WCC Anniversary and Eighth Assembly
Feature Service
No. 9
Celebrate and Pray
by John Newbury

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Around the world, Christians are preparing to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the World Council of Churches.

From Geneva, Switzerland, the staff home of the WCC, through the seven cities which have hosted past WCC assemblies and on to countless congregations in every continent, plans are being finalised for celebration and thanksgiving services, exhibitions, special lectures and conferences.

The WCC’s Central Committee has called for a jubilee celebration and recommitment to the WCC in the period from 20 September to 13 December. A special order of service has been prepared for use by the WCC’s 332 member churches. This period of prayer and festivity will culminate on 13 December at the WCC’s Eighth Assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe when there will be a public celebration of the life of the WCC, followed by a service at which church leaders and other Assembly participants will recommit themselves to the WCC and the ecumenical movement. The theme for the Eighth Assembly is Turn to God - Rejoice in Hope.

Churches throughout the world have also been invited to take an offering for a WCC Jubilee Fund. The proceeds will be used especially for the important tasks of reconciliation, healing and community-building through the WCC.

A committee made up of representatives from Geneva churches as well as WCC staff members has planned a series of celebratory events. On 18 September the Rev. Dr Emilio Castro, a former WCC general secretary, will speak at the annual assembly of the Eglise nationale protestante de Genève (National Protestant Church of Geneva) on Ecumenism: Where are we going?

Senior officials and representatives of the Protestant, Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches in Geneva will attend an official worship service with the theme Raise the Sails, on Sunday, 20 September, in St Peter's Cathedral (Cathédral St Pierre) in the Old Town. Beforehand, young people from the city's churches will gather at the Ecumenical Centre and process to the Cathedral. Along the way, they will stop at four churches to collect four segments of a large boat. Joined by members of these churches, the young people will take the pieces to the Cathedral, where they will be assembled. A boat has long been a symbol of the WCC and this version will rise to a height of five metres.

Geneva's St. Pierre Cathedral
An impressive line-up is promised for a public event at the Ecumenical Centre on Tuesday evening, 22 September. The President of the Swiss Confederation, Mr Flavio Cotti, will take part in a round table with Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, Mrs Sagato Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Mrs Estela Carlotto, President of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, Argentina, and the Rt Rev. Georges Khodr, Metropolitan of Mount Lebanon, Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East. The round table theme will be The 21st Century - Challenges to the World Council of Churches: Justice and Human Rights. The WCC Presidents, Moderator and Vice-Moderator of the Central Committee and the General Secretary, the Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser, will host the event.

The theology faculty of the University of Geneva will run a series of special ecumenical public lectures in the autumn on How to be the Church Today? On Sunday, 15 November, Swiss Television will broadcast a special worship service from the chapel of the Ecumenical Centre.

On Sunday, 13 December, to coincide with the recommitment service at the WCC Eighth Assembly, Geneva parishes will be invited to use the same liturgy as will be used in Harare.

An exhibition called Staying Together (also the title of a recent video on the work of the WCC), will be be mounted in the foyer of the Ecumenical Centre. Created by WCC staff members Peter Williams and Marlin VanElderen and designed by Sergio Centeno, a young artist from Puerto Rico, twenty thematic panels plus an accompanying brochure will outline what the WCC has achieved since its birth. Significantly, the exhibition does not gloss over the tensions which still prevent the churches coming together in visible unity and for which purpose the WCC was founded. The exhibition will transfer to Harare in December for the Eighth Assembly.

On 23 August, 1948, at the WCC’s founding assembly in Amsterdam, Geoffrey Fisher, Archbishop of Canterbury, declared the WCC "constituted and established". This year the Council of Churches in the Netherlands will run a series of celebratory events in Amsterdam on Saturday, 19 September, following a meeting of the WCC’s Executive Committee in the nearby town of Amersfoort. Committee members will stay for the Saturday celebrations, and will be joined by officials from councils of churches of at least nine other European countries as well as by other ecumenical personalities.

Amsterdam 1948
Faith in the City, Fifty Years of the World Council of Churches in a Secularised Western Context is the theme of a symposium at the Free University in the morning. Speakers will be Konrad Raiser; the Rev. Dr Margot Kässmann, a member of the WCC Executive Committee and the General Secretary of the German Evangelical Kirchentag; Professor Anton Houtepen from the Inter-University Institute of Missiology and Ecumenism in Utrecht; and Professor Anton Wessels of the Free University, Amsterdam.

In the afternoon, workshops on refugees and asylum seekers, homelessness, youth programmes, interreligious dialogue and relations between Jews and Christians, among others, will be held at related projects around the city.

A long-time ecumenist, broadcaster and former WCC director of communication, the Rev. Dr Albert van den Heuvel will speak at a meeting at 1700hrs. This will be followed by an Ecumenical Service of Commemoration and Thanksgiving in the Old Lutheran Church in Amsterdam. The preacher will be His Holiness Aram I, Moderator of the Central Committee; IKON Television will record the service for national broadcast the following morning.

The WCC’s Second Assembly took place in Evanston in 1954. The National Council of Churches in the USA is organising a celebration banquet and service for 11 November in the First United Methodist Church of Evanston. The date has been chosen to coincide with a meeting of the NCCUSA General Assembly in Chicago. The 300 General Assembly members will travel in a bus convoy to Evanston and the evening of celebration and thanksgiving is open to all friends of the World Council and National Council as well as the general public.

