world council of churches

8th assembly and 50th anniversary
preparatory materials


Annotated Agenda

Session I
1. Welcome and introductions
2. Introduction to the process of hearings
3. Overview of the major emphases and achievements of the unit over the last seven years through a video presentation of:
  • the jubilee strategy as an energizing principle and focus;
  • the four mandates within the jubilee strategy which have given shape to the work of each team within the unit;
  • the jubilee constituencies: the marginalized and excluded.

The text of the video is drawn directly from the evaluative report "Commitment to Jubilee: Strategies for Hope in Times of Crisis", which was the source for From Canberra to Harare and this workbook. The full report is available to hearing participants at the assembly. Key evaluative questions will be drawn from the hearings participants.

Session II
This session will highlight selected emphases and achievements arising from the previous presentation to help delegates make a critical assessment of the period through reflection on the video and questions designed to provoke critical comments by participants. Highlights will include:

  • just sharing: the Asian round-table experience;
  • empowerment: the African capacity-building experience;
  • practical solidarity with children: the Latin American experience;
  • regional advocacy in defence of dignity and resources: the Pacific experience;
  • the work of the Refugee and Migration Service in developing a theology and methodology for the church of the stranger, global networking and advocacy, local action by and with refugees and migrants.

Session III
A forward-looking perspective: What are the lessons to be learned from this period for the future? What new directions for the future emerge from this report? How are these concerns reflected in the details of the new WCC vision and profile? Members of the Programme Guidelines Committee will be invited to reflect on these questions at the outset of the session and the participants will then be invited to engage in dialogue with them.


Historical overview
From the beginning of the WCC as we know it, the ecumenical family has acknowledged a special place for responding to human need through actions of practical solidarity. The WCC's Commission on Inter-Church Aid, Refugee and World Service (CICARWS), the predecessor of Unit IV, handed on a significant legacy which called for the churches to reclaim their prophetic diaconal role on the local and global levels. This review surveys the last seven years of Unit IV and how the churches have responded to this call. During these years, the world has changed dramatically - and so has ecumenical diaconal work. But these changes did not start suddenly in 1991. Their roots lie deep in the past.

Uppsala 1968
The WCC assembly in Uppsala captured and embodied two conflicting approaches to development. On the one hand, it said, societies can adapt and can try to eradicate poverty by duplicating and reproducing the benefits of Western capitalism throughout the world. On the other hand, advocates can seek to promote revolutionary change for the liberation of the oppressed.

The first option turned out to be shot through with paternalism and colonial condescension and reflected an incomplete awareness of economic and environmental issues. The second option presented a massive challenge: to change or overthrow the political and economic structures which cause global poverty and injustice. Both approaches have found different expressions over the years and continue to influence events today. They do so in terms of dichotomies and polarities: charity versus change; "business as usual" versus revolution or reform; orthodox versus new economics; elite hegemony versus democracy; corporate power versus community; competition versus cooperation; Right versus Left.

Larnaca 1986
By articulating these options Uppsala helped churches to move beyond a narrow paternalistic approach, in order to challenge the status quo. This meant looking beyond immediate concerns and aims in order to take a wider view of things. Twenty years on, in Larnaca, Cyprus, in 1986, a world consultation was organized by CICARWS under the title: "Diakonia 2000: Called to Be Neighbours". Larnaca inaugurated a radical break with the past.

Prior to Larnaca, CICARWS had tried to promote reflection about justice, its relation to service and diakonia, and the relationship between local and global realities. At Larnaca, however, the churches together recognized the need for a more comprehensive and liberating diakonia (Christian service) whose aim was transformation and change at all levels. As a result, the unit started to be more proactive in trying to help the churches and related groups in their reflections about the root causes of the problems, and to find methodologies which would allow them to respond more comprehensively to people's needs. It was decided to spend less time on listing and screening specific projects for funding at regional group meetings and more time on analysis and reflection. As a result, CICARWS reduced its involvement in projects, but continued a system of drawing up priority projects so as to respond in very practical ways to the priorities and challenges of the ecumenical movement.

CICARWS' mandate was to "assist the churches to manifest their solidarity by sharing their human, material and spiritual resources and to facilitate such sharing so as to promote social justice, human development, and relief to human need". At Larnaca CICARWS was told to

  • be inclusive (including women, youth and children);
  • share responsibility and accountability;
  • empower people to control their own lives;
  • stand together with people in struggle;
  • respond on all continents where there are needs;
  • work for change in unjust structures (the root causes of injustice);
  • establish partnerships based on mutual respect;
  • enable people to tell their own stories and share information with each other; ... "and therefore equip local churches so that they could realize their potential to make positive changes in the lives of people and communities".

