8th assembly/50th anniversary

Together on the Way
3.8. Report of the Programme Guidelines Committee

For which of you intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it. Otherwise, when he has laid the foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him saying, "This fellow began to build and was not able to finish." (Luke 14:28-30)
One of the tasks of the delegates of the assembly is to determine the overall policies of the World Council and to review programmes undertaken to implement policies previously adopted.1 The assembly is to review activities of the Council during the last seven years and set directions for the Council's activities in the future.

By what criteria is the past reviewed and future directions set? The Basis speaks of the World Council as a fellowship of churches... who seek to fulfill together their common calling.2 Towards a Common Understanding and Vision of the WCC sees this "common calling" as integrating the vision of John 17:21 ("that they may be one... so that the world may believe") with the vision of Ephesians 1:10 (God's "plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth").3 This "common calling" seeks the visible unity of the church for the reconciliation of the creation to God and with and to itself. With this renewed stress on the World Council as a fellowship of churches and as a servant of the one ecumenical movement the emphasis for the coming seven years might use the concept of "common" to determine its priorities -- common life in Christ, common witness and common concerns in the service of human need.

Click to the following sections ...

Hearings phase I

Hearings phase II Overall themes Methodologies

A framework and focus for the Council's future work


The process
The Programme Guidelines Committee did its work in two phases. The first phase reviewed the work undertaken by the four Units and the General Secretariat, evaluating what had been achieved and indicating what might continue in the next period. In the second phase the committee worked within the framework of the six Padare streams. The PGC members were in dialogue with the delegates, bringing initial suggestions for new areas of work and modifying them in the light of their further contributions. The Programme Guidelines Committee presents its report in the following terms as an instrument through which the assembly can determine the overall policies of the World Council for the coming seven years.


The PGC thanks the staff of the WCC for all their efforts in presenting the work of the four units and the General Secretariat in this first phase of the hearings. In the circumstances of much reduced staffing levels and major financial constraints, what was achieved -- the quantity and the quality of the work which had been undertaken -- impressed us. Nevertheless, concern was expressed that the organizational changes which were introduced after Canberra had not always led to integration and cooperation, which had been one of its purposes. The reduction of staff members appeared to have affected some units more than others and this had had a detrimental affect on the way in which work could be undertaken.

There were a number of themes which were common to all the hearings.

How much work can be done?
In a Council where the staffing levels have been reduced by 45% since the last assembly there is a danger that the current staff are expected to continue the level of activity of a much larger group. The Programme Guidelines Committee heard that across the Council the reduction in staff has meant that some programmes which were mandated were never started and others were curtailed. The restructuring has caused some anxiety that good achievements and work which needed to continue might be lost. Some structure to alleviate these anxieties needs to be put in place immediately.

How will it be done?
The question to be asked in the case of each programme is, "What is the most appropriate and effective method to be employed?" The staff have considerable experience in using different methodologies: networking, collaborative working, large conferences and consultations, visits to member churches, publications, delegating work to regional groups. But there are many new ways of working. The dominant method used by the Council has been that of consultations and staff members travelling the world. Perhaps this is not the best method in view of decreased resources to accomplish the Council's mandate.

Who will do it?
The publication From Canberra to Harare said, "... the WCC cannot do everything, but it also need not and should not try to do everything". It is salutary to remember that the good is often the enemy of the best. It may be that there are tasks which only the WCC can undertake. Two examples might be the Programme to Combat Racism and the Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry document. But on the basis of the principle of subsidiarity the questions the assembly and subsequently the Council need to ask are first, "What should be done by the WCC?" and then, "What should be done locally?", "What should be done by other ecumenical bodies?" and "What should be done by Christian world communions?"

The WCC has a special service to offer the one ecumenical movement. It must find partners, work with them and encourage cooperation wherever this is possible, directly asking other ecumenical organizations, study institutes, Christian world communions and the churches themselves if they will undertake work on behalf of the one ecumenical movement.

Who will receive it?
It is clear that a great deal of good work has been undertaken by the WCC, but much of it is neither known nor used by church leaders and grassroots Christians. In the light of the CUV process the ownership of programmes must be shared by the churches and rooted in their life.


The Office of Church and Ecumenical Relations (OCER) was created after the Canberra assembly. Its mandate was to deepen the fellowship and mutual accountability between the member churches, and to widen the relationship with non-member churches and organizations. The potential scope of OCER's work in expanding the relationships of the WCC far exceeds this office's limited staff capacity. What the past period proves decisively is the essential need of such a function. The WCC's work "Towards a Common Understanding and Vision", the place given to the participation of the Orthodox churches in the life of the Council, growing expectations from Pentecostal, Evangelical and newly formed churches, new initiatives in the Joint Working Group with the Roman Catholic Church, and potential development of the Forum, all point to the need for dramatically heightened capacities in this office in the period following Harare.

