world council of churches

Eighth Assembly
Hearing on the General Secretariat

Annotated Agenda

The hearings on the general secretariat focus on areas of activity that assist the general secretary in ensuring "a pattern of collaboration and integrity in the work of the Council as a whole": the Ecumenical Institute, Bossey, and the offices for Church and Ecumenical Relations, Inter-Religious Relations, Communication, and Finance and Administration (including Income Coordination and Development). Because three sessions is a short time to review and assess the work of these offices, participants in this hearing are urged to read carefully the relevant sections in the report From Canberra to Harare and in this Workbook.

"The acid test' for all of the work of the WCC is its relevance to its member churches around the world. Is it meeting their needs? Does it match their expectations? Above all, does it enable, encourage and, if necessary, push them to take seriously the vocation they have acknowledged to work together for the unity of Christ's church?"(From Canberra to Harare, p.1). This is the common thread that integrates the work presented in this set of hearings and it is the ultimate measure by which to assess the activities, events and programmes. Participants should consider three basic questions as they read the material and hear the presentations: (1) What has been the mandate for this area of work during this period? (2) How was the WCC structured and resourced to carry out the work? (3) What have been the strengths and weaknesses of the work which give directions for future work in these areas?

Moderator: Bishop Dr Zacharias Mar Theophilus, Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar, India;
Vice-Moderator, Ms Beatrice Odonkor, Presbyterian Church of Ghana

Session I

  1. Welcome and introductions: Zacharias Mar Theophilus.
  2. Overview of these hearings and their purpose: Beatrice Odonkor.
  3. Overall introduction to the work of the offices connected with the general secretariat by Rev. Robert Welsh.
  4. Brief summary of the work of the Ecumenical Institute, Bossey, by Robert Welsh and two students from the Graduate School of Ecumenical Studies. This will be followed by questions and discussion, focused on the importance to WCC member churches and ecumenical partners of raising a new generation of ecumenical leaders and on how the programmes of the Ecumenical Institute can be of service to the churches in educating their laity and clergy.
Session II
  1. Highlights of the work of the Office of Church and Ecumenical Relations presented by Prof. Dr Reinhard Frieling. Members of the Programme Guidelines Committee will then ask questions related to the introduction and the summary report in the Assembly Workbook, after which the moderator will open the discussion for questions and contributions from the floor.
  2. Brief presentation by Bishop Biörn Fjärstedt of the work of the Office of Inter-Religious Relations, followed by questions and discussion, focusing especially on the relevance of this work to WCC member churches and ecumenical partners and engaging the guests of other faiths present at the assembly.
Session III
  1. Brief presentation by Mr Mike Wooldridge of the work of the Office of Communication, followed by questions and discussion, focusing especially on the relevance of ecumenical communication work to WCC member churches and ecumenical partners.
  2. Brief presentation of the financial situation of the World Council of Churches by Ms Birgitta Rantakari and of plans for income development by Rev. Dr J. Oscar McCloud.
  3. Concluding discussion animated by members of the Programme Guidelines Committee subgroup.

Office of Church and Ecumenical Relations

The mandate of the Office of Church and Ecumenical Relations (OCER), approved by the Central Committee in 1991, is:

a. To assist the general secretary and programme units of the Council with the development, coordination and monitoring of relationships with member churches in cooperation with the regional task forces and area desks;
b. To facilitate the work of the Joint Working Group and to further relationships with the Roman Catholic Church;
c. To facilitate and develop relationships with Regional Ecumenical Organizations, national councils of churches and Christian world communions in consultation and cooperation with others in the WCC;
d. To establish, monitor and coordinate relationships with other ecumenical organizations like the WSCF, YMCA, YWCA and others;
e. To promote relationships with churches that are not members of the WCC;
f. To develop and strengthen relationships with evangelicals, evangelical organizations and charismatic movements;
g. To advise the general secretary on actions of a regional/pastoral nature with regard to the member churches and affiliated councils and to coordinate implementation of such actions when required;
h. To facilitate in-house coordination and cooperation with regional task forces, the travel group, the Orthodox task force, the task force on WCC/RCC relations, on relations with evangelicals, etc.

A brief record of activities

Building the fellowship
The concern for the quality of the WCC fellowship as expressed in relationships with and among member churches is the raison d'être of the office. It is also its most difficult task, given the number of member churches and the great variety of local situations.

Member churches. Relationships with member churches have been nurtured and strengthened through staff visits, ecumenical team visits (initiated by OCER or in cooperation with others), receiving church delegations visiting the WCC and responding to invitations. Particular efforts were made to express solidarity with churches in conflict situations. Two parts of the constituency were given special attention: Orthodox churches, through the assignment of one of the two executive staff in Geneva, and member churches in the USA through the US Office.

Local ecumenism. In some cases the office was involved in promoting relationships among churches in a local situation (e.g. Romania, Bulgaria, Democratic Republic of Congo).

Ecumenical officers. A start was made with building up a network of ecumenical officers of the member churches. Two meetings were organized bringing together ecumenical officers and beginning with them a common reflection process on ways of collaboration.

New member churches. From the time the office was set up it became responsible for processing membership applications. Thirteen churches were received into WCC membership during this period, two associate member churches became full members and one united church took on the membership of one of its constituents.

The meaning of membership. The criteria for membership were reviewed and the proposed changes to the Rules were approved by the Central Committee. OCER was instrumental in developing a policy paper on the "Meaning of Membership", which was received by the Central Committee.

The Roman Catholic Church
Beyond the circle of member churches, the RCC is in a sense the most immediate partner of the WCC. From the beginning relations with the RCC have been a major responsibility and concern of OCER.

