From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Title: Reconfiguring ecumenical movement for 21st century

From "WCC Media" <>
Date Mon, 11 Aug 2003 10:52:51 +0200

World Council of Churches
Press Release PR-03-27
For Immediate Use
11 August 2003

Overcoming institutionalism:
WCC opens discussion on a new configuration of the ecumenical movement for
the 21st century

The core vision of ecumenism remains, but ecumenical structures need to be
reassessed in order to reflect changing times. 

This perception has led the general secretary of the World Council of
Churches (WCC), Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser, to call for a consultation on
"reconfiguring the ecumenical movement" - to take place 17-20 November, 2003
in Antelias, Lebanon. The consultation will be hosted by the Armenian
Apostolic Church.

In his letter of invitation to around 25 people, Raiser notes that the very
breadth of ecumenical organizations now existing, the new opportunities to
engage with grassroots movements and civil society, and financial realities
facing many organizations, point to the need for discussion on new models for
ecumenical work at national, regional and global levels.

The consultation objectives are:
* to analyze the main challenges presented by the changing world, and their
implications for the configuration of the ecumenical movement;
* to identify the key areas of change and renewal necessary for a
* to design a process of consultation and study leading to a report on
reconfiguration of the ecumenical movement to the Central Committee in 2005,
and eventually to the WCC assembly in 2006.

Among those invited to participate in the November consultation are leaders
and staff of churches, Christian world communions, regional and national
councils of churches, mission bodies, church-related aid agencies and
international ecumenical organizations. Each participant will bring
individual commitment, knowledge and experience of the ecumenical movement in
different contexts and at different levels. Raiser emphasizes that people
were selected "not to be representatives of organizations... but with an eye
to looking beyond present structures".

In some ways, Raiser notes, the convening of and participation in the meeting
echo the 1930's process that eventually led to the founding of the WCC
itself, in which key stakeholders in different ecumenical efforts came
together to answer the need for greater unity and more effective action at
the international level. 

A youth consultation immediately prior to the reconfiguration meeting will
allow young people - as current ecumenical leaders and as those whose
responsibility it is to lead the movement into the future - to contribute
their vision and ideas to the discussion.

The need and potential for reconfiguration will also be discussed by key
stakeholders before the November consultation, at meetings of:
* the WCC Central and Executive Committees (24 August-2 September)
* the general secretaries of the WCC and regional ecumenical organizations
(17-18 September)
* the regional ecumenical organizations and church-related aid agencies
(19-20 September)
* the Global Christian Forum continuation committee (18-20 October)
* the Conference of Secretaries of the Christian World Communions (21-24

Why now?

The WCC general secretary sparked off the present discussion about a new
configuration of the ecumenical movement during his report to the WCC Central
Committee in 2002. "I believe that the time has come," he said, "to review
the organizational and structural arrangements in the world-wide ecumenical
movement which we have inherited from the generations before us, and to
explore a new ecumenical configuration which can respond effectively to the
challenges which lie ahead in the 21st century."

Raiser emphasized particularly that what is needed is a common framework for
policy-setting and decision-making. Such a framework could reduce duplication
of efforts among the various organizations, and increase the coherence of the
ecumenical vision and witness. Structures also need to be more open and
flexible as the ecumenical organizations address issues of mandates,
membership, financial support, governance, and priority-setting, he said.

In his 2002 report, Raiser gave specific reasons why reconfiguration needs to
be considered now. 

The "success" of ecumenism has meant that many churches have integrated the
vision into their own self-understanding. Yet denominationalism - where
churches try to sharpen their own institutional profile for reasons of
visibility and participation, and for financial support in a competitive
civil society - is also increasing, he noted. 

The ecumenical vision as articulated from the early days of the movement
until today no longer inspires and mobilizes people, and particularly not
young people, Raiser said. Another reason is that current structures do not
connect with some of the most exciting ecumenical work at the grassroots -
like the movement of inter-church families, local ecumenical projects,
ecumenical communities, etc.

Yet one of the main reasons why the discussion is necessary now is the
complexity of and lack of connection between current ecumenical structures. 

In the early days of the ecumenical movement, a number of different
ecumenical streams (such as Faith and Order, and the International Missionary
Council) became integrated into the WCC. However, over the last several
decades, many new ecumenical organizations and structures have been created,
often by the WCC itself, to meet specific needs and contexts. 

Such initiatives include, among others:
* regional and national councils of churches;
* the Conference of General Secretaries of the Christian World Communions;
* working groups with the Roman Catholic Church and, more recently, with
Evangelicals and Pentecostals;
* the Global Christian Forum;
* Action by Churches Together (ACT);
* the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (EAA). 

While such organizations are linked, and while several attempts have been
made to coordinate their activities, Raiser thinks much more must be done. 

In essence, he says, the reconfiguration discussion "must recapture the sense
of an ecumenical 'movement'." "The ecumenical movement has outgrown the
churches as organized bodies, and has been overcome by institutionalism.
Therefore, we need to envisage a new configuration that is more flexible and

New potential for change 

This new debate has its roots in a longstanding concern. The document
"Towards a Common Understanding and Vision of the World Council of Churches"
(CUV) adopted by the Central Committee in 1997 "was the point of entry, and
has been part of our thinking for the last eight years," Raiser notes. 

The CUV, along with the progress of the Global Christian Forum, the work of
the Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC, and of a WCC
membership study group, all show that a new ethos and culture of ecumenical
organization is emerging. "This would be an incentive to shape an alternative
to the vision of globalization," Raiser suggests. 

The WCC is facilitating the discussion on reconfiguration because "it is
still the most comprehensive and representative ecumenical organization
world-wide", with particular responsibility for the coherence of the
ecumenical movement, Raiser notes. 

He emphasizes that the discussions beginning now have far more potential to
effect change than earlier discussions on coordination. The challenge, he
says, is that "all the structures now involved in the ecumenical movement
must be open to potentially far-reaching changes, and be willing to open
themselves up to new partnerships and ways of working."
Change, too, must be led by the churches themselves, he emphasizes. "We need
to capture the original spirit that led to the founding of the WCC...Then,
there was an understanding that, if churches joined the World Council of
Churches, they were open to change. This openness is the spirit we must

Background documents for the process are available at: 
WCC Website > Press Corner 
For further information, please contact the Media Relations Office,  tel:
+4122 791 6421 /6153

Need more advance warning? Check the WCC Media Calendar at:  > Press Corner  > Media Calendar  
or directly at 


The World Council of Churches (WCC) is a fellowship of churches, now 342, in
more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian
traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works
cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which
meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in
1948 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary
Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.

World Council of Churches
Media Relations Office
Tel: (41 22) 791 6153 / 791 6421
Fax: (41 22) 798 1346

PO Box 2100
1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland

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