World Council of Churches Office of Communication
Press Release
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13 December 1998

WCC Eighth Assembly - Press Release No. 45

The World Council of Churches is to set up a commission on the participation of the Orthodox churches. Their membership of the WCC has recently been troubled by dissatisfaction among some Orthodox over what they regard as difficulties in making their tradition's voice heard within the otherwise Protestant body.

The Eighth Assembly of the WCC, meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe, decided on Saturday (12 December) to set up the commission, which will take at least three years on its task. Half the members will be determined by the Orthodox churches and half by the executive committee of the WCC, after consultations with other member churches.

The Rev. Paul Oestreicher (Church of England) told his fellow delegates that the Russian Orthodox Church was "undergoing a turbulent time of inner crisis. However, its immense spiritual wealth, its deep spirituality, are factors we should learn from. More martyrs have died for it than any other church and we must express our deep love for the church and all it has stood for in history."

The WCC was asked to change its name to World Fellowship of Churches by a delegate who argued that without full participation of the Roman Catholic Church, it could not be regarded as either a world council or a world synod. The Rev. Dr. Paul Avis (Church of England) said that the WCC was not taking radical steps to facilitate Catholic membership, which is represented at Assemblies by observers. His comments, made during the presentation of a report by the policy reference committee on the Moderator's report, were not a motion or an amendment, and so did not require a vote.

A proposal that the college of Presidents of the Central Committee -- there are currently eight -- should be elected by the Central Committee instead of the Assembly was rejected. The policy reference committee had argued that election by the Assembly had proved to be "politicised and painful" in the past, and that giving the task to the smaller Central Committee after an Assembly had dispersed would allow "a more extensive and sensitive consultation process". The Assembly rejected the change on the grounds that not all churches are represented on the committee, as they are in the Assembly, and that any pain in the process was a price worth paying for openness.

The report of the Moderator of the Central Committee, His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of Cilicia (Armenian Orthodox Church) (Press Release No. 5), was approved. It noted, among other issues, that Easter, the date of which is calculated differently by the Orthodox and Western churches, will fall on a common date, 15 April, in 2001. He expressed the hope of "the possibility at this point in time of a step toward a common celebration [by all denominations] of Easter".

Other reports which received the endorsement of delegates included that of the General Secretary, the Rev. Dr. Konrad Raiser (Press Release No. 6) and the policy statement "Towards a Common Understanding and Vision" (Press Release No 13).

Contact: John Newbury, WCC Press & Information Officer
Press and Information Office, Harare
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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.