Joint Working Group (JWG). The office assumed the co-secretariat on behalf of the WCC. The JWG served as a place for intensive discussions and reflection on common concerns stimulated by important documents from both sides (e.g. papal encyclicals, Directory on Ecumenism, "Towards a Common Understanding and Vision of the WCC"). Three study documents, on "Ecumenical Formation", "Common Witness and Proselytism" and "Ecumenical Dialogue on Moral Issues", were finalized. A major item of discussion and cooperation was the preparation for celebrations to mark the year 2000.

Relations at local level. Despite the efforts of the JWG the possibilities of influencing local ecumenical relations remained limited. The growing participation of the RCC in national councils of churches and Regional Ecumenical Organizations is a new entry point which requires careful study.

Councils of churches
Almost all WCC member churches are also members of NCCs and REOs. The office has seen it as one of its main tasks to promote joint reflection on the inter-relatedness of NCCs, REOs and the WCC and their respective roles in the one ecumenical movement.

National councils of churches/national Christian councils. OCER was closely involved in the planning, implementation and follow-up of the Third International Consultation of NCCs, in February 1993 in Hong Kong. The place and role of NCCs in the ecumenical movement was the subject of a plenary session on local ecumenism at the meeting of the Central Committee in 1994. Meetings of representatives of NCCs attending Central Committee were organized regularly. Contacts with NCCs were maintained through occasional mailings and visits where possible. Three NCCs were received as associate councils of the WCC.

Regional ecumenical organizations. A paper on "Guiding Principles for Relationships and Cooperation between the REOs and the WCC" was finalized by the group of REO general secretaries and OCER in 1992 and approved by the Central Committee. From 1992 onwards OCER became involved in the annual meetings of the REO general secretaries group, and since 1994 it has been providing some administrative assistance. At the request of the general secretary the office organized a series of meetings between the WCC and each of the REOs to discuss relationships and cooperation more specifically in the context of its region. This process has resulted in the formation of small "joint working groups" with three of the REOs, to explore new models of cooperation; similar efforts with other REOs will probably follow.

New trends. Two developments have marked the nature and self-understanding of councils of churches in recent years: the increasing participation of the RCC nationally and regionally, and the search for new models. To stimulate reflection in this area OCER produced papers on "Major Trends in NCCs" and "Models of Councils" which were widely shared and discussed.

Christian world communions (CWCs)
Historically the Council has enjoyed a close relationship with some of the world confessional bodies, whereas with others the contacts are less intensive. In this area also OCER has perceived its main task to be one of stimulating common reflection and facilitating new forms of relationships.

Annual conference of CWCs. The office has coordinated WCC participation in the annual meetings of CWC general secretaries. Among the issues discussed has been the question of CWCs' input in WCC policy-making, which requires further consideration in the context of the Common Understanding and Vision (CUV) process.

The Year 2000. Nobody had foreseen that this would become an item on OCER's agenda. It emerged mainly from the relationships with the RCC and the CWCs. The office facilitated contacts and discussions and organized two informal meetings with CWCs and other ecumenical partners to offer a space for ecumenical consultation across a wide spectrum of partners.

Other ecumenical organizations
The office has maintained ongoing relationships with a number of international ecumenical bodies. As part of the review of criteria for membership, a new Rule on International Ecumenical Organizations was drafted and approved, offering the possibility for these bodies to be officially recognized as organizations in working relationship with the WCC.

Evangelical, Pentecostal and Independent churches
The first meeting of the Advisory Group (1992) gave a certain priority to developing relationships with churches and organizations belonging to the evangelical and Pentecostal traditions. The office initiated several actions and facilitated contacts with the evangelical world on behalf of the WCC.

Consultations. Several consultations bringing together participants from evangelical, Pentecostal or Independent churches not belonging to the WCC with representatives of WCC member churches were held in various regions.

Orthodox-evangelical dialogue. At the request of a small group of Central Committee members the office took responsibility for organizing two consultations between representatives of Orthodox and evangelical churches and traditions within the membership of the Council.

Other contacts. Visits were made to evangelical, Pentecostal and Holiness churches in various countries as part of the overall effort to widen the circle of relationships. Existing relations with international evangelical organizations were strengthened through visits, regular contacts and representation at major events.

Joint working group. An agreement was reached with representatives of Pentecostal communities to set up a joint WCC-Pentecostal working group in the period following the assembly.

Internal coordination and cooperation
Since OCER came into being after the 1991 restructuring, establishing coordination and cooperation with other WCC units and offices and with staff task forces has been a priority for the office. Meetings were held with units and some of the task forces to work out a mutual understanding of tasks and ways of consultation. In the day-to-day practice of the work there were many instances of effective collaboration (e.g. in team visits, meetings, consultations) and also examples of failure.

Visitors service
The reception of groups, delegations and individuals visiting the WCC and the Ecumenical Centre left much to be desired in the past. OCER was asked to be responsible for this aspect of the Council's relationships. No satisfactory solution was found until it became possible in 1996 to make it the main assignment of a staff person and establish a Visitors Service. For the work of OCER the visits of delegations from member and non-member churches are important. Their number is increasing and they provide useful opportunities for exposure and contact.

The office spent considerable time and resources publishing reports of consultations and meetings, and writing articles related to various aspects of its work. These are virtually the only means of making its activities known and of communicating with the constituency. The US Office publishes a regular newsletter called the Courier.

Common Understanding and Vision
OCER has been closely involved in the CUV process. It contributed to the drafting of the working document and offered its reflections concerning the implications of CUV for the internal structure of the Council. More importantly, the work of OCER is increasingly conceived within the framework and in the perspective of CUV. For instance, OCER raised the question whether the REOs and the WCC could engage together in a fundamental reflection on a new configuration of the regional and global ecumenical structures. It underscored the issue of the involvement of CWCs in the WCC's policy-making processes. Information-sharing and discussion in the JWG contributed to preparing the way for the response to CUV from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

Elements of an evaluation

Measured against the mandate
On the whole it would seem fair to say that OCER fulfilled the mandate it was given. However a critical look does reveal some weak points.