The Office of Inter-Religious Relations (OIRR) was added to the General Secretariat after Canberra, with the intention of shifting work in this area from dialogue to fostering inter-religious relationships. Work on the "religious dimensions of conflicts", included in the past mandate, deserves stronger attention. OIRR should have a primary focus in helping member churches who find themselves confronted increasingly with the theological, missiological and political challenges of living in situations of religious pluralism. Finally, this work should not be the task of an isolated office but be done in an interactive manner in the new structures.

The Ecumenical Institute at Bossey was relocated from Unit I to the General Secretariat four years after the Canberra assembly. It has recently evidenced a revitalized commitment in its task of ecumenical formation, despite periods of financial uncertainty. In the coming period the Institute needs to strengthen links with its enthusiastic alumni, expanding programmes for the laity, building links with other institutes of ecumenical formation and exploring creative ways for offering its rich learning resources at locations around the world. It is even more important at the present time to develop ecumenical formation and inspiration for church leaders, seminary professors and others as well as to give attention to methods of ecumenical dialogue. These insights need to be shared continuously within the wider life of the WCC.

The Office of Communication carried out its essential tasks in the period since Canberra with a reduced staff and expanding technological expectations for its work. The establishment of ENI has been particularly effective in providing a semi-autonomous, reliable source of ecumenical news throughout the world. Questions remain about the role of printed versus electronic communication methods, while the wide diversity of needs in member churches should not be forgotten. A priority for the coming period will be the clear implementation of an integrated communication strategy and process throughout the Council.


The unit's mandate, a mandate shared in part by other units, was to assist the churches in their process of renewal and reconciliation, and to work towards the visible unity of the church. This is undertaken through theological dialogue and reflection, ecumenical theological education, inclusive lay participation, and worship and spirituality. The hearing affirmed that the passion for visible unity must be at the centre of the churches' life together, and this work will need to be given strong programmatic expression within WCC also in the future.

The work has been conducted in four streams.

Faith and Order must continue working to improve regional participation and collaboration with other programme units, and have a much stronger focus on the reception process as an integral part of its work style and approach. There was a strong affirmation of the work on ecumenical hermeneutics and of the need for this to be pursued. The text on the "Nature and Purpose of the Church" was at a preliminary stage and had yet to come to maturity. The mandate from Evian indicated that Faith and Order should undertake a study on "Ethnicity, Nationalism and the Unity of the Church". This has just been initiated and is at a very preliminary stage.

Lay Participation towards Inclusive Community: This theme has a potential to renew local congregations in mission and to provide bridges to other programmatic activities of the WCC as well as to engage in partnerships with movements and organizations outside the WCC. This stream witnessed to the resource that is available to the church and the ecumenical movement through people who are already in lay ministries, and in consequence to the need to support churches and movements in their efforts to empower and train lay people for such ministry.

Inclusion and visibility are recognized as spiritual issues. While the concerns of people with disabilities were administratively located in this stream (as Youth was based in Unit III), these concerns are pertinent to the life of the churches as a whole, in order that the body of Christ can reach its full expression, and are thus to be found across the Council.

Ecumenical Theological Education: This stream emphasized the need for contextualization and networking and the viability and strategic relevance of ecumenical theological education, both for ordained and lay. It has facilitated inter-regional exchange and enabled access to resources. Wherever this work is placed in the future it will be important to maintain its regional orientation while addressing the key themes and standards of theological education on a world level. It was clear that theological training institutions needed to be encouraged to be ecumenically open and inclusive and to do theology in a holistic manner for the renewal of the mission and ministry of the church and its ecumenical well-being.

Worship and Spirituality: Common worship is the most visible expression of ecumenism and represents a powerful tool to create inclusive community and help communicate the spiritual richness of different traditions, cultures and contexts. There is a hunger for spirituality, which makes this work a priority for our time, and the interlinkage between spirituality and worship is essential. The work done in producing publications of liturgies and hymns drawing on resources outside the WCC is effective. The initiative taken in preparing for a common date of Easter has been commended to the churches.


The unit's mandate was to energize and equip churches for their role in the mission of God, supporting and encouraging the work of the churches, through its roles in networking, monitoring and calling the churches to accountability.

Mission: Widespread concern for the future of mission in the WCC was expressed, especially in view of the new structures. The IMC tradition needs to be maintained. Mission should be kept at the centre of the ecumenical movement, and must be held together with the concern for unity.

In particular the mission statement now in process should be completed; a follow-up should be undertaken to the Gospel and Cultures study and the Salvador conference (particularly in the area of developing hermeneutical methodologies for studying cultures and the gospel); and continued attention should be given to indigenous people's experience and the issues they raise, as well as to developing new and effective methods for witnessing in secular societies.

Proselytism still causes pain and is a problem which extends far beyond the former communist countries, and which affects many more churches than just the Orthodox. One person's proselytism is another's evangelism, and the Council's condemnation has not deterred those who engage in this behaviour. The churches should focus their attention on building up their own faith and mission so that they can make a positive, appealing and credible witness to the people, for which the WCC may be able to provide resources.

The mandated study on the theological significance of other faiths did not take place. This was a case where the restructuring undertaken after Canberra was not effective. The Programme Guidelines Committee noted the comments brought from the hearing of the General Secretariat and the proposed changes in the Council's Constitution which together point to the need to focus and consolidate this work.

Health: The mission of God includes healing in its broadest sense. While work in this area was curtailed, the Programme Guidelines Committee noted the crucial importance of HIV/AIDS work and commended the impressive efforts to date in urging the churches to address this issue and equipping them for reflection and action.

Education will continue to be a concern of the WCC with a goal of equipping the churches for mission in a pluralist context. Flexible strategies are needed when dealing with different parts of the world which are undergoing rapid change in various ways.

Urban Rural Ministry (URM) has emphasized the church's presence with the marginalized and vulnerable. This lies at the heart of what it means to be church and should pose a greater challenge to middle-class churches which as yet appear untouched by it.


The unit's mandate was to continue the work on Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation (JPIC). In 1995 the unit identified the five programmatic themes around which it undertook its work (Assembly Workbook, p.57ff.). The Programme Guidelines Committee noted with approval that the Unit had endeavoured to simplify and integrate specific programmes within a larger framework following the restructuring.

Theological grounding: In each of the programmatic areas the need was seen for clearly articulating the theological impulse undergirding moral action. This has begun in the "Ecclesiology and Ethics" studies, in cooperation with Unit I, as well as through the "Theology of Life".

Working style: The necessity for the unit and the WCC to shift towards networking as a major way of addressing programmatic priorities was a continuing theme. The unit has expanded and experimented with its networking efforts. In each of the programme areas studies have already been done or are available from other sources, but resources that distill and synthesize current materials in a clear and unjargoned style are needed. Such materials would complement the networking efforts.

In addition to specific programmes the unit has spent a great deal of effort at adopting new ways of working, including sokoni (Assembly Workbook, p.58). The intention is to create a space and method conducive to open participation and it has proved successful when adequately prepared.

Programmatic areas
All the programmatic areas were strongly supported. Major areas of concern have been:

Violence: An emphasis for the future was the need to broaden the definitions of the forms of violence. There was a clear call for an exploration of the relationship between issues of violence and programmes for disarmament. It is already clear that the Ecumenical Decade of the Churches in Solidarity with Women further expanded this area of work by noting the need to name and face the violence against women found within the church and society.

Racism: As with violence there was an emphasis placed on the need to take account of past definitions as well as to broaden the definitions of racism and ethnicity and to continue to give a high priority to this work in the future. It was clear from the hearing that there was an inter-relationship between racism and violence which would need to be taken into account in any future work.

Environment and the economy: The Programme Guidelines Committee heard the need to explore the relationship between the environment and the economy. Here the process of globalization was seen as a major organizing principle around which to address these concerns.

International affairs: The major comments regarding international relations centred on using existing local, regional and international networks and in particular the United Nations to educate and mobilize people on these issues.

Work with women, youth and Indigenous Peoples was recognized as significantly more than programmatic work. It is essential to the life of the member churches and the WCC. This work was successful in giving voice and visibility to these groups both within the Council itself and in many of the member churches. While these programme areas have been integrated into Unit III, it has been difficult to integrate them fully into the work of the whole WCC.

The accomplishments of the Ecumenical Decade of the Churches in Solidarity with Women were celebrated and commended. The plenary and the Unit III hearing pointed to the need to continue work on racism, economic justice, participation within the church and, as already noted, violence against women.

There will be a continuing need for work with and programmes associated with Indigenous Peoples which were noted and valued.

Work with young people needs to be significantly strengthened. The importance of ecumenical formation, particularly internships, stewards programme and pre-meeting orientations, was stressed. This work will be best undertaken in concert with greater participation in decision-making bodies by young people.


This unit's mandate was to assist member churches and related ecumenical agencies and organizations to promote human dignity and sustainable community with the marginalized and excluded. In this way the diaconal work of the WCC is facilitated. The theological and methodological underpinnings of this work as well as the challenges and learnings were explored in the hearing. The specific ways in which Unit IV carried out its mandate can be found in the Assembly Workbook, pp. 79-82, which develop the concept of Jubilee. In particular the unit used the models of the round table, regional desks, the creation of global networks (particularly of children and uprooted peoples) and advocacy.

The Programme Guidelines Committee heard special emphasis placed upon three pieces of reflective work which needed to be undertaken in the future.

  1. a more detailed analysis of the root causes of many of the problems which result in marginalization and exclusion, in particular issues relating to power and globalization;
  2. A theological exploration of diakonia as a visible sign of unity, as part of the Council's commitment to the visible unity of the church;
  3. the meaning of "just sharing" in different contexts (North, South, Indigenous Peoples' spirituality).
Lastly the churches were challenged to reflect upon their roles as "giver" and "receiver"', and on their call to take up more strongly the work of diakonia through mutual and just ecumenical sharing, fostering people-to-people encounters, witnessing to the unity of the church.