Evanston 1954

New Delhi
New Delhi, India, the venue of the Third Assembly in 1961, will hold a regional Jubilee Celebration Worship Service on 20 September. This will be part of a series of week-long events which includes a consultation on Globalisation - Lessons and Perspectives from Asian Societies, a meeting of the general secretaries of national councils of churches in Asia, and a preparatory meeting for delegates from Asia and the Pacific who will attend the Harare Assembly.

New Delhi 1961

The WCC held its Fourth Assembly in Uppsala, Sweden, in 1968. The Archbishop of Turku in Finland, John Vikström, will preach at a morning service, organised by the Nordic Ecumenical Council, in the Cathedral of Uppsala on Sunday, 4 October. In the evening, also in Uppsala, the Rev. Dr Beyers Naudé, from South Africa, will address a meeting on The Churches’ Involvement in Overcoming Apartheid.

The Church of Sweden has prepared a collection of prayers for use in all its churches on 20 September, the beginning of the period of celebration and recommitment to the WCC. Swedish churches will take a collection for the WCC Jubilee Fund on that day.

Uppsala 1968

In Norway, on 20 September local parishes will celebrate and pray for the WCC, and worship in the country’s 11 cathedrals will focus on ecumenism and the WCC. The Ecumenical Council of Denmark and the Church of Denmark have translated the liturgical material produced by the WCC into Danish. They have also produced a Danish version of the WCC video, Staying Together, as well as the Bible studies prepared for the Harare Assembly. A package of all these materials will be sent to every parish.

A former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa, the Rev. John Gatu, will preach on 20 September in Nairobi, the city which hosted the Fifth Assembly in 1975. Gatu played a key role in organising that assembly; he is also a former member of the WCC Central Committee. his September’s service, organised by the National Council of Churches in Kenya and the All Africa Conference of Churches, will take place at Lavington United Church where Anglicans, Methodists and Presbyterians make up the congregation. The church will also be the venue for an exhibition which will include a recently produced poster series, A Journey of Faith, showing some of the WCC’s current activities and concerns.

Nairobi 1975

In Vancouver, Canada, the site of the Sixth Assembly in 1983, a celebration and thanksgiving service will be held on 8 November in St Andrew’s - Wesley United Church.

In Toronto, the venue of a significant early meeting of the Central Committee in 1950, celebrations will take place when Konrad Raiser visits in late September. Dr Raiser is expected to meet heads of churches from the Canadian Council of Churches on 29 September. The following day, he will meet other representatives of WCC member churches in Canada, before moving on to the University of Toronto for a discussion with theology teachers and students in the seven colleges which make up the Toronto School of Theology.

Vancouver 1983

The Toronto celebrations will conclude with an ecumenical worship service marking the WCC’s Jubilee; Dr Raiser will reflect on the current state of the ecumenical movement and the relevance of the 1950 Toronto Statement. This landmark document, entitled The Church, the Churches, and the World Council of Churches, sought to explain what the WCC was, and was not.

Finally, in Canberra, the Australian city which hosted the 1991 Seventh Assembly, a Picnic and Liturgy for Ecumenical Pilgrims will be organised by the New South Wales Ecumenical Council on Sunday, 20 September. The event will take place in the grounds of St Mark’s National Theological Centre in a ‘tent of meeting’ that will recall the worship tent at the Canberra Assembly. The site is marked by three very tall poles, each carved and painted by an indigenous artist. The area, overlooking Lake Burley Griffin, is also the site for a proposed National Centre for Christianity and Culture.

Canberra 1991

It is not just in selected cities and large churches or cathedrals that the WCC will be remembered and prayed for. A WCC book of prayers, Praying Towards Harare, is available for all who wish to make their own spiritual journey from the time of the Jubilee Celebration on 20 September in Amsterdam to the end of the Eighth Assembly in Harare on 14 December. The Ecumenical Prayer Cycle provides a calendar of prayers for every country in the world. Praying Towards Harare contains the weekly cycle for September to December; by an appropriate coincidence, the host country for the Eighth Assembly, Zimbabwe, is one of those to be prayed for during the week in which the Assembly concludes.

The Eighth Assembly will set the priorities and policy for the work of the WCC into the 21st century. What it decides and what is subsequently done will in no small measure be dependent on the seriousness with which the churches pray for the ecumenical movement, and recommit themselves to the ecumenical vision to which God calls them at the beginning of a new millennium.

Information for editors and journalists

John Newbury is the Press and Information Officer of the World Council of Churches.

Other press contacts:
Geneva: Jean Fischer +41.22.756.21.61
Amsterdam: Henni Behs or Christine Hoogenkamp +31.33.463.38.44
Evanston: Randy Naylor or Carol Fouke +1.212.870.21.41
New Delhi: Rev. Dr Ipe Joseph +91.712.53.13.12
Uppsala: Gunnel Borgegaard +
Nairobi: Charlton Ochola +
Vancouver: Peter Wyatt or Iman Nashed +1.416.232.6070
Canberra: Ray Williamson +61.2.9299.2215

Photographs to accompany this article are available upon request. Use of the photographs is free when used with the article. Other use will attract the usual WCC fees.

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John Newbury
Press & Information Officer
P.O. Box 2100
1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland
Tel.: (+41 22) 791 6152/51
Fax: (+41 22) 798 1346
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