Relations with member churches. The intention to monitor and document the relationships with each member church (its participation in WCC activities, visits, representation in governing bodies, etc.) was not implemented. Such monitoring would have made it possible to identify "passive" and forgotten members of the fellowship and to organize intentional visitation to draw them in. Only in a few cases were such visits made (e.g. to Malaysia and the Democratic Republic of Congo).

Since OCER's role is to assist the general secretary and the Council as a whole in maintaining and nurturing relationships with the constituency, the visits of the general secretary to member churches and programmes like the Decade team visits constitute important opportunities for the office to carry out its task. While involved in some of these visits, OCER could have contributed more to them.

The office only partially fulfilled its role of giving attention to churches dealing with internal problems, living in situations of socio-political conflict or having difficulty staying in the fellowship. Some actions that were initiated were not carried through. While reasons for these shortcomings (e.g. lack of time and resources) could easily be given, it is basically a question of priorities.

OCER probably did not grasp fully the depth of the anti-ecumenical sentiments among the Orthodox churches, especially in Central and Eastern Europe, and the urgent need to devote much more time and resources to assisting and accompanying these churches. It was not alone in this regard, but that is not an excuse.

In-house coordination. OCER's most difficult problem was to avoid becoming one more office, in juxtaposition to existing structures, with an agenda of its own. However this was what happened, largely due to the persistent distinction between relationships and programmes and the difficulty of acting on behalf of staff task forces. Coordination in the sense of doing things together and consulting was possible and did happen, but once the ad hoc cooperation ceased, the follow-up did not occur. Integrated approaches and actions were difficult to conceive.

National councils of churches. Despite some efforts, OCER did not succeed in developing an effective approach to helping NCCs to reflect on their self-understanding and their place in the ecumenical movement. An intended study on the implications of Roman Catholic participation in NCCs was not implemented, and the debate on local ecumenism in the Central Committee in 1994 was not followed through. More should have been done to assist with the setting up of new NCCs (e.g. in Romania and Lithuania).

Measured against CUV
It is essential to discern the implications of CUV for the relational, constituency-oriented work of the Council.

Constituency-building. OCER's reflection on its basic purpose concluded that this should be seen in terms of constituency-building. By "constituency" is meant both the fellowship of WCC member churches and the wider range of ecumenical groups, councils, non-member churches and the like. Behind the concept of "building" lies a recognition that the "ecumenical memory" is no longer a motivating force for many people in the churches. CUV, coming at the time of the WCC's 50th anniversary, puts this observation in the wider scope of the fundamental transformations affecting the movement and its institutions. Building the ecumenical constituency is a challenge which could become a focus of the WCC's future relationships work.

Relations among member churches. CUV affirms that the essence of the fellowship in the WCC is the churches' relating to one another. OCER has not been able to develop ways of enhancing the quality of the fellowship in this sense. To be sure, purely "relational" methods can achieve little in this area, for churches relate to one another when and where they engage in common action. This means that the WCC's relational and programmatic work must be much more integrated so as to enable the churches to give content to their relationships and their belonging to the fellowship.

A critical look at the existing relationships among member churches would most likely point to the overriding confessional character of these links. It would also show that the aims are mostly defined in terms of mutual assistance, exchange and sharing.

Integration of relationships and programmes. The challenge for the WCC's future relationships or "constituency-oriented" activities will be to build into these from the start a link with "issue-oriented" or programmatic work. Similarly, the challenge to programme work is to be much more intentionally relational.

Over the past few years, the US Office has developed a model of work in which relations with the constituency and promotion of WCC programmes have become increasingly inter-related. The third dimension of its work, communication, aims at sustaining relationships and programme involvement with and among the member churches. Such a model seems to work well in a context with recognizable boundaries in terms of geography and constituency. This may be relevant for a future concept of regionalized relational work.

Looking towards the future
1. Two of the main objectives of future constituency-oriented work should be:

  • helping member churches to develop relationships with one another across confessional (and cultural) barriers; e.g. mission-founded churches and Independent churches in Africa; Orthodox and Protestant churches in Europe.
  • developing models and mechanisms for member churches holding each other mutually accountable, in the spirit of what the CUV policy statement says about the meaning of membership (para. 3.7).

2. From the future agenda of the JWG, the office could specifically focus on the following issues of common interest to the RCC and the WCC:
  • Local, national and regional councils of churches which have the Catholic Church as a full member; the practical and ecclesiological implications of membership of councils of churches; the instrumental role of councils of churches in the growth of koinonia.
  • The stance of evangelicals, charismatics and Pentecostals towards the ecumenical movement and its present structures; establishing dialogue with these churches.

3. The office should contribute to the dialogue with Orthodox member churches, especially regarding such Orthodox concerns as:
  • Why do the Orthodox feel that their concerns have not been or are not being heard? Why have the Orthodox felt the need to go back to the practice of "separate statements" in spite of the fact that preparatory Orthodox consultations have been organized before every major ecumenical meeting?
  • If Orthodox concerns have been recognized by the WCC's senior staff and leadership, why have these concerns not had a clear and visible impact on the Council's activities as a whole?
  • What is the significance of the fact that many of the concerns expressed by the Orthodox, and thus labelled as "Orthodox", are in fact shared by many other partners within the fellowship?

4. Dialogue with evangelical, Pentecostal and Independent churches and constituencies should aim at finding models of relationships which allow for greater interaction and joint involvement on common concerns.

5. A major issue on the future agenda is regional relationships, particularly the search for new styles of joint decision-making and cooperation between the WCC and the REOs.

6. To follow up the CUV process, the office should facilitate consultation among churches, ecumenical organizations, confessional families and ecumenical associations regarding the creation of an "Ecumenical Forum".