As in other units, the concern for the marginalized was expressed in the hope that ways of capacity-building would be explored so that the process of diaconal work would not further marginalize those already on the margins but lead to a holistic understanding of the churches' witness.

A transition
The WCC is faced with the essential challenge of developing the fellowship and mutual accountability of its member churches, as underscored in Towards a Common Understanding and Vision. Further, it must seek ways to widen this fellowship in the service of the one ecumenical movement. Focused attention on these goals is an over-riding priority which must be established before determining the importance of various programmes.


Following the completion of the first phase of the hearings, members of the Programme Guidelines Committee divided into six groups. The members of each group attended Padare offerings in one of the six streams. On that basis they served as a team of animators for the corresponding stream in the second phase of hearings.

Understandably, the issues raised and topics discussed in the three sessions of each of these hearings ranged widely. Under the rubrics of Justice and Peace, Unity and Spirituality, Moving Together, Education and Learning, Mission and Witness, and Solidarity (with each of these Padare streams further subdivided into several issues), participants brought to the sessions not only impressions and insights from the Padare offerings they attended, but also the background of their own church contexts, ecumenical experiences and convictions.

The members of the Programme Guidelines Committee in each hearing took careful note of what was being said. They raised occasional questions for clarification in response to interventions from the participants, as well as offering a provisional synthesis of what they were hearing. However, there was no intention of preparing a report to be adopted or agreed by the hearing itself. Each set of hearings thus surfaced many issues and themes of current ecumenical concern and elicited helpful insights into how the WCC can and should work. But none of the hearings -- each with its own subject area -- could by itself specify overall priorities for the work of the WCC in the coming years nor even offer a comprehensive listing of all important ecumenical concerns and potential concerns in the area it dealt with.

Each group made an oral summary of the key results of its hearing to the whole Programme Guidelines Committee. Reports being prepared by other assembly committees were scanned for any implications regarding policies for future WCC activities. On this basis, a number of overall themes for the Council's work in the years ahead were identified. While it is these overall themes which form the substance of this report, the Programme Guidelines Committee judged it worthwhile to include here brief summary reports of each of the six phase II hearings.

1. Unity and spirituality
The goal of the ecumenical movement is for all to gather at the common eucharistic table. Our theology is formed by the intertwining of ecumenical hermeneutics, worship, spirituality, study of ecclesiology and ethics.

It has long been recognized that prayer and theological principles have added depth to our lives as we have shared resources between and among churches. Recent ecumenical work by Faith and Order on the church as koinonia should be deepened with an investigation of the rich varieties of Christian spirituality found in the church worldwide. The indigenous spirituality being expressed in many places around the world can be a contribution to this work.

The work of Faith and Order is able to present the churches and the World Council of Churches with important ecumenical challenges, and a solid theological base for common efforts towards visible unity, joint mission, and inclusive service. This work will benefit from and contribute to other programmatic work within the World Council of Churches in particular, the work on worship and spirituality, and on the theological foundation of the ecumenical engagement in action for solidarity, justice and peace.

As we stand at the dawn of a new millennium, one of the most significant tasks for the churches will be to address the contemporary ethical issues growing out of the enormous advances in fields such as genetic engineering and electronic communication. Issues of personal and interpersonal ethics must also be addressed. The WCC should offer space and direction for conversation and consultation enabling member churches to discuss these difficult issues -- including human sexuality -- which cause division within and among its member churches. This conversation must build on the shared theological and hermeneutical reflection that has informed earlier ecumenical ethical discussions on issues such as racism.

With the ecumenical map changing rapidly, the WCC must continue to encourage and support bilateral and multilateral discussion on local and regional levels, offering space for reflection, conversation and evaluation of progress and process for those actively on the road to unity.

2. Moving together
In their message, delegates to the WCC's first assembly in Amsterdam in 1948 declared: "We intend to stay together." A fitting pledge from the Harare assembly fifty years later would be: "We are committed to move together." In making this pledge, it should be understood and emphasized that this "we" describes an inclusive community.

Churches and ecumenical organizations at local and regional levels are increasingly finding new ways of living and working together. This ecumenical flexibility and creativity should be applauded; and the WCC should learn from these experiments, while continuing to draw attention to the obstacles which proselytism throws up to our moving together.

In order to move together, special attention needs to be given to bringing together regional ecumenical organizations (REOs), Christian World Communions (CWCs), funding agencies and ecumenically open groups and networks as ecumenical partners in the WCC family. The WCC should develop adequate mechanisms for improving its relationships and models of cooperation with these groups as it moves into a new internal structure of its own.

The current setback in the ecumenical movement may be largely attributed to the lack of mutual understanding and in-depth knowledge between churches and between historic traditions. One way of addressing this and of deepening our ecumenical fellowship could be interchurch visitations -- not primarily in the form of delegations sent from the WCC to the churches, but delegations from the churches, through the WCC, to one another.