The participants at Larnaca broadened the meaning of diakonia to include forms of help beyond the purely material. Though there had always been (and still is) an obvious need to redistribute money and other tangible assets fairly to those in need, the new diakonia, while including these important elements, became more comprehensive and holistic, taking account of other, sometimes less obvious, needs. It would focus on people at a local level, but remain aware of the global links between peoples. It would become more prophetic by denouncing injustice and embodying new models of sharing resources. It would reach out to all the marginalized in a spirit of solidarity. It would do so primarily by means of the local church, which was affirmed as the main agent of this new concept of service.

El Escorial 1987
The year after Larnaca another WCC world consultation was held in El Escorial, Spain. Called "Koinonia: Sharing Life in a World Community", it focused on the sharing of resources. Guidelines were drawn up for what it called an "ecumenical discipline" for the sharing of resources. The participants committed themselves to:

  • a fundamentally new value system;
  • the marginalized... as equal partners;
  • identifying with the poor and the oppressed and their organized movements;
  • exposing and challenging the root causes and structures of injustice;
  • enabling people... to realize their potentials;
  • mutual accountability and correction;
  • mutual relationships;
  • promoting the holistic mission of the church;
  • overcoming all barriers between different faiths and ideologies;
  • resisting international mechanisms which deprive;
  • shifting the power to set priorities to those who are wrongly denied;
  • facilitating and promoting dialogue and participation;
  • promoting and strengthening ecumenical sharing.

Like Larnaca, El Escorial emphasized the holistic mission of the church and said it is artificial to separate spiritual from material needs. Henceforth, it was declared, the sharing of resources between North and South should be a two-way process which takes account of the whole person in community.

From Evian to Alexandria 1992-1995
Awareness of a changing world increased with the first Unit IV commission meeting, held in Evian, France, in 1992. The need to interpret change in a prophetic spirit was emphasized as the necessary precondition for Unit IV to respond to the needs of churches and their communities. It seemed that the world was subject to more unexpected and urgent crises than ever before. The unit's preparedness and capacity to respond rapidly had to be improved. But how could it respond quickly and flexibly within the limitations of available resources?

The commission meeting at Evian expressed some honest self-doubt. The meeting saw the chief global issue that had to be addressed as the need to empower people to fight suffering and injustice. But with so many major problems in the world it was extremely difficult to address only some of them. There was a shapelessness to the setting of priorities, just as there was a "lack of shape to the world in which we are working". The models of sharing and service used by the unit sometimes shared in this lack of shape.

One attempt at this point to bring shape to the discussion was to seek to establish with the member churches a common process of action-reflection concerning diakonia within which it might be possible to draw up guidelines defining what we understand diakonia to mean for us today. This process led to the presentation to the Central Committee in 1994 of eleven guidelines, which were commended to the churches for study and reflection:

a. Diakonia puts the least advantaged first.
b. Diakonia is mutual - in that those who serve the needy accept their own need to receive and the ability of the needy to give.
c. Diakonia acts with those it claims to serve and not for them or about them or over them.
d. Diakonia respects the needy's own judgment as to what their needs are and how best they are met.
e. Diakonia adds to the power of the needy to control what happens to them.
f. Diakonia responds to immediate needs while understanding, resisting and transforming the systems which create and aggravate them.
g. Diakonia shares the resources that promote life.
h. Diakonia remains faithful and refuses to desert the needy even when there are difficulties.
i. Diakonia acknowledges the inevitable cost as well as gain.
j. Diakonia gives an account of itself to those it serves.
k. Diakonia sets no boundaries to its compassion.

Subsequently, these guidelines were studied by women within the commission. Their report, "No Boundaries to Compassion?", found the guidelines insufficiently sensitive to the consultative, communitarian approach which women bring to service, and also found in the language and tone the patronizing and unequal partnership models which Larnaca called to be put aside. So from the perspective of a gender approach this group rewrote the guidelines as follows:

a. Diakonia overcomes the subordination of people.
b. Diakonia is mutual because it expresses our common and diverse needs.
c. Diakonia leads us to create a pathway along which we can walk together.
d. Diakonia empowers and dignifies people to know and express themselves.
e. Diakonia acknowledges each community's God given right to self-determination.
f. Diakonia challenges injustice in a holistic way through immediate and long-term actions.
g. Diakonia preserves and shares the resources which sustain life.
h. Diakonia nurtures and sustains communities in the place of marginalization and exclusion.
i. Diakonia acknowledges the inevitable risks, in restoring community through learning, to give and to receive, to demand and to concede.
j. Diakonia encourages us to be conscious of the contradictions between what we believe, say and do, and challenges us towards a deeper integrity.
k. Diakonia expresses God's unlimited compassion without abusing the dignity of the servant.

The next commission meeting in Bangkok, Thailand, in 1993, was a pivotal one, bringing together strands of analysis, thought and practice which had formed over previous years. It confirmed and gave impetus to the regionalization of the unit's work and organization. It discussed in detail the particular problems of women and youth and how to address them. And it mentioned "jubilee" for the first time: "The concept of the jubilee year combines the old values and ethos of the Israelite village-communities with regulations to prevent the development... of unjust asymmetrical structures."

At the commission meeting in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1995, a "Strategy for Jubilee 1995-1998", was discussed and adopted. Staff had already begun working within the plan, which was intended to provide the unit with a focused statement and integrated framework for its work. The plan sought to draw out and apply the principles of the biblical jubilee to the contemporary world. It redefined four basic mandates for the work of the unit and identified five key constituencies of "jubilee peoples" as a priority for practical actions of solidarity:

1. The needs and rights of children.
2. The needs and rights of women who are marginalized and excluded.
3. The needs and rights of the economically and politically marginalized.
4. The needs and rights of uprooted people.
5. The needs and rights of people in conflict and disaster situations.


Exploring the mandate
The World Council of Churches Programme on Sharing and Service assists member churches and related ecumenical agencies and organizations to

promote human dignity and sustainable community with the marginalized and excluded, by

1. working with the marginalized and excluded for a more just sharing of resources through developing alternative models of international cooperation and a better understanding of the diversity of resources needed (economic, ecological, social, cultural and spiritual) to create sustainable communities;

2. promoting practical actions of solidarity which reflect our commitment to a more just sharing of resources amidst growing poverty, displacement and exclusion, locally and regionally;

3. promoting capacity-building and empowerment within communities to rediscover and develop their own potential and resources, and to preserve the dignity and right of individuals and communities to determine their own destinies;

4. promoting networking and advocacy with uprooted, marginalized, conflict- and disaster-stricken communities, ensuring that they have access to speak for themselves at all levels: local, national and international.

Over the decades much thought has gone into definitions of sharing. Thinking about who should share what with whom within an ecumenical and developmental context has expanded to take account of new insights, especially as structural inequalities between peoples and regions have stubbornly remained, despite efforts to eradicate them.

At El Escorial in 1987, Sithembiso Nyoni of Zimbabwe stressed the need to see resources holistically, so that "we share who we are first, before we share what we have". This notion at once broadens the scope of sharing and makes it much more difficult in practice. If all that needs to be shared is money, then who shares what with whom is relatively straightforward: the rich North channels money to the poor South.

But what does it mean to share who we are? One immediate implication is that all of us share something with the other, for we are all persons, all "who's". Sharing becomes a dynamic process, which may or may not involve the transfer of money. It also implies starting from a position of relative equality: if all share, all have something to give, to receive and to learn.

The Bangkok commission meeting spoke in this context of "symbolic and cultural resistance". This is a concept and a practice which resonates with possibility and promise. Such resistance refers in part to the beliefs and practices of poor and marginalized communities as they seek to combat the forces which oppress them. As we shall see, the ideas and activities which such communities devise for themselves are remarkably creative: they constitute a large part of the hope we all share for the future. If we think of these popular expressions as resources for effecting change, then it becomes clear that they are made for sharing. An added advantage of this sort of sharing is that it is especially appropriate and amenable to sharing between such communities, in other words - from South to South.

In this and in other ways, sharing becomes a redistribution not just of wealth, but of mental and spiritual resources and of opportunities. We are taken beyond and above a simplistic definition of development as purely a matter of economics to one in which all of life in all its aspects is of value.

Besides developing ecumenical reflection on the meaning of solidarity and service through a just and equal sharing of our resources, the unit has facilitated studies to monitor and evaluate practice. The study on "motivations for and consequences of the concentration policy" is an in-depth analysis of the changing ways in which development cooperation is being conducted within ecumenical partnerships. This study and related discussions reflect the basic concern for the future integrity and viability of the ecumenical resource-sharing system. The changing geo-political context of governments' international development policies has considerably affected the possibilities and limitations of international ecumenical development agencies. The new climate of efficiency has changed the tone of the discussions, as have the new criteria for measuring impact and success. All this leads us to a kairos moment for assessing together how the common understanding and vision of the ecumenical movement can and will influence our ways of sharing and working together for the sake of human dignity and sustainable community among the marginalized and excluded.

Structures for sharing
The regionalization of Unit IV embodies a response to the need to devolve responsibility and power. Six key structures for implementing this kind of sharing have functioned in Unit IV: Regional Groups, Round Tables, the Refugee and Migration Service, the Scholarships programme, emergency response (ACT) and credit loans (ECLOF).

1. Regional Groups. Regional Groups (RGs) were established in 1972 by CICARWS to identify the needs of the churches and set priorities for ecumenical work. One important task was screening specific projects put forward to them for funding by churches and ecumenical church-related agencies. After Larnaca and El Escorial, however, they largely abandoned this role and began instead to make better analysis of the situation in each region, including the ecumenical situation, and to make recommendations about ecumenical priorities and how resources should be shared and by whom. In order to do this they need to be as credible and as inclusive as possible. Accordingly, current membership of RGs comprises representatives of churches in the region, northern agencies, Unit IV, and ecumenical networks and movements. Regional ecumenical organizations (REOs) are also members. RGs also seek to include representatives of the jubilee people they wish to assist, especially women, youth and other marginalized groups. Non-church related movements may be represented, and specialists in particular issues may also be members. RGs are meant to perform a number of important functions by providing

  • political and social analyses of their region, and the theological basis for diakonia;
  • specific guidelines and priority-setting for action;
  • advice to regional churches and Unit IV on policies and programmes;
  • action, in the form of priority projects, for example, which can model strategies to confront regional issues.

Regional Groups have also facilitated communication of their work and the exchange of information between regions.

2. Round Tables. WCC-sponsored Round Tables (RTs) were initiated as an instrument of ecumenical sharing of resources among church-related partners in response to dissatisfaction with the project model of development and funding. Projects tended to be short-term, piecemeal, unrelated to one another and without assured commitment to funding. It was hoped that the formation of RTs, national forums and policy papers would put programmes in the context of more strategic planning. The WCC regional desks are uniquely placed to assist with this and to accompany the churches as they seek to implement their ecumenical programmes.

Round Tables were composed of representatives - from North and South - of national councils of churches (NCCs), funding agencies, mission boards and the WCC. To begin with, they discussed programmes and decided on funding.

If RTs focus too much on money matters and on NCC priorities (rather than those of the churches which the NCCs represent), this militates against their intended holism. However, the reorientation of their functioning from operational to facilitative has made them a powerful and greatly valued forum for all partners involved.

3. Refugee and Migration Service Resource-Sharing. Over the past seven years, a systematized process of resource-sharing has been developed in concert with the constituency of the WCC's Refugee and Migration Service (RMS). This process is based on coordination of the inter-relationship of policy, programme and resource-sharing. Existing regional working groups composed of church and specialist members were strengthened and new ones established. These now engage in both analysis and priority-setting for ecumenical work in virtually all regions. Several of these groups are directly involved in resource-sharing recommendations for the WCC. This global network of specialized groups allows the RMS to conduct sharing of material and other resources from an overall global and regional assessment of needs and priorities. The regional resource-sharing is linked to a system of inter-regional and global exchange of perspective, facilitating both coordination and common action among partners. These policy-funding linkages underlie development and utilization of specialized ecumenical experience.

4. Scholarships. WCC scholarships are intended for candidates working with churches and church-related organizations. They aim to build the capacity of these organizations and to promote the development of their personnel. As scholarships are understood as part of ecumenical sharing of resources, candidates are also expected to be able to make a significant contribution to the development of relationships and understanding between various churches and denominations.

The programme has a network of 160 national correspondents working with national scholarships committees who are responsible for the selection process. They ensure that completed applications are sent to the WCC and assist scholarship holders with pre-departure arrangements.

5. ACT (Action by Churches Together). ACT International is a global ecumenical network, established in 1995 in response to the need for a better sharing of resources, skills and actions in emergency situations. In 1996 emergency assistance by the ACT network totalled US$32 million: Africa received $20 million, Asia-Pacific $3.9 million, Europe $5.6 million, Latin America and the Caribbean $1 million, and the Middle East $1.2 million.

6. ECLOF (Ecumenical Church Loan Fund). This ecumenical credit scheme promotes dignity and self-reliance by offering low-interest loans, repayable in local currency, to churches and to communities of the most marginalized and excluded. ECLOF has evolved considerably in the last seven years, improving the effectiveness of the national sharing instruments, the national ECLOF committees.

Solidarity, empowerment and advocacy
Practical actions. Solidarity can only be expressed between people. There is a certain solidarity in sharing the beliefs, values and aims of others, but unless it finds practical expression in some way it is not of much help. The evolution of Unit IV as a whole has made it more and more of an enabler, promoting (in the words of its mandate) "practical actions of solidarity which reflect our commitment to a more just sharing of resources amidst growing poverty, displacement and exclusion, locally and regionally".

Traditionally, the "practical actions" of the unit were considered to be generating and transmitting funds through its various resource-sharing systems. However, the unit staff and its partners have increasingly come to see enabling practical and effective actions by churches around the world as the outcome of all of its inter-related activities - resource-sharing, capacity-building, information-gathering and analysis, and networking and advocacy.

Capacity-building and empowerment. Capacity-building, through training, information-sharing, provision of international analysis and exchanges, has always been a priority of the WCC. It has been promoted through programmes like ecumenical scholarships, which remains a key entry-point into ecumenical life for many people. In 1994, for example, 275 awards were given, 66 percent to men and 34 percent to women. A target for the future is to increase the number of scholarships to women.

Regional Groups and Round Tables often identify training needs for churches and communities. An example is an April 1997 workshop in Freetown, Sierra Leone, held on the request of the Africa regional group to contribute to developing a strategy for building women's capacities in their individual countries and in the subregion. Five countries were represented. This meeting, a collaborative effort between the Africa desk and the scholarships programme, illustrates the direction away from individual projects and scholarships towards a more strategic and systematic planning and programming in the area of capacity-building.

Capacity-building initiatives in the area of emergencies have featured strongly in the work of the area desks over these years. As emergency work has increased and internationalized, it has been more and more important for the WCC to support local churches and the indigenous populations to play their distinctive role. In the response to emergencies the place of counselling, community reconciliation and reconstruction speaks loudly for the active participation of local churches.

Linked to the task of capacity-building is the growing need for ecumenical formation. Regional and global workshops with church and ecumenical leaders and with international ecumenical agency staff are evolving. A curriculum has been developed for agencies to use with new staff or those unfamiliar with the ecumenical movement and its goals. In the regions the focus is on the future viability of the movement through self-reliance and renewed leadership.

Finally, the unit has sought to develop and promote gender guidelines for the work of sharing and service, conscious that this approach offers a new way for realizing the vision of community based on mutual dignity and equality between men and women.

Networking and advocacy. Networking and advocacy connect the local with the global. Networking ensures that otherwise disparate communities concerned about the same issue get to know one another. Advocacy makes the connections between specific problems - and their various local manifestations - and the international agencies and policy-making bodies responsible. Marginalized groups are by definition excluded from the decision-making which affects their lives. The globalization of political and economic decision-making has made it nearly impossible to determine who is ultimately responsible for many policies which profoundly affect local people in local environments. If the church's voice is to be heard then it must be involved in the politics of national and international policy-making and review.

Effective advocacy needs to be local, national and international. Local advocacy means empowering groups and communities to speak out and influence local government policies, so as to improve the immediate circumstances in which people live. Nationally, it means encouraging and supporting the advocacy of national and ecumenical church organizations, and sometimes challenging church leaders to contribute to national policy debates. Internationally, it means seeking to influence ecumenical organizations, intergovernmental institutions and the United Nations. Globalization has drastically reduced the power of national governments to undertake this role, which is why the WCC's efforts are so important.

This comprehensive approach to advocacy requires careful monitoring and evaluation. It must be planned and coordinated for maximum effectiveness. It must be adapted in the light of experience and achievements. Above all, it must be ethical: advocacy should not be allowed to put lives in danger. Many churches, for example, are vulnerable to persecution because of their minority status or because their country is governed by an oppressive regime. In other situations, churches may be close to the seat of power or be otherwise privileged by the state. Both situations present obvious challenges and dangers.

The awareness-raising aspects of networking and advocacy demand an appropriate and professional use of mass media. Such an approach involves communicating signs of hope as well as issues of concern. The many good things which have been achieved and are being achieved throughout the world - things which have made a positive difference to the lives of countless people - must be upheld as examples and models of what is possible. Such initiatives are beacons of hope and faith.

Organizing international campaigns is sometimes the most effective way of bringing attention to serious issues of global concern and of achieving changes in international policy. In step with member churches, the WCC has initiated or participated in several major campaigns in recent years. In each case, the entry point has been a fundamental commitment to the jubilee people: women, children, the uprooted and the politically and economically marginalized.

1. Solidarity with the politically marginalized: networking and advocacy with the churches against nuclear testing in the Pacific. The resumption of French nuclear testing on Moruroa and Fangataufa in 1995 evoked surprise and disappointment in the whole world but especially in the Pacific. In response, Unit IV's Pacific and Communications desks became fully engaged in coordination: receiving and diffusing information, producing advocacy material (including postcards, a testimony document, a poster), and participating in a wide range of meetings in Europe and in protest demonstrations and interviews in Geneva. The Europe-Pacific Solidarity (EPS) network played an important part in this. The Unit IV report to the WCC Central Committee in September 1995 was the starting point for a research project on the effects of nuclear tests on the health and well-being of the people of French Polynesia; and in October 1997 EPS published Moruroa and Us - Polynesians' Experiences during Thirty Years of Nuclear Testing in the French Pacific. One of its findings was that 6 percent of the Polynesian workers were 16 years of age and 10 percent 17 years or less when they started working at the French nuclear testing sites. As soon as the study was made public, it evoked reactions around the world, especially in France and in French Polynesia and the other Pacific Island states.

2. Solidarity with the economically marginalized: networking and advocacy to promote debt cancellation for the poorest countries by the year 2000. The WCC, churches and church-related organizations have long given priority to helping to counteract the impact of foreign debt on the poorest countries. An appraisal by the Council's Advisory Group on Economic Matters of the international financial system served as the basis for a Central Committee statement on foreign debt already in 1985; and the WCC helped to organize a hearing on development and the debt issue in Berlin in 1989. More recently, the Council has been analyzing the debt crisis in the context of the jubilee tradition.

In September 1997 the Central Committee called for a joint ecumenical action plan to address the debt issue in support of the WCC's work on globalization, social movements and exclusion. The Central Committee recommended that the WCC assist member churches in cooperation with ecumenical partners to (1) develop an ecumenical action plan in support of the cancellation of foreign debt for the poorest countries by the year 2000, and (2) work together within this action plan to develop a joint statement by the churches for adoption by the Harare assembly.

Churches and church-related organizations have also conducted research, lobbying and campaigns to mobilize public opinion and governments on this issue. A consultation has been convened to prepare a statement for the assembly to respond to, elaborate an ecumenical action plan and work out a strategy for setting up an international mechanism to prevent the recurrence of the unpayable debt burden cycle. The methodology will be rooted in the exchange of experiences among churches and bodies.

3. Solidarity with children: networking and advocacy for children's rights and dignity. Since 1990 the Latin America and Caribbean Desk of Unit IV has worked with the Latin American Council of Churches and the National Council of Churches in the USA to establish a network of marginalized children. The network was set up originally by groups of children and adults working with children in areas not usually served by churches. Children in this region are often the victims of violence; for example, Brazilian street children may be the targets of police death squads intent on "cleaning up the streets"; children may be left behind in the Dominican Republic when their parents are forcibly deported to Haiti.

Inspired by the experience in Latin America and its relationship with children's initiatives in other regions, Unit IV started a process of supporting the rights of marginalized children. The objective was to support children in their own advocacy role and to support the churches in being in solidarity with them. Central to the strategy is the building of a global ecumenical child network.

In May 1996 a consultation was held in Geneva which included nine children from five continents among its participants. The particular problems of street children - child sexual exploitation and child labour, for example - were vividly brought to life by these children, who demonstrated tremendous courage and insight. The WCC is virtually unique in its encouragement of such meaningful inclusion of children in its own advocacy work and in its recognition of children as leaders in addressing their own problems.

A second consultation was held in Brazil in October 1997. More than 30 children and young adults met with adults, representing 25 countries. Participants adopted an action plan laying out the next steps for the development of the network up to the assembly and beyond.

4. Solidarity with the stranger: networking and advocacy through the 1997 Ecumenical Year of Churches in Solidarity with Uprooted People. The urgency of the global situation of refugees, internally displaced persons and migrants led to a new WCC policy statement on uprooted people, adopted by the Central Committee in September 1995, "A Moment to Choose: Risking to be with Uprooted People". This policy statement emerged from an 18-month process of consultation and dialogue conducted by RMS with member churches and related agencies around the world, many of which elaborated their own submissions by conducting consultations with their constituents.

Along with the policy statement, the Central Committee also passed two resolutions regarding its implementation: churches were invited to mark 1997 as the Ecumenical Year of Churches in Solidarity with Uprooted People; and local congregations were invited to collect signatures to protest the manufacturing of anti-personnel mines and to urge the immediate clearance of existing mines.

The Geneva launch of the Ecumenical Year took place in March 1997 at the annual meeting of the WCC's Global Ecumenical Network on Uprooted People. Churches responded enthusiastically; and many decided to extend the campaign into 1998, thus reaffirming the global ecumenical commitment to many millions of refugees, internally displaced persons and migrant workers. Rekindling serious conversation about what it means to be the Church of the Stranger, churches have considered what actions are needed to express practical solidarity with uprooted people and church partners.

As part of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, the WCC collected signatures in support of the campaign and worked jointly with the Lutheran World Federation to raise awareness about the need to ban this indiscriminate weapon, and supported church participation in the campaign.

5. Solidarity with women: networking and advocacy for women's empowerment through a gender approach. Unit IV has taken seriously the long history of WCC commitments most recently focused in the Ecumenical Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women by working to increase consciousness of women's needs, capacities and potential when allocating resources in advocacy, development and communications.

As noted above, the Scholarships programme has sought to encourage more women candidates. A new emphasis on shorter-term scholarships and an increase in South-to-South placements also helps women whose traditional household responsibilities preclude long periods away from home to consider training.

At the international level, RMS was a founding member of the international NGO working group that co-hosted the first consultation on women refugees (1989) whose lobbying resulted in the creation in 1991 of a special office within the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to address the needs of women refugees.

The Unit IV commission meeting in 1993 recognized that there is still a gap between articulated commitments to women and practical actions. Since then all desks have reviewed their work with women in regional groups and have sought to reflect these commitments in all their responsibilities.

In response to the continued need to address the gender gap in the work of the unit, the commission decided at its next meeting, in Alexandria in 1995, that the needs and rights of marginalized and excluded women should be one of the five priorities of the unit's work. The commission recognized that solidarity with jubilee women must not place the full responsibility of change on women or isolate their concerns as "women's issues and projects". The commission recommended that the unit should have a gender approach in this work.

Over a period of six months, all unit staff discussed the particularity of a gender approach to their work. A working group on advocacy with women produced a set of development guidelines entitled "Gender Guidelines: Nurturing Spirituality in Sharing and Service". The focus of the gender perspective on which the guidelines were developed is the understanding that God's purpose for humanity is expressed in the saving love of God in the renewal of the whole creation, of which women and men are full participants.

The guidelines were prepared to assist Unit IV desks to raise questions about gender relations in daily work and in relationships with regional and local partners. They are also being applied to policy and planning, monitoring and project evaluation.

Lessons learned and directions for the future
Between late 1996 and mid-1997, Unit IV engaged in an extensive evaluation process, including a concerted attempt to examine the work accomplished by the unit as a whole and by each working group within the unit individually, in order to establish priorities for the future.

The evaluation intentionally upheld the values contained within the vision statement, and included the following components:

  • internal reflection on the work of the last six years;
  • feedback solicited from a broad spectrum of partners (churches, diaconal organizations, international agency partners, regional group members, commissioners, ACT, ECLOF and international NGOs);
  • examination and critique of the internal structures that support the work of the unit;
  • identification of strengths and weaknesses in collaboration and consultation between Unit IV and other units.

A small committee of staff and consultants drafted a questionnaire to solicit feedback from partners. The questions were related to the mandate of the unit and issues of relationship, and comments were invited on limitations, unmet expectations and priorities for work in the future.


This period has seen a significant strengthening of networks and platforms for common planning, resource-sharing and action. On the global level the creation of the heads-of-agencies network has been highly appreciated by the agencies; and it is hoped that this will further develop in the next years as a platform for discussion and cooperation between agencies and the WCC on a variety of common concerns related to issues of sharing, solidarity and justice.

On the regional level, Regional Groups have moved away from the traditional role of project screening and into the field of policy-analysis and dialogue. They have sought to promote cooperation between the growing number of ecumenical partners and networks and to provide an ethos in which mutual criticism and encouragement can flourish. The widening role of these groups is anticipated in the future serving the needs of the Council as a whole.

Round Tables have been thoroughly reviewed and are now undergoing a systematic revitalization. It is expected that Round Tables will grow in numbers and importance so long as the WCC can ensure that the performance of this instrument can be maintained and sustained. The criteria for measuring quality and effectiveness are clearly set out in the new ecumenical guidelines on Round Tables.

Practical actions of solidarity
The work of the WCC is known worldwide because it is practical. By supporting and accompanying local churches and groups, it seeks to make a practical difference. The evaluation has been able to quantify this work and thus gain some perspective on its scale and impact.

Increasingly, the role of the WCC has become one of enabling networks to come into place whereby a variety of actors, local and international, can coordinate their efforts and maximize their impact. This task however is not merely administrative. The role of the WCC is to carry a vision and communicate values and ways of working together which ensure that practical action is not driven by money and the thinking of those providing the money. The WCC will need in the future to elaborate much more on how to carry out this role of facilitation effectively. The creation of sound and efficient networks like ACT and ECLOF, as well as effective platforms for decision-making and sharing, such as Regional Groups and Round Tables, are one important step in this direction.

Ecumenical formation and capacity-building
This element of the Council's work is more and more important for the constituency. It is a primary focus for the future. In all cases the partners surveyed find this aspect of the work motivating and beneficial. To quote one: "As a result of WCC Unit IV's input and support, a number of Christian councils have undergone evaluation exercises leading to turn around' strategies that have enhanced the image and performance of councils in West Africa."

All regional desks have been involved in training - mostly in workshop style events. Target groups for this training, especially project-planning and management training, have been Regional Ecumenical Organizations, national councils of churches, Round Table partners, church-related NGOs and local agencies. In Latin America, as a result of a series of workshops on popular education, a regional network was created which now provides a space for reflection for more than 50 groups and churches related to the regional desk.

Emergency preparedness is another priority area for capacity-building initiatives. The Pacific, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and Europe have all supported workshops for this purpose, often in conjunction with ACT.

Responding to the need to avoid dependency situations, many regions have begun to promote credit as a funding possibility. For some regions, notably Africa, this represents enormous change from a grant-oriented methodology. ECLOF has been the chosen instrument for many years in some regions for promoting this idea.

Ecumenical formation has grown to be an urgent priority in these last seven years. In many situations there is a lack of awareness and sensitivity to the "ecumenical approach". This is due to generational changes in the leadership, evolving and secularizing mandates within related ecumenical bodies and hesitation on a local level to think ecumenically rather than confessionally.

Networking and advocacy
The networks supported through the work of Unit IV take different forms. Some are permanent networks, whose work directly relates to the mandate and work of staff teams. An example is the Global Ecumenical Network on Uprooted People, which was created by the WCC with its member churches and related ecumenical organizations and is serviced by the Geneva secretariat. The same can be said of the Global Ecumenical Child Network.

The newly created Global Network of Children Helping Children is not envisaged as a permanent network of the WCC. It is being started up with discrete short-term goals. WCC support and services will gradually give way to a structure which has its own autonomy.

The networks related directly to the work of resource-sharing - Regional Groups, Round Tables, ACT and ECLOF - have a more permanent character and are essential to the staff in Geneva for carrying out their work effectively and cooperatively. They are in reality a hybrid between representative bodies (committees or advisory groups) elected by the WCC governing structures (and others) and networks of actors who voluntarily come together to cooperate.

Though loosely used, the term "network" does convey the dynamic character of the work. Structures are not rigid but evolve according to changing contexts and needs. This flexibility is absolutely consistent with the future pattern and working style of the Council.

The key to success in all these networks is relationships and communication. Without trust and mutual accountability there is no relationship, and without open and systematic sharing of information and ideas little can be achieved. So while the ecumenical guidelines on the sharing of resources may in their present written form be a little dated, the challenge to develop new and more appropriate ethical guidelines is very much before us.

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of Churches. Remarks to: webeditor