The mandate of the Office of Inter-Religious Relations (OIRR), approved by the Central Committee in 1991, is:

a. To promote the churches' relationship to persons of other faiths and other faith communities, and to enable the churches to understand religious plurality and its consequences for its life and self-understanding;
b. To enable the WCC in its relationship to other faith communities and to global expressions of religious and inter-religious organizations;
c. To work with other WCC units in the study of religious dimensions of conflicts and to work on activities that promote peace and reconciliation;
d. To initiate and be involved with the concerned programme units as relevant, in exploration on interfaith issues: social, theological and political;
e. To serve and advise the general secretary on his or her relationship with other faith communities.

Highlights of activities

Christian-Muslim relations
Three programmes were carried out. The first was a series of study seminars bringing together Christians and Muslims to discuss "Religion, Law and Society". Conflictive issues addressed were religion and modernity, secularization, religious revivals, political legitimacy, sources of law, minority-majority relations and human rights. Since 1995, a more concentrated effort has been made to establish a Christian-Muslim Forum on Human Rights.

The second programme was launched by an international Christian-Muslim consultation on "Inter-Religious Cooperation and Peace-Making in the Context of Inter-Communal Tensions". Two seminars were held.

The third programme brought together Christian institutions or centres specializing in the study of Islam and Christian-Muslim relations to share experiences and examine the possibility of cooperation with comparable Islamic institutions and centres. An academic colloquium on "Mutual Views and Changing Relations between Christians and Muslims in the Last Thirty Years" was held in August 1997.

From the perspective of its own specific mandate and responsibility, OIRR collaborated with other WCC programmes in efforts in the realm of peace-making in a number of countries and regions. Similarly, it contributed to the programme of Christian education in pluralist societies.

Jewish-Christian dialogue
The Central Committee adopted in 1992 a document on "Christian-Jewish Dialogue beyond Canberra" as a basis and policy paper for continued Christian-Jewish dialogue, and sent it to member churches for study and action. The document pledges continuity in relationships and openness to diversity in terms of Christian and Jewish participation and issues, expresses resolve in actions against anti-Semitism, relates dialogue and political advocacy with a commitment to justice and peace as an essential part of Christian-Jewish dialogue, and affirms dialogue at the level of spirituality towards creative common involvement in the struggles of the world.

A Christian Chinese-Jewish dialogue in Hong Kong in November 1992 was a case of promoting Christian-Jewish conversation in a region other than the North Atlantic, in order to bring into productive encounter the theological insights and experience of Christians and Jews from different parts of the world.

Together with the Programme for Theology and Cultures in Asia, OIRR organized a Jewish-Christian dialogue in the context of Asian cultures and religions in Cochin, South India, in December 1993. The issues discussed included people of God, being a minority, faith in the midst of faiths and the image of God.

In 1995 the International Jewish Committee on Inter-religious Consultations and OIRR co-sponsored an African Christian-Jewish consultation on "Family, Community, Tradition", a follow-up of a meeting held in Nairobi in 1986.

The Middle East is a major conflict area in which people of religion need urgently to work together. The city of Jerusalem requires the particular religious attention of Jews, Christians and Muslims. In line with OIRR's role of cultivating inter-religious relations to support peace-making, a process was set in motion to bring together OIRR, the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, the Holy See's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews and the Lutheran World Federation to sponsor a series of colloquia around the significance of Jerusalem for Jews, Christians and Muslims. The first, entitled "The Spiritual Significance of Jerusalem for Jews, Christians and Muslims", took place in May 1993; the second in Thessaloniki, Greece, in August 1996.

Hindu-Christian Relations
Two workshops with the aim of articulating the issues in Hindu-Christian relations were arranged in cooperation with the NCC India in 1995 (Madurai) and 1997 (Varanasi).

An inter-religious team visit to Fiji in 1994 assisted the local interfaith group Interfaith Search in addressing problems between Fijian Christians and Indians in Fiji, who are mostly Hindu or Muslim.

Inter-religious prayer and worship
In 1994, OIRR and the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue undertook a joint reflection on inter-religious prayer. The project began with a survey of the practice of inter-religious prayer in local churches and different traditions. This was completed in 1995. A consultation was then held in Bangalore, India, in 1996, which brought together a small number of people from different Christian traditions who had experience of inter-religious prayer. Finally a small group of theologians representing different churches and coming from different parts of the world met in Bose, Italy, in 1997 to examine the theological foundations of inter-religious prayer. The project was concluded by a common publication.

New Religious Movements
The portfolio on New Religious Movements (NRMs) has proved difficult to handle. Is the relationship with NRMs a question of interfaith dialogue? Can one bring all NRMs together for dialogue? Where are the limits to dialogue?

Religious plurality
OIRR and Unit II convened a meeting in Baar, Switzerland, in 1993 to identify areas for follow-up arising from the WCC's 1979 "Guidelines on Dialogue". The consultation took stock of such questions as witness, evangelism, theological grounds for cooperation with people of other faiths, purity of faith, worship with others and participation in meetings with people of other faiths.

Questions involved in Christian encounters with people of other faiths were also taken up by a consultation of OIRR and Unit II in Bangalore in October 1995, under the theme "The Quest for a Human Community in a Religiously Plural World: What Does it Mean for the Being and Doing of the Church?" The consultation sought to investigate the correlation of the quest for community in the world today with the possible role of the church in a changing society and in the context of religious plurality, and to draw contours for ecclesiology and missiology in a world of religious plurality.

Religious education
Another attempt at in-house cooperation on issues pertaining to inter-religious relations was OIRR's collaboration with the Education programme of Unit II. In two consultations (Delhi 1994 and Madras 1995), co-sponsored with Unit II and the NCC India, questions were raised (though not fully answered) as to how Christian education must take note of religious plurality. What does it imply for Christian education that there are people of other faiths? There is scope for intentional, long-range programming on how Christian education should interact with a world of religious plurality, not only in a descriptive manner but also in an attempt to rethink Christian self-understanding.

Office of Communications

The mandate of the Office of Communication, approved by the Central Committee in 1991, is:

a. To interpret and promote the life and work of the WCC and the ecumenical movement to the public at large and to the WCC member churches in particular;
b. To represent the WCC in its dealings with the communications media, including preparation and distribution of press releases, organization of press conferences and press operations at major meetings, responding to or referring enquiries from media representatives and arranging interviews for visiting journalists with WCC staff;
c. To advise the general secretary on matters of policy concerning public information and publications and to coordinate programme-related newsletters and all material emanating from the WCC;
d. To act as publisher for the WCC, including (1) to prepare, produce and distribute regular and incidental printed and audiovisual materials to communicate the WCC and its programmes and the ecumenical movement; (2) to maintain regular contact with programme staff and to discuss concepts, format and scheduling for forthcoming publishing projects; (3) to collaborate with outside publishers, producers and distributors in communicating and disseminating WCC and ecumenical materials;
e. To maintain relationships with church-related and ecumenical communication entities, with special reference to specific requests from WCC member churches for assistance in meeting communication needs;
f. To advise staff in WCC programme units in dealing with communication-related issues, including communication projects, media awareness, communication in theological education;
g. To support other sections of the WCC staff in the communication of their work;
h. To provide the language services required by the WCC and to assist its units to appreciate the role of language in intercultural communication and education, and thus better meet the linguistic needs of their constituencies.

In August 1992, the Central Committee approved a new WCC Communication Policy, which set forth general principles guiding the work of the WCC in media communication. This paper underscores the need for WCC communication products to be audience-oriented that is, attractive, useful and available to those for whom they are intended. It understands communicating the WCC as communicating (1) the fellowship of churches, (2) the ecumenical movement, (3) the institution and its work. Communicating the institution means communicating not only its many activities but also the "wholeness" which holds together this variety of work in one organization. Finally, it spells out three underlying principles for WCC communication: maximum partnership with others, access to all members of the ecumenical family, contextualization for local audiences. Guidelines for putting this mandate and policy into practice were outlined in a Communication Strategy paper, which was received by the Central Committee and formed the basis of ongoing reflection and discussion with the entire WCC staff.

Important assistance in developing and implementing both documents and in evaluating the work of the Office of Communication came from a small international advisory group, which met three times in the period under review (May 1992, October 1994 and June 1996) and whose members were also available for advice and feedback by correspondence and telephone conferences at other times. In early 1997, a consultant was engaged to examine the role of communication in a restructured WCC after 1998 and in the light of the Common Understanding and Vision process. His report was an invaluable resource in designing the proposals which were eventually put forward.

An overview of the work

News and information
The most significant development in this area was the launch in September 1994 of Ecumenical News International, in cooperation with the Conference of European Churches, the Lutheran World Federation and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches. The ENI proposal, approved by the governing bodies of the four organizations in 1990 and 1991, aimed at creating greater understanding of the work and mission of the church and the ecumenical movement, especially among secular and church-related media, by timely distribution of news about issues, events and trends on the agenda of the global church. Collaboration in ENI was seen as a way to increase efficiency, reduce duplication and overlap of services and broaden the scope of and sources for ecumenical news and information.

By August 1992 not all the hoped-for grants had materialized. The WCC Executive Committee then recommended that the WCC's own Ecumenical Press Service (EPS) be reorganized into a news service to the media in real and close partnership with the other organizations. Although smaller than anticipated, with two journalists and two assistants, ENI was inaugurated and has quickly established itself as a leading international non-denominational source of religious news, as shown by the pick-up of its articles and the positive responses from church leaders and others in positions of responsibility who have used ENI as a key source of information.

ENI now produces (a) a daily news service (in English and French) by fax and e-mail; (b) a printed news bulletin in English and French published every two weeks, and (c) a daily news summary, in English only, distributed free by e-mail. ENI also has a presence on the World Wide Web (WWW). It has exchange arrangements with a number of outlets in Latin America. Through its media clients ENI is also locally translated and reproduced in other parts of the world, including Africa and Asia.

Direct WCC contact with external media is the responsibility of the Press and Information office. This is carried out through press releases, media relations, the organization of press operations at meetings of the Central Committee, world conferences and major consultations, press briefings and press conferences and arranging interviews and visits of groups of journalists to the Ecumenical Centre.

In addition to preparations for the media operations at the Faith and Order world conference (1993), the world mission conference (1996) and the eighth assembly, highlights of WCC news and information work in this period have included the appointment of a new general secretary in 1992; press enquiries about the WCC's relationships with churches in Eastern and Central Europe during the Communist period (including provision of resources to help member churches to respond to the widely distributed criticisms of the WCC published in the Reader's Digest of February 1993); and the ecumenical response to the tragedies in former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Written and audiovisual versions of the general secretary's Christmas message and the WCC presidents' Pentecost message were distributed every year with a relatively high pick-up, especially by church media.

A significant change in the information work of the Council came in January 1996 with the decision to cease publication of the monthly magazine One World. The magazine's founding mission was "to draw Christians from many different continents and traditions together", and it endeavoured for 22 years to interpret the WCC and to provide a forum for differing points of view in worldwide ecumenism. Falling subscription numbers and changing communication needs in the Council led to the decision to seek a more flexible and open communication strategy than was possible when so many resources were being devoted to a single printed product in one language. A "Special Projects Consultancy" was proposed to enable this. Unfortunately, most of this plan could not be implemented: very soon after the decision to terminate One World, the WCC's overall financial situation led to major cuts in the Communication budget. However, many voices in the Council's constituency continue to express strong regret at the disappearance of One World.

WCC Publications
During this period WCC Publications has released an average of about 20 new titles per year. Their subject matter relates to both the overall work and mission of the WCC and the specific work of WCC programme areas. Additional books of more general interest dealing with key ecumenical issues have also been published (including the Risk Book series).

Among the many titles listed in the WCC Publications catalogue, five book projects may be highlighted from this period: (1) The Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement, published in 1991 after nearly four years of preparation, has been welcomed by readers and reviewers as an indispensable reference for anyone involved and interested in the issues, history and events of the ecumenical movement, with a wealth of information available from no other single source; a revised paperback edition is projected for 1998. (2) The first annual WCC Yearbook appeared in 1995. Following an introductory survey of the main elements in the life and work of the WCC during the previous year, each yearbook includes address lists of member churches, national and regional ecumenical bodies and international ecumenical organizations, as well as names of members of the WCC Central Committee and staff. (3) The Risk Book Series has continued to provide a growing number of readers around the world with well-informed, provocative and easy-to-read perspectives on current ecumenical concerns four times a year. (4) The Ecumenical Movement An Anthology of Key Texts and Voices, published in 1997, is a unique textbook and reference guide, meeting a long-expressed need for a resource volume for courses on ecumenism in theological seminaries and faculties of religion. (5) The third volume of A History of the Ecumenical Movement, covering the period from the mid-1960s to the present, has been in preparation since June 1994 and is being published in 1998.

Contact with publishers in different parts of the world enables the translation of WCC publications in other languages or co-publishing of English-language editions. Approximately a third of WCC books are published in at least one language other than English. WCC Publications is also responsible for the publishing of the WCC's quarterly journal The Ecumenical Review, a forum for the theological discussion of ecumenical concerns. Each issue focuses on a single ecumenically significant theme.

Visual Arts
The restructuring of the WCC in 1991 placed the graphic and design work formerly part of the Communication Department in Central Services. This enabled the Visual Arts Section to concentrate on photography and, to a certain extent, on video work. Besides providing services in these areas to WCC programme units, the Visual Arts coordinator has travelled to many part of the world to update the WCC photo library. Direct mailings of a regular Photo Oikoumene catalogue have brought about a steady growth in the number of outside clients (magazines, books, TV, newspapers). Since 1997, the Internet has been used more and more to transmit photos to clients.

Because of its relatively high cost, professional video production has been limited to building up a video footage archive and only occasional production. The section helped to produce the video "Acting in Faith", in response to the Reader's Digest article mentioned above, a video for the study process on Gospel and Cultures, and, in 1997, a new video ("Staying Together") on the work of the WCC, intended for local congregations.

The WCC Language Service is responsible for the translation of WCC texts and documents, revision of translation work done by outside translators and organization of interpretation at an average of 30 meetings per year.

In 1996 the service was severely hit by the Council's shortfall in undesignated income and it was obliged to reduce its staff by four full-time equivalent positions. It now consists of one full-time post for English (also responsible for coordinating translation and interpretation), two half-time posts for French, two half-time posts for Spanish and one half-time post for German. Much more work has had to be given to outside translators, creating an increased demand for revision.

Ecumenical partners
Besides regular contacts with the World Association for Christian Communication, the Office of Communication hosted a consultation in Geneva in December 1992 with 12 international Roman Catholic and Protestant Christian communication organizations. It participated in similar consultations in Aachen, Germany, in 1993 and in Munich in 1995. Items on the agenda included communication in Eastern Europe, communication training and education, communication projects, formation for religious communication, communication in theological education, the impact of electronic communication on church and culture, and methods of ensuring systematic cooperation among the organizations.

What have we learned?

The present ecumenical situation has made clear the need to give intensified attention to the communication of the profile or image of the WCC itself among the Council's membership. This is, of course, not a responsibility that can simply be delegated to one part of the Council or to external consultants. As an organization the WCC has to be clear about the overall image it wants to convey to its membership and to the wider public. Within this framework a choice has to be made on a limited number of programmes and activities to which priority will be given in communication work in a given period, and for which special strategies should be developed and adequate resources made available.

Improving the WCC's image will require a change in working style of the organization as a whole and a considerably greater investment of resources. The necessary change in work-style can best be summed up as taking full account of the dimension of communication from the very beginning of every activity. The issue is not so much deciding how to communicate various facets of the activity as seeing every activity in itself as an exercise in communication which will enhance the image or profile of the organization not in the interest of institutional self-promotion but in order to serve as a more effective instrument of the ecumenical movement.

At the same time, new communication technologies, especially the Internet, open up tremendous possibilities, not only for communicating the WCC and its work to various audiences, but also to facilitate the communication between the churches in order to strengthen and give content to the reality of being "a fellowship of churches". An effort in this direction has been the intensive upgrading of the WCC's World Wide Web site since the beginning of 1998.

Ecumenical Institute, Bossey

The Ecumenical Institute at Bossey is a specialized activity of the WCC located structurally in the general secretariat so that it may relate equally and integrally with all of the Council's programmes and relationships. Bossey is governed by a board of 15 members from all over the world, including a representative of the University of Geneva and the WCC's deputy general secretary. Meeting annually, the board determines programme, advises the director, formulates reports on budgets and funding, and assists in developing financial resources.

According to its by-laws, Bossey's aims and functions are:

  • Aim: ... to contribute to the formation of future generations of ecumenical leadership, among both clergy and laity; to provide for ecumenical theological encounter in an inter-cultural and inter-confessional setting; and to build a community in which ecumenical experience and different kinds of spirituality are being shared and ecumenical understanding nurtured.
  • Functions: ... (1) to conduct a Graduate School of Ecumenical Studies as a period of graduate academic studies, worship, community life and work for students from various churches and countries; (2) to organize courses and consultations; (3) to cooperate with ecumenical partner institutions and centres in activities of ecumenical education and research; (4) to engage in extension work; (5) to sponsor an ecumenical centre for meetings and conferences.

The Graduate School of Ecumenical Studies
The graduate school remains the centrepiece of the work of Bossey. Since 1996 it has been conducted from the beginning of September to the third week of December. Each year, in addition to basic work in ecumenical studies the graduate school orients its work around a theme. Sometimes the theme is closely connected to WCC programmes, sometimes it breaks new ground for the ecumenical movement. The themes since the Canberra assembly have been:

1990-91 Come Holy Spirit Renew the Whole Creation
1991-92 Towards New Models of Communities
1992-93 Towards an Inclusive Community
1993-94 Towards Communion in Faith, Life and Witness
1994-95 Education for Koinonia
1995-96 Theology for Life
1996 On Being Agents of God's Peace
1997 Called to One Hope: the Gospel in Diverse Cultures
1998 The Year of the Lord's Favour
Every year the graduate school has 55 to 60 students from a wide variety of traditions and nations. They study, live and worship together under the leadership of a faculty of five. The graduate school offers academic credit to participating students through its affiliation with the University of Geneva.

Each student is required to write a substantial paper, working closely with one of the faculty members. In addition, students lead worship, conduct Bible studies, reflect on and inform others about the situations of their own churches and nations. For one week the graduate school is the guest of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in Rome. In addition, students have the opportunity to visit the World Council of Churches and other international organizations based in Geneva and to spend an extended weekend in Swiss parishes. Thus students engage in experiential as well as classroom-based learning and discover that they are actually under a constant process of learning, the graduate school being indeed a "laboratory" for ecumenical life.

Many students experience a process of considerable personal growth which leads them to describe their time at Bossey as "life-changing". They leave Bossey with a keener understanding of their own tradition as well as a new comprehension of the global Christian family in all its diversity and complexity. Both teachers and learners at Bossey agree that ecumenical learning is indeed a multidimensional and open-ended process that enriches and challenges all participants.

Courses and consultations
Each year the Bossey teaching staff organizes courses, consultations and seminars of one to three weeks around a number of issues and for a variety of audiences. These programmes are often undertaken in partnership with units of the WCC or other sister organizations. Some of them, such as the Orthodox Seminar, the Frontier Seminar and the Theology Seminar, have become traditions at Bossey over the years; others are in response to specific issues and interests. Bossey seminars seek to be interdisciplinary, inclusive and forward-looking, investigating issues and concerns on the horizon of the ecumenical movement. Currently each staff member is responsible for organizing two such seminars a year.

The seminars planned for 1999 are:

Orthodox Theology and Spirituality (in St Petersburg)
Ethical Frontiers Seminar (environmental issues)
Ecumenical Training and Formation for Lay Persons
Religion and the Arts
Mission in the 2lst Century
Visser 't Hooft Memorial consultation
Week with an Author
Biblical Hermeneutics
Women and Spirituality
Bossey Alumni Week

Under the leadership of the Bossey Vikar, the Institute has an active programme for visiting groups. In a typical year, about 60 groups from churches and organizations in Europe and beyond come to Bossey. The Vikar, in cooperation with other staff members, helps these groups to plan study programmes and speakers for their time in Bossey and arranges visits to the WCC and to other organizations in Geneva.

Cooperation in education and research
To extend the range and number of consultations and seminars, Bossey works in cooperation with ecumenical partners, both within and beyond the WCC. Thus for instance in 1998 Bossey sponsored a seminar on urban ministry with the Mission Academy in Hamburg, Germany. Similarly, the 1999 Frontier Seminar on environmental issues will be carried out in cooperation with TEMEC (Theological Education to Meet the Environmental Challenge).

Bossey takes seriously its research responsibilities. Research enriches both the graduate school and seminars, keeps the teaching staff current in their fields of specialization and informs the various other dimensions of the ecumenical movement. An interdisciplinary team of about ten scholars has been brought together to work for several years analyzing religion in the world today. The study will include work on fundamentalism, New Religious Movements, Islam and new images of the sacred.

Extension work
Because education at Bossey is often so exciting and even life-changing, it is often suggested that its work should be extended beyond the Ecumenical Institute. Bringing Bossey to people who cannot otherwise experience it has, however, proved to be expensive and cumbersome and has only been possible on rare occasions. One such occasion was the Lay Leadership Training Course held in Harare in early 1998. But while it is difficult to move the whole programme, Bossey teaching staff are encouraged to spend up to several weeks a year in other institutions teaching and doing research. Recent teaching involvements of the staff have taken place in Sri Lanka, Cuba and Brazil. In addition, the Orthodox seminar is often organized away from Bossey in locations where Orthodoxy can be experienced in its historic settings.

Recognizing the critical importance of keeping in touch with the many thousands of people around the world who have attended the graduate school and Bossey seminars, the staff has been working with graduates in various regions to form groups of friends of Bossey. These groups come together for ecumenical programmes, information-sharing and support for the work of Bossey in their local areas. Bossey cooperates with information, newsletters and, when possible, participation of staff in local programming. In addition Bossey has established a World Wide Web page through which people can access information about current programmes and read some of the material written for seminars and consultations.

A centre for meetings and conferences
Bossey's meeting facilities, guest rooms and beautiful grounds make it an ideal place for meetings and conferences. Efforts are underway to enhance these facilities, including the provision of comfortable places for participants when meetings are not in session, easy access to photocopiers, telefax and telephones, and flexible transportation for guests. In addition, the Bossey staff together with a building committee is considering the feasibility of the renovation of the chateau so that in the decades to come it will continue to provide the infrastructure necessary for the ecumenical learning, encounters and research that are the mission of Bossey. Future directions
Celebrating its jubilee in 1996, Bossey took a long look at its history and its mission and reaffirmed its critical role in the ecumenical movement of the 21st century. Its future planning is optimistic and energetic. It will continue to challenge and inform and to bring people together with innovative programming and partnerships. The teaching staff is currently evaluating the possibility of offering two semesters of graduate studies each year, which could make it possible for students to earn a master's degree in ecumenical studies in cooperation with the University of Geneva.