The collaboration of the WCC with theological faculties and seminaries in every part of the world for both theological study, ministerial training and research is imperative. The mutual exchanges and partnerships which are already successfully going on among faculties in some parts of the world could fruitfully be extended, perhaps with the facilitation of the WCC; and the assistance of theological and other faculties in undertaking study projects on behalf of the WCC could be more systematically solicited. In view of the benefits in terms of mutual understanding and cooperation that have emerged from bilateral theological dialogues, the WCC should continue to encourage these for the benefit of the churches around the world.

The WCC should continue to explore the tremendous potential opened up by technological developments in the area of communication, while at the same time remaining attentive to the challenges posed by contemporary mass media, particularly in promoting consumerist values and in widening the gap between rich and poor, powerful and powerless.

The variety of ways in which the WCC has used the print media has made a significant contribution to communicating the ecumenical message; intensified attention must be given to the distribution of these materials, while taking into account the limitations imposed by language, level of treatment and cost.

The ecumenical potential of art, music and other forms of creative expression as a means of communication needs further exploration.

3. Justice and peace
The churches' work for justice and peace is rooted in a faith commitment, and aims to affirm and uphold equal rights and worth for all nations and people, sustainable and just development, the overcoming of violence and the enabling of full participation for all. Discrimination, human-rights violations, exclusion and failure to transform conflicts to peaceful solutions are closely interlinked.

Human rights are indivisible. Economic, social and cultural rights are intimately connected with civil and political rights. It is a gospel imperative for churches not only to recognize violations of rights but also to act when the gift of life and the sanctity and dignity of all in creation are violated. Churches must explore the root causes of human-rights violations and offer an analysis from the point of view of the victims. They must make visible the existing threats to the integrity of nature and to all of creation. They should engage together, and with peoples of other faiths, to contribute to the development of a global ethics that further applies human-rights commitments to an increasingly interconnected world community. Discrimination in all its forms is a violation of rights. In the face of the growing complexity of discrimination, the churches must recognize and expose its underlying mechanisms of exclusion and marginalization. Affirmation of the worth, identity and value of each person, irrespective of mental and physical abilities, through inclusion within the church fellowship is the only way to realize the full expression of the body of Christ. Structural and interpersonal discrimination on the basis of race still prevail in church and society, and new forms of racism are emerging.

Armed conflicts and violence constitute major violations of human rights and cause a massive degree of human suffering. The Christian response must comprise just peace-making, conflict transformation and reconciliation. The churches' engagement must be situation-specific, combining roles of advocacy, prophetic speaking and mediation. More effective and flexible linkages are needed between the local and the global, as well as more deliberate collaboration with churches outside the WCC fellowship and stronger emphasis on catalyzing and enabling interfaith responses.

The role of the church at all levels is therefore to engage in (1) monitoring and advocacy that identify and expose the causes of rights violations, discrimination and violence; (2) building constituencies of peace and reconciliation through enabling open and safe arenas for dialogue; (3) a spiritual and emotional presence and accompaniment that keep the horizon of reconciliation in view.

4. Education and learning
There is a critical need to develop educated clergy and lay people to strengthen and renew the ecumenical movement. Most effective for ecumenical work is the model of contextual education, using action and reflection for learning and allowing local, regional and international agendas to inform one another. Special emphasis should be given to ensuring the availability of ecumenical learning for women, indigenous people, people with disabilities and youth.

Among the promising models of ecumenical education is that of extension programmes offered by seminaries, lay centres and the Ecumenical Institute of Bossey, which increase the accessibility of education to people with limited resources of money and time. Particular needs for ecumenical education and training are also evident in the churches in Eastern and Central Europe. Funding available for scholarship programmes should be increased.

Recognizing the increasing religious plurality of the world in which the churches live and work, the WCC should include interfaith learning in its own educational work and encourage interfaith learning in the educational work of churches and lay centres, recognizing the integral link between this and interfaith dialogue.

Ecumenical formation and theological education must continue to be given high priority in the WCC's educational work. Networking, partnership and collaboration in programmes between the WCC, the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey and lay centres can strengthen the educational process. Seminary faculties in the regions should be provided resources to help them to promote ecumenical formation. The Council should facilitate the development of lay centres where none exist, especially in Eastern Europe and the Pacific.

There is a need to continue and deepen educational and ecumenical learning activities which can accompany and inform all the WCC's work in the area of justice, peace and creation. A particularly important example is the development of training and educational materials on the topics of family life and domestic violence; other issues include globalization, economics, civil society, the role of religion in nation-building and issues relating to disability.

5. Mission and witness
Mission and evangelism should be at the centre of the life of the churches and thus also of the work of the WCC. In this connection, three areas of concern emerge forcefully: (1) gospel and cultures (with a particular emphasis on the need to examine the relationship between the gospel and cultures in Africa and in the West); (2) mission and evangelism in secularized contemporary societies; (3) health and healing (with a particular emphasis on community based health care and HIV/AIDS). Because the WCC's most recent world conference on mission and evangelism (Salvador, Nov.-Dec. 1996) was convened just before the period of intensive preparations for the eighth assembly, it has not been possible to implement many of the suggestions for follow-up which emerged out of that conference. Consequently, a substantial agenda exists for WCC engagement in the area of mission and evangelism.

