Click to different language versions of this text
en français
auf Deutsch
en español

A Jubilee Assembly
Click to sections on:
Assembly theme
The African context
Looking back, looking around
Common Understanding and Vision (CUV)
The Decade - What next?
Participants, visitors...
To learn more...

Back to subject index

Back to subject index

Back to subject index

Back to subject index

Back to subject index

A Jubilee Assembly

It was an historic moment in August 1948 when representatives from 147 churches around the world who had come together in Amsterdam declared their commitment "to stay together" and to form the World Council of Churches as an instrument to promote the unity of the Christian church.

The First Assembly in Amsterdam, 1948

(Photo Oikoumene theme: Before 1948/Amsterdam 1948;
ref. no.: 5819-26)
Fifty years after that first Assembly in Amsterdam, the WCC will hold its Eighth Assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe, from 3 to 14 December 1998.
Coming shortly before the beginning of a new century and a new millennium, this "jubilee Assembly" will be a significant moment for the churches and for the World Council of Churches.

The word "jubilee" is often used to speak of any 50th anniversary. But the origins of this term go back to biblical times - to the provisions made (Leviticus 25) for the people of Israel to hold a "jubilee" every 50 years. Land would be restored to its original owners and slaves set free. Later, the prophets of Israel took up these elements of liberation, reconciliation and new beginnings into the promise of the "year of the Lord's favour" - a promise whose fulfilment was announced by Jesus in his first sermon in Nazareth, recorded in the gospel of Luke.

The Eighth Assembly theme

Turn to God - Rejoice in Hope
incorporates this idea of jubilee into a timely appeal to the churches and the world at the dawn of a new millennium. The theme is a call to turn from a culture of indifference, self-centredness and violence to the very source of life. It is an invitation to celebrate the hope that is rooted in the faithfulness of God. At the Assembly, this theme will be explored through Bible studies and plenary presentations; it will be expressed in daily worship; and it will be applied to the discussion of critical issues on the agenda of the world, the churches and the ecumenical movement.

The African context

Nowhere in the world is the message of the gospel spreading more quickly and striking deeper roots than in Africa. A crucible of cultures and communities, a continent of vitality and joy, Africa also reminds the world community of some of the critical issues that must be faced together in the

(Photo Oikoumene ref. no.: 6366-13)
years ahead: the debt crisis, war, violence and ethnic conflicts, the uprooting of people, the plight of children and youth, the effects of globalization on the economy, culture and the environment. The African venue of the Assembly and the participation of many Christian leaders and church people from Zimbabwe, southern Africa and the continent as a whole will provide an unparalleled opportunity to explore these and other issues in their African context, to draw inspiration from the faith of African Christians and to deepen ecumenical awareness of the challenges of the 21st century.

Looking Back, Looking Around

How has the World Council of Churches fared over these fifty years?

  • Has it brought the churches closer together and made their unity more visible?
  • Have the churches been enabled to explore together the issues of mission, evangelism, renewal?
  • Are the WCC's activities effectively promoting justice, peace and the integrity of creation?
  • Has the Council fostered ecumenical sharing which brings relief to those in distress in order to build a reconciled and more humane world?
  • Has it made possible dialogue among peoples of living religious traditions?
  • Has it advanced the cause of women and young people in the churches and around the world?

Through an intensive process of hearings, the Assembly will examine the Council's activities in these and other areas over the past years and identify major emphases for its work in the period ahead.

For the first time at a WCC Assembly, churches, partners in the ecumenical movement and other groups and organizations which share common concerns will have the opportunity to set up their own presentations, exhibitions and opportunities for conversation in a Padare - the word for "marketplace" in the local Shona language.

Looking Ahead

Common Understanding and Vision:
a commitment of the churches together
facing a new millennium

How can the WCC serve the churches in the most effective way as an instrument of the worldwide ecumenical movement? As the Council looks towards its next fifty years, in a world that is vastly different from that of Amsterdam 1948, what shape and what directions should it take? Do we also need a wider and more representative forum of the ecumenical movement, which would involve many other streams of Christian life and expression that have come into being over the past decades?

An intensive study process on questions like these, undertaken over the past eight years, will be brought to a conclusion at the Assembly, culminating in a service of thanksgiving, celebration and recommitment.

Leaders of the WCC's more than 330 member churches are being invited to Harare to make this recommitment publicly. Radio and television broadcasts are being planned to enable the whole oikoumene to share in this solemn and historic event. Congregations and parishes around the world are also being encouraged to observe Sunday 13 December 1998 as a special day of recommitment to the ecumenical movement.

The Decade - What Next?

The Eighth Assembly will mark the culminating point of the Ecumenical Decade - Churches in Solidarity with Women, a ten-year effort launched by churches around the world at Easter 1988. The end of these ten years will be the occasion for a four-day Decade Festival, to be held in Harare just before the Assembly.

But what next? How will the findings of the Decade influence the life and ministry of the churches in the years ahead? Special sessions, dialogues and witnesses will present these concerns to the 4000 women and men who are expected to attend the Assembly.

For the Eighth Assembly itself, on the campus of the University of Zimbabwe, about 2000 official participants are expected - nearly a thousand delegates from the member churches of the WCC, and an equal number of representatives and observers from a variety of ecumenical organizations around the world and from other churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, and guests of other faiths. A well-planned visitors programme is expected to draw another 2000 people to the Assembly site. And many groups and organizations will bring their concerns and issues to the Padare, the world's marketplace.

Aerial view of the University of Zimbabwe campus.

(Photo Oikoumene theme: From Canberra to Harare)

Experiences and insights will be shared, old friendships renewed and new ones formed. The spiritual life of the participants will be enhanced by daily ecumenical worship, always a central and unforgettable part of any WCC Assembly.

To Learn More...

A resource volume has been published for groups and individuals interested in further study of the Assembly theme: Turn to God - Rejoice in Hope (WCC Publications, 1996, SFr.9.90, US$7.95, £5.25). This includes seven Bible studies, six meditations and five liturgical aids highlighting aspects of the theme and drawing on insights from many countries and many Christian traditions.

For information about ordering this book (including availability of other language editions) and about other helpful materials for Assembly preparation, the Assembly itself, the visitors programme or Recommitment Sunday, please contact the WCC Eighth Assembly Office in Geneva or the USA (see below).

Good quality reproductions of the photos accompanying this text (see list below) are available via Internet or ordinary mail. To order a photo via Internet, just click on the photo of your choice. That takes you to our Photo Oikoumene homepage. There you click on the appropriate theme in the Photo Oikoumene index. When you have located your photo, complete the online order form. Photo Oikoumene will send the photo electronically as an attached file, at 300dpi resolution, JPEG format.

If you want a colour slide, or colour or b/w photo by ordinary mail, send an E-mail inquiry to photo
° First Assembly (Theme: Before 1948/Amsterdam 1948) ( 5819-26)
° Episcopal cathedral, Yambio, Sudan (ref. no.: 6366-13)
° Harare campus (Theme: Canberra to Harare)

World Council of Churches
Eighth Assembly Office
P.O. Box 2100
1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland

Fax: (+41 22) 791 0361
e-mail: webeditor

For the USA:
United States Conference
World Council of Churches
475 Riverside Drive, Room 915
New York, NY 10115

Fax: (1 212) 870 2528

Return to list of Assembly and Anniversary materials
Back to WCC homepage