number 9, december 14, 1998

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Assembly yes to Christian 'forum'

By Jerry Van Marter

The eighth assembly has given its backing to the creation of a "Forum of Christian Churches and Ecumenical Organisations", which could extend the organisation's ecumenical reach far beyond its 339 member churches.

The proposed forum could bring to a single ecumenical table nearly all of the main Christian churches and organisations in the world, including many that are not WCC members, such as the Roman Catholic Church and major Pentecostal and Evangelical churches.

The forum could also include regional ecumenical organisations (REOs), Christian world communions (CWCs) and international ecumenical organisations.

The idea for the forum was contained in a policy statement, "Towards a Common Understanding and Vision for the WCC" (CUV), endorsed yesterday by the assembly. CUV is a restructuring of the WCC's programmes and service, intended to make the organisation more effective and more closely integrated with the work of its member churches.

But the assembly held considerable debate before accepting the proposal for a forum. An amendment proposed by Klaus Heidel of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) -- it would have allowed only "occasional gatherings" among the WCC and non-member groups, rather than a formal forum -- was defeated.

Opponents of the forum argued that it would divert attention away from structural unity and create a "parallel" ecumenical structure to the WCC. "We cannot neglect the pain of ecumenical relations," said Wilfried Neusel of the EKD. "This free market of religious thought could dilute the strength of the WCC assembly."

Livingstone Thompson, of the Moravian Church in Jamaica, agreed. "Our main task is to renew the WCC," he said. "And I don't want that to be diverted by the creation of this forum."

While acknowledging the danger of a "second-class status" being accorded to forum participants who were not WCC members, Clifton Kirkpatrick, of the Presbyterian Church (USA), supported the proposal. "Renewal comes from reaching out, not reaching in," he said, "and the forum represents a creative way to involve the broader body of Christ in the search for unity."

WCC general secretary Konrad Raiser has floated the forum idea several times over the past two years. The proposal was included in the CUV policy when it was adopted by the WCC's central committee last year.

But the WCC leadership suffered a big defeat when one of the constitutional amendments to implement CUV policy -- to transfer election of the eight presidents of the WCC from the assembly to the central committee -- attracted less than 50 votes from among the 960 delegates.

The presidents, who are elected by region, are often the WCC's most visible figures in the regions. They generally liaise between the churches in their region, expressing their concerns to the 150-member central committee.

Ecumenical News International

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Read other articles in this issue:

Mandela to WCC: tribute, and the development goal
Four fundamental questions for churches
Experiences people have had: Living the ecumenical connection
Orthodox preachers shares testimony about being lost
Visitors take home gift of a covenant
Bulgarian Orthodox quit WCC
Looking for the vision
WCC to set up commission with Orthodox churches
Trees will be reminder of the 8th assembly
Listen! Children can work
Letters: Provocative, misleading
50 years ago: Report from Amsterdam
Zimbabwe Christians criticise government
WCC celebrates 50th anniversary
Assembly yes to Christian 'forum'

8th Assembly and 50th Anniversary

copyright 1998 World Council of Churches. Remarks to webeditor