Among the areas of mission study and programmatic activity in which the WCC should be engaged in the coming years are: (1) examining and revising missionary methods; (2) building solidarity between churches in mission; (3) defining "new frontiers" in mission, including concerns for health and healing in collaboration with governmental and international organizations (e.g., UN AIDS); (4) exploring further the rootedness of the gospel in different cultures; (5) strengthening common witness and engaging in dialogue about proselytism; (6) the relationship between faith, healing and wholeness; (7) relations among mission agencies, churches and the WCC.

6. Solidarity
The development of a single global economic network, unrestrained by any framework of values upholding the common good of humanity, the dignity of all persons and the inherent value of God's creation, confronts the churches with a cluster of inter-related issues -- among them ecological threats, poverty, international debt, the plight of uprooted people, HIV/AIDS. At the heart of the churches' response to "globalization" is the call to "turn to God". Only then can they nurture a global vision and support alternative initiatives and models which can enable people to "rejoice in hope".

Calling the churches to unity beckons them to turn, in response to God's transforming love in Christ, to the world's suffering and need and to act together. The eradication of poverty through the building of sustainable communities is on the agenda of the WCC because it is rooted in God's agenda for the world. Faithfulness to God beckons the churches to embrace the world's globalized pain with the hope of a whole gospel for a whole world. Our ecumenical calling is a divine imperative for common witness in our one world.

This calling directs the churches to nurture the life of their own community, to deepen their commitment to community between one another as churches, and to hope, pray and work for a global community responsive to God's boundless love. To do this, a focused theological foundation is necessary. Earlier WCC work on the theology of life and on the theology of sharing and service must be developed further and integrated.

Since the Vancouver assembly, the WCC has undertaken sustained efforts to gather the churches' commitments to justice, peace and the integrity of creation. Since the Canberra assembly, that theme has integrated and focused the WCC's work in this area. It now speaks and acts with depth to the challenge of building sustainable communities. Work within this integrated framework needs to continue in the period ahead. Among examples which might be cited are climate change, earth ethics, trade, debt reduction and biotechnology. The time has also come to explore how the WCC's commitment to human rights and dignity can be built into a global framework of values capable of holding accountable the forces which shape the global economy.

Equally crucial to the WCC's witness has been its commitment to enable the churches in the sharing of their resources, expressing the shared love of God and building sustainable communities for the future. In the present global context the WCC should initiate a renewed commitment of the churches to ask from one another the costly commitments entailed in belonging together. Past work in sharing resources among churches has strengthened bonds of fellowship and also raised questions of practical ecclesiology. Likewise, the churches' engagement together for justice, peace and the integrity of creation sharpens ecclesiological issues which arise in the context of moral engagement. The work in ecclesiology and ethics has provided a crucial foundation. But in the next period the experience of koinonia and the churches' call to mission should add new, integrating chapters to the WCC's past work in ecclesiology and ethics.

How can churches share together their resources, commitments and lives for the sake of the world? A central task in the period ahead is to enable churches to respond faithfully to that challenge.

Overall themes
The revised Constitution of the WCC says: "The primary purpose of the fellowship of churches in the World Council of Churches is to call one another to visible unity in one faith and in one eucharistic fellowship, expressed in worship and common life in Christ, through witness and service to the world, and to advance towards that unity in order that the world may believe." The themes of visible unity, mission and evangelism, and service were affirmed time and time again in the hearings and the plenary sessions. It is inconceivable that this work should not continue. The Programme Guidelines Committee underlines the importance of the Council's continuing work in these areas.

From the reports of the six hearing groups - as well as from contributions and interventions during other sessions of the assembly - it is evident that a number of broad areas of concern merit intensified attention as the World Council of Churches seeks to "serve the one ecumenical movement" in the years ahead. All these issues are many-faceted and at many points they are interconnected. Thus the identification of these issues as priorities in what follows should not be seen as directly implying a single programmatic activity. Rather, these are areas of activity in which the WCC must exemplify the integrated style of work which is central to its new internal structure.

An ecumenism of the heart
The assembly theme beckoned us to "turn to God". The one ecumenical movement is not, first of all, about programmes, structures and cooperation. Rather, the foundation for all our ecumenical engagement is our response to God. It asks for nothing less than conversion of our hearts. Because ecumenism is directed towards God, and to the world so loved by God, worship and spirituality must take even deeper roots in the heart of all we do as the World Council of Churches. We recognize that this priority is not without pain and conflict. Yet the only sustaining path towards the heart of the unity we seek leads us together in worship, prayer and shared spiritual life.

The Council has said this before, following Vancouver and Canberra. But now we realize this is not just one "programme" among many. Rather, worship and spirituality are an essential "method" of our ecumenical journey. They shape and sustain our journey. Having experienced this again in Harare, we know this dimension can never be marginalized in the life of the Council. Instead, we must fully utilize the rich resources which are so capable of nurturing our conversion and response to God.

Inclusive community
At many points in the hearings process, it was affirmed that the role of women, youth, Indigenous People and people with disabilities in the life of the church is significantly more than programmatic work. For the first time an assembly of the WCC has received a letter from children; thus, the whole church was present in Harare in a deeper way than before. Particular attention should be given to ensuring that the work undertaken by the WCC with these marginalized groups is not lost in the transition between the unit structure of the past and the new team structure.

Many have said that work with youth is today significantly less visible and integral to the WCC than in past times. In order to move towards a vision of inclusive community and to ensure the future of the ecumenical movement, it is critical that significant work with youth on ecumenical formation and issues relevant to their future be undertaken.

The vision of an inclusive community which makes all feel welcome, ensures that all have a voice and gives the opportunity for individual gifts to be contributed to the life of the community needs to be strongly affirmed by the assembly.

In order to move towards this vision, the WCC must develop an agenda and methodology for building inclusive and reconciled communities which affirm the worth, identity, gifts and value of each person, so that a fuller expression of the body of Christ can be realized. Central to this is opening safe arenas for dialogue in which to listen and to deepen our shared understanding of the reality of exclusion and acting on it through repentance, reparation and reconciliation. This work should also address the question of reconciliation in contexts of religious intolerance which threaten minorities. The World Council of Churches should provide opportunity for the churches at the next assembly to mutually account for their follow up work to the Ecumenical Decade of the Churches in Solidarity with Women.

Non-violence and reconciliation
Truth, justice and peace together represent values basic to granting of human rights, inclusion and reconciliation. When these values are ignored, trust is replaced by fear and human power no longer serves the gift of life and the sanctity and dignity of all in creation.

Violence arising from various forms of human rights violations, discrimination and structural injustice represents a growing concern at all levels of an increasingly plural society. Racism combines with and aggravates other causes of exclusion and marginalization. Conflicts are becoming increasingly complex, located more often within nations than between nations. Women and children in conflict situations represent a special concern.

There is a need to bring together the work on gender and racism, human rights and transformation of conflict in ways that engage the churches in initiatives for reconciliation that build on repentance, truth, justice, reparation and forgiveness.

The Council should work strategically with the churches on these issues to create a culture of non-violence, linking and interacting with other international partners and organizations, and examining and developing appropriate approaches to conflict transformation and just peace-making in the newglobalized context.

Therefore, the WCC proclaims the period 2000-2010 as an Ecumenical Decade to Overcome Violence.

Human sexuality
In plenary sessions, Padare streams and the hearings the issue of human sexuality has emerged as an important issue which faces the churches. It is clear that issues surrounding the understanding of human sexuality have divided and continue to divide some churches.

An ecumenical approach to issues of human sexuality would need to take into account Christian anthropology, a hermeneutic which could draw out the biblical witness, the relationship between ethics and culture, undertaken in a way which would allow sufficient space for Christian women and men to explore the issues while creating and deepening mutual trust.

WCC study of and dialogue on the theological, social and cultural aspects of human sexuality will benefit from work done since the Canberra assembly on ecclesiology and ethics, and could be framed within the perspectives unfolded in the Joint Working Group document "The Ecumenical Dialogue on Moral Issues: Potential Sources of Common Witness or Divisions" (1996).

The term "globalization", widely used in recent years, has often been heard during this assembly. As the CUV document indicates (paras 1.8, 2.9), "the emergence... of transnational and increasingly worldwide structures of communication, finance and economy has created a particular kind of global unity", whose cost is "growing fragmentation for societies and exclusion for more and more of the human family... This constitutes a serious threat to the integrity of the ecumenical movement, whose organizational forms represent a distinctly different model of relationships, based on solidarity and sharing, mutual accountability and empowerment."

Understood in this sense, the challenge of globalization to the churches must be seen first and foremost as a theological and spiritual challenge. The love of God, expressed fully in Christ, reveals a vision of fullness of life for all; the emerging global economy projects a vision of limitless material gratification for those who can afford it. Thus, churches are called to witness to and embody God's intention for the world in the face of growing globalization and the values which underlie it.

The WCC as a global fellowship has unique perspectives on the basis of which it can assist churches in confronting this challenge. For many years, it has played a vital role in establishing networks of ecumenical groups and organizations committed to the goals of justice, sharing and the building of sustainable community. Out of this experience it can support the increasingly critical work of articulating alternative models which demonstrate the path of sustainability. It can draw on the wide resources of its member churches and ecumenical partners in order to bring together and strengthen the churches' witness on critical issues on the international political, social, economic and cultural agenda. It can expand its efforts to encourage member churches to deepen their knowledge and awareness of one another's life and witness around the oikoumene, and to enable them better to maintain the links between their own local concerns and global realities. It can build relations with partners of other faiths to explore how commitments to human rights and dignity can be built into a global framework of values.

While the term "globalization" is often used ambiguously and while many of the features of the process characterized as "globalization" are ambivalent, it is evident that the elements of the new global context which the term describes require concentrated attention from the WCC in the coming years.