Finance Office

Note: It is clear that an assembly which meets just once in seven years can address issues regarding the finances of the World Council of Churches only at the level of offering very broad policy guidelines. So the Constitution of the WCC assigns the power "to adopt the budget of the World Council and secure its financial support" (Art. V.2.c.6) to the Central Committee, which acts on financial reports, budgets, projections and recommendations presented by its standing Finance Committee.

At the assembly, the overall financial situation of the WCC and the specific factors that will affect it in the future are dealt with in-depth by its own Finance Committee, which presents its report during the closing business plenary sessions. Yet it is appropriate that a more general report on and discussion of finances should also be an integral part of the hearings on the general secretariat, for the issue of the resources which the WCC has to carry out its work has been a central preoccupation for the Council over the past seven years.

This brief report explains the overall financial trends affecting the life of the Council during this period and indicates the policy decisions which have been taken as a result, rather than providing budget, income and expense figures, which will be treated in greater detail by the Assembly Finance Committee.

The past seven years have shown that significant adjustments are necessary in the life and work of the WCC if it is to respond to changes in the world, in the churches and in the nature of its funding base. This situation has been the context in which the WCC's Office of Finance and Administration and its Office of Income Coordination and Development, working with the Finance Committee of the Central and Executive Committees, have worked during this period on budgets, accounts, reports, investments, income projections and fund-raising.

Two factors create chronic financial difficulties for the Council:

  • The narrow designation by donors of much of the WCC's income to specific activities means that the undesignated income available for the Council's basic work and for responding to new needs is inadequate.
  • There has always been an imbalance in the support coming to the Council from different geographical areas and traditions. In 1996 almost half of the member churches did not pay any membership contribution at all.

In September 1990, several months before the Canberra assembly and after a period of relative financial stability, it became evident that the Council was facing severe projected deficits in its operating budgets for 1991 and 1992. The urgency of the situation made it necessary to cut expenses substantially, and the major strategy for this was to reduce staff numbers. Consequently, the total number of persons on the WCC payroll has declined by about 30 percent during the past seven years: from 346 just before the Canberra assembly to 300 at the time of the Central Committee meeting in September 1991 to 237 at the Central Committee meeting in September 1997.

The Canberra assembly called for increased financial support from all member churches, especially those which have been making no financial contribution, the development of new sources of funds, a more dynamic investment policy, a review of budgetary policy, reduction of expenditures to the level of recurring income and the development of an integrated planning procedure taking account of programmatic priorities, staffing levels and financial projections.

To encourage churches to make an annual membership contribution the Central Committee adopted changes to the WCC Rules spelling out the obligations of each member church to contribute financially at a level commensurate with its resources, as determined in consultation with the Council.

To raise additional funds in the United States, the Ecumenical Development Initiative was set up as a joint venture with the US National Council of Churches. Attempts were also made to increase support from newer member churches in East Asia. But fund-raising typically requires considerable investment of time and resources before a return is realized; and the general economic climate in Europe, North America and Asia during this period, as well as the corresponding pressure on the finances of all churches and charitable organizations, has limited the scope for finding new resources, at least in the short term.

After the reorganization of the Council in January 1992, a full financial restructuring, with stricter procedures for budgeting and accounting, was implemented.

A review in 1993 found that seven-eighths of the programmatic expenditures of the Council passed through project and trust funds, and only one-eighth through the regular operating budget. Since this created a misleading impression of the Council's financial situation, the Finance Committee mandated an entirely new accounting procedure, based on general or activity funds. A simplified and more transparent method of calculating redistributed or shared costs was also put into place.

When these changes came into effect in January 1994, the financial situation had stabilized and reserves had been built up. What was not immediately evident was that a turning point in the Council's financial fortunes one which would profoundly affect its future life and work had arrived.

In short, the major changes in global economic conditions have taken their toll on the financing of the WCC. The dominance of the market economy, the collapse of socialism, the effects of downsizing, outsourcing and the demand for "value for money" - all have altered the attitudes of international organizations, governments, agencies and churches.

Uncertainty in two other areas created difficulties: the WCC's investment portfolios produced unexpectedly poor results, and many currencies plunged in relation to the Swiss franc. In particular, a steep drop in the value of the US dollar created exceptional losses on currency transactions maturing in 1994.

At the same time, German and Swedish funding partners, for many years major contributors to the WCC's general and activity funds, had to reduce their giving. Other churches and agencies were unable to increase and in some cases even maintain their level of contribution even enough to match the relatively low rate of inflation in Switzerland.

Initially, it was hoped that the severe reductions in funds experienced in 1994 and 1995 would be short-lived, and that the WCC would be able to weather the storm through its reserves, even though these had been substantially depleted. But the results for 1995 made it clear that what had been hoped to be a temporary phenomenon in fact indicated a fundamental change in the Council's funding base. It was decided to reduce staffing levels and expenditures and set out clear budgetary objectives for the following years, with a requirement that the WCC move as soon as possible to the long-desired unified budget.

Consultations with major funding partners revealed continued support for the Council. But the difficulties faced by the WCC were common to most churches and agencies as well. No quick solution is in sight. Simply put, the WCC will have to adjust its activities and structures radically to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

A complete review of budgets in 1996 showed that still further staff reductions were needed. A staff restructuring scheme had to be worked out and funded, as redundancies would be required. A full programme evaluation was initiated to see which activities should be terminated or reduced and what effect this might have on the Council's work and income.

As acknowledged by the process "Towards a Common Understanding and Vision of the WCC" (CUV), any future WCC forms and structures will have to take into account available resources. This will in turn depend on the activities and programmes taking place. In practical terms, this means that there will be a close link between the proposals and their budgetary implications.

When the Central Committee approved the CUV policy statement in September 1997, it also accepted in outline a radically new working structure and style for the Council, which would eliminate the four programme units and regroup its entire work as one administrative whole. This has opened the way for a new style of unified budget and new financial structure.

Hearings Phase I
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