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21 November 2001

Special Commission on Orthodox participation in the WCC:
Consensus on consensus as appropriate decision-making method for the Council

cf. WCC Press Update, Up-00-36, of 26 October 2000
cf. WCC Press Update of 9 December 1999

At the conclusion of its third plenary meeting, the Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the World Council of Churches (WCC), meeting in Berekfürdö, Hungary, 15-20 November, released the following communiqué:


The Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the World Council of Churches (WCC) held its third plenary session, 15-20 November 2001, at Berekfürdö, Hungary, at the gracious invitation of the Reformed Church in Hungary.

The Commission is composed of an equal number of representatives appointed by the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches and representatives from other member churches of the WCC appointed by the WCC Central Committee. Its co-moderators were Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Ephesus (Ecumenical Patriarchate) and Bishop Rolf Koppe (Evangelical Church in Germany) and in Bishop Koppe's absence, Dr Anna Marie Aagaard (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark).

The mandate of the Special Commission is "to study and analyze the whole spectrum of issues related to Orthodox participation in the WCC" and "to make proposals concerning the necessary changes in structure, style and ethos of the Council" to the WCC Central Committee.

An interim report, summarizing the Commission's work from its first and second plenary meetings in Morges, Switzerland, 6-8 December 1999, and Cairo, Egypt, 23-25 October 2000, was presented to the WCC Central Committee meeting in Potsdam, Germany, 29 January - 6 February 2001. The interim report identified five clusters of concerns:

  • issues related to membership;
  • a review of decision-making processes;
  • common prayer;
  • social and ethical issues;
  • ecclesiological issues.

    At its third plenary meeting, the Commission made considerable progress. One of the most significant affirmations of the Commission was that consensus is the appropriate decision-making method for WCC governing bodies. This process intends to insure that all strongly held positions will be incorporated in the report or in the process of the meeting as a whole, thus contributing to a spirit of common work toward unity in the conduct of business in the Council. By consensus, the Commission proposed the following definition for further consideration:

    The consensus method is a process for seeking the common mind of a meeting without deciding issues by means of voting. A consensus is reached when one of the following occurs:

    (a) all are in agreement (unanimity);
    (b) most are in agreement and those who disagree are content that the discussion has been both full and fair and that the proposal expresses the general 'mind of the meeting'; the minority therefore gives consent;
    (c) the meeting acknowledges that there are various opinions, and it is agreed that these be recorded in the body of the proposal (not just in the minutes);
    (d) it is agreed that the matter be postponed;
    (e) it is agreed that no decision can be reached.

    Therefore consensus procedures allow any group of churches, through a spokesperson, to have their objections to any proposal addressed and satisfied prior to the adoption of the proposal, or on rare occasions for any group of churches to stop any proposal until they are satisfied that their concerns have been fully addressed.

    It was recommended that, upon the completion of the work of the Special Commission, "a parity committee", a group of 12 members - 50 per cent Orthodox and 50 per cent others - will continue to give advice and make recommendations to the Central and Executive Committees of the WCC.

    The Commission affirmed the function of the WCC as a necessary instrument in facing social and ethical issues. Taking seriously that such issues arise out of the life of the churches, and that, at the churches' request, the WCC speaks on their behalf rather than in their place, the Commission affirmed that consensus methodology in WCC governing bodies would address many of the concerns raised on social and ethical issues.

    Addressing issues of common prayer, the Commission expressed that "Christians need to plead together for divine assistance". At the same time the Commission saw the need for careful guidelines for common prayer.

    Underlying these discussions was the enduring question of how the churches understand themselves in relation to the one Church, the Body of Christ. This question was seen to permeate all issues under discussion.

    Representatives of the membership study group, who met prior to the plenary session of the Commission in Budapest, 12-14 November, presented a second interim report, exploring alternative models of participation in the life and work of the WCC. With the help of members of the Special Commission, the membership study group is continuing to prepare a new set of criteria - embracing both theological and ecclesial requirements - for the benefit of churches applying for membership. It was expected that current member churches would find themselves described by these criteria.

    The members of the Commission attended Sunday worship in the Debrecen Reformed Great Church and visited the Debrecen Reformed College. During the worship, both co-moderators, Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Ephesus and Dr Anna Marie Aagaard, addressed the congregation and gave an account of the work of the Special Commission. At a lunch reception, the presiding bishop of the Reformed Church in Hungary, Bishop Dr Gusztáv Bölcskei, as well as the president, Bishop Dr Mihály Márkus, and the general secretary, Rev. Dr Tibor Görög, of the Hungarian Ecumenical Council welcomed the Commission members. On behalf of the Commission members, Dr Aagaard expressed her warmest gratitude for the hospitality of the Reformed Church in Hungry and thanked Bishop Bölcskei and Rev. Bertalan Tamás for the excellent preparatory work and coordination. At the close of the meeting, Commission members also expressed their thanks to the WCC staff for their hard work on behalf of the group.

    The Commission plans to meet in plenary session in Helsinki, Finland, 27 May - 2 June 2002, to prepare the final report which is expected for the WCC Central Committee meeting to be held in Geneva, Switzerland, 26 August - 3 September 2002.

    The Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC was created by the WCC's eighth assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe, in 1998. Behind the decision to create the Commission were increasingly vocal expressions of concerns about the WCC among Orthodox churches. These had culminated in a meeting of Eastern Orthodox Churches in Thessaloniki, Greece, in May 1998. Central Orthodox concerns as summarized by that meeting included some activities of the WCC itself, "certain developments within some Protestant member churches of the Council that are reflected in the debates of the WCC", lack of progress in ecumenical theological discussions, and the perception that the present structure of the WCC makes meaningful Orthodox participation increasingly difficult and even for some impossible. In its action approving creation of the Special Commