World Council of Churches Office of Communication
Press Release
150, route de Ferney PO Box 2100 1211 Geneva 2 Switzerland E-mail: media

8 December 1998

WCC Eighth Assembly - Press Release No. 19

Pressure was brought to bear on the World Council of Churches Tuesday (8 December) to appoint more women and young people to its Central Committee, the 150-strong body that governs the WCC between its seven-yearly Assemblies. The Eighth Assembly, meeting (3-14 December) at Harare, Zimbabwe, is drawing up names for a new Central Committee.

A Business Plenary before the arrival of President Mugabe (see Press Release No. 20) was brief but passionate. Bishop Melvin G. Talbert, moderator of the Nominations Committee, admitted to the Assembly that the committee was still not satisfied with its revised list of nominees: 61 per cent are male and 38.9 per cent female; 15 per cent of this total are young people and 39.3 per cent are laity.

"The committee has said emphatically that these statistics are unacceptable -- and I agree," said Bishop Talbert (United Methodist Church, USA). "The choice is up to us -- the Assembly is the nominations committee. It is incumbent upon us to decide whether we mean what we say or not about fair representation on the Committee, particularly with regard to women and youth."

He broke down the figures further. Among non-Orthodox churches, nominations from the main geographical areas worked out as: Africa, 24 seats: 17 male, 7 female, of which 3 are youth; Asia 24 seats: 14 male, 10 female (4 youth); Caribbean 4: 3 male, 1 female (0 youth); Europe 27: 16 male, 11 female (5 youth); Latin America 6: 3 male, 3 female (1 youth); North America 23, 14 male, 9 female (4 youth); Pacific 5: 2 male, 3 female (0 youth). For the 37 Orthodox seats, the proportions were 31 male, 6 female (5 youth).

Impassioned calls from the floor for more young people and women on the Committee were heavily applauded by delegates. One of the most impassioned was from Dr Marion Best (United Church of Canada), a retiring member of the Committee: "I feel a very deep disappointment, fast rising to a high level of anger. When the Ecumenical Decade in Solidarity with Women was launched, I tried to support it, I met with church leaders, and now the percentage of women on the Committee is less than it was at (the Seventh Assembly at) Canberra. I don't know if I want to be part of (the WCC) if it doesn't change."

A youth member of the Assembly, Mr Christian Liebchen (Evangelical Church in Germany) said: "After 50 years of the WCC we sang "Happy birthday', but the Council is rapidly advancing toward retirement."

The half-century was also on the mind of Sandra Scholz (Evangelical Church in Germany), who said that there were hardly any young people in German churches. "Young people will flow to events which they think speak to them, and these are best arranged by young people who are already here, otherwise the WCC will be dead in 50 years."

Mr Stig Arne Somby (Church of Norway) spoke up for more representation of indigenous peoples: "The WCC believes in justice and I believe in justice. I am young and probably very naive, but I thought the WCC would work for justice in itself. It thinks that a percentage of indigenous people in colourful costumes looks good for the cameras, but when the cameras are removed, so are we."

The Rev. Avadis Bayouniakrian (Union of the Armenian Evangelical Churches in the Near East) complained that neither the Middle East nor the Evangelical churches were represented on the Committee. He added drily: "You will remember that Christianity was born in, and spread from, the Middle East."

Contact: John Newbury, WCC Press & Information Officer
Press and Information Office, Harare
Tel: +
E-Mail: WCC media

The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 339, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the Assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.