 May 1996 20:41:26


                      by Jerry L. Van Marter 
GENEVA--Acknowledging that the ecumenical movement has become "a 
polycentric network," World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary 
Konrad Raiser has suggested opening up membership in the organization to 
ecumenical agencies that are not churches. 
     The WCC currently has more than 320 Protestant and Orthodox member 
     Addressing the WCC's 150-member Central Committee here Sept. 14, 
Raiser said that "while the WCC is the most comprehensive ecumenical 
instrument on the world level ... the WCC cannot and should not pretend to 
be its main center."  Furthermore, he added, "openness to participate in 
the ecumenical movement is not identical with readiness to become a member 
of the WCC." 
     In addition to proposing the new category of membership for nonchurch 
organizations, a suggestion Raiser admitted he had not discussed with other 
WCC officials beforehand, the general secretary also posed a second 
possibility: the organization of "a new association of ecumenical 
organizations" of which the WCC would be but one of many members. 
     At a press conference following his address, Raiser said participation 
by the Roman Catholic Church is the key to the future of the ecumenical 
movement.  "Any such model which would not facilitate the integration or 
full participation of the Roman Catholic Church would have failed its 
purpose," he declared. 
     Raiser's comments came against the backdrop of severe financial 
difficulties for the WCC.  The Council finished 1994 approximately $3.4 
million in the red and its net income has dropped by 50 percent in the last 
15 years.  Most other international church bodies also face financial 
problems, and, Raiser said, ways need to be found to pool "human and 
financial resources." 
     Raiser spent most of his speech reflecting on the WCC study process, 
"Towards a Common Understanding and Vision of the WCC," that was launched 
by the Central Committee in 1989.  It is designed to culminate in a new 
"charter," which member churches could "endorse as a living statement of 
common ecumenical perspective and orientation" when the WCC celebrates its 
50th anniversary in 1998 at its Eighth Assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe. 
     "The polycentric character of the ecumenical movement makes it 
imperative to ask how its 
 oneness' or  wholeness,' which has repeatedly been affirmed in policy 
statements, can be preserved against the tendencies of fragmentation and 
competitiveness," Raiser said. 
     The oneness being sought, he continued, is not so much a matter of 
structure as of faith.  It is "ultimately rooted in Jesus Christ as the 
only  center' and nourished by living trust in the presence of the Holy 
     The Harare Assembly is a "kairos moment" for the ecumenical movement, 
Raiser concluded. "It is my conviction that the present situation in the 
world, in the churches and in the ecumenical movement as a whole obliges 
the WCC to take courageous steps forward in order to rekindle the 
ecumenical spirit and to provide orientation and leadership for the one 
ecumenical movement on the eve of the 21st century."  

For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
  Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
  phone 502-569-5504            fax 502-569-8073  
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