The Council is invited to take an ecumenical approach to globalization in a perspective that identifies and links together issues and brings out the biblical imperatives. International and national governance, consumption and production patterns, financial systems and trade, and the impact of these on national debt and peoples' rights to land and sustainable livelihood should receive particular attention.

Debt cancellation
In many countries of the North there has been a mounting campaign to urge the cancellation of unpayable debt. In the Africa plenary in particular but at many other moments of this assembly there have been calls for the fellowship of member churches, church-related institutions and social movements to give high priority to work towards ensuring the possibility of the cancellation of debts which bring a heavy burden on those countries which can least afford such a drain on their resources. The WCC should develop an action plan on debt cancellation which takes into consideration the complexity of the issue so that such a release from debt will ensure release from poverty for the citizens of such countries.

There will need to be a further phase which will not only look at the restitution of social and ecological debts but also at the development of patterns of trade agreements on a global scale in which the concept of justice and equity is in the fore.

Along with such a programme the Policy Reference Committee II recommended that work already begun through the Reconstructing Africa programme of dialogue and study, with an emphasis on capacity-building and information-sharing, be further developed in order that Africa can make its unique contribution to the ecumenical movement.

As has been noted in the introduction, the Council has limited financial and staff resources with which to undertake the mandate for its future work. Consequently there have been many suggestions about the methods which the Council could use in the next period. The CUV document suggests the shared responsibility of member churches, networks and related organizations towards carrying out programmes and activities.

In every stream in the hearings there was a call for taking seriously the need to build theological and biblical foundations for programmes. This will require close working relationships and shared responsibilities across teams, with Faith and Order particularly involved with others.

It is clear that with the development of information technology, new and exciting and even cost-effective ways of carrying out programmatic relationships are available through electronic mail, the Internet and the World Wide Web. Enhanced also will be the traditional methods of working through advocacy, networking at regional and global levels and information-sharing. Significant recently have been new patterns developed which have their origins in non-Western cultures such as the sokoni in Africa, which, when carefully prepared, has produced exciting results.

One sadness has been the reminder that receiving the work undertaken by the Council into the life of the local church has been at best patchy and all too often invisible. In this next period if resources are to be used effectively more time and imagination will have to be given to creating new ways by which the Council's work can affect the life of the member churches.

The WCC needs to expand the following roles for future work:

  • to serve as a shared platform for advocacy and making the voices of the churches heard in relation to the international mechanisms and constituencies that are actors on the global arena;
  • to serve as a catalyst for building coalitions with other constituencies and for sharing interpretation and joint action with other faith communities;
  • to serve as an enabler through linking local and regional churches as appropriate, and bringing parties around the table;
  • to be a focal point for information-sharing, networking and watch functions;
  • to accompany churches and to mediate in situations of urgent need.
To this end the WCC should also engage in self-study and analysis of its own work styles and methodologies.

A framework and focus for the Council's future work
The Common Understanding and Vision process calls the World Council of Churches decisively to deepen, as well as broaden, the fellowship which we share as churches. Our witness and service in the world, now needed ever more urgently, depend upon strengthening spiritually our bonds of commitment and accountability. We must, as we have promised at Harare, "build together".

To do so, in the period following the eighth assembly and as we enter the 21st century, the WCC's fellowship must directly engage each member church around four questions central to the purposes of the World Council of Churches.

  • How do we as churches engage together in mission and evangelism in the midst of a highly pluralistic world?
  • How do we understand baptism as a foundation for the life in community to which we are called to share together?
  • How do we offer together our resources, witness and action for the sake of the world's very future?
  • How do we walk together on the path towards visible unity?
Before we meet again in assembly, the life of each member church must be addressed ecumenically with these four questions. Our shared responses will build our common life and empower our witness in the world. No task is more important than this. All the WCC's work should be focused by these four concerns.

This can only be done through fundamentally changing the style of the WCC's work in the next period, building on new values and methods. As our general secretary stated, we dare not return home from Harare and "do ecumenical business as usual". Rather, we commit our churches, and direct our shared life in the WCC, to engage ourselves deeply, imaginatively and accountably in this common calling. Then the heart of our ecumenical commitment will guide us to God's future.

Presented in this report are both the programmatic content and a framework for focusing and directing the future activities of the Council in the next period. The PGC was not able fully to integrate this programmatic content into the proposed framework: therefore, we recommend that a small working group continue this task in preparation for the meeting of the central committee in August 1999.

Background documents

  1. Text of the Children's Letter
  2. Notes taken in phases I and II of the hearings and the six Padare streams
  3. Original reports from the hearings in phases I and II
  4. Public Issues Committee reports
  5. Policy Reference Committee II report
  6. WCC Action Plan on Debt Cancellation
  7. Letter from the Decade Festival, "From Solidarity to Accountability"
Materials submitted by individual delegates and not integrated into the report will be acknowledged in the follow-up process.

  1. WCC Constitution, V.1.c.3
  2. WCC Constitution, I.
  3. CUV Document, para 2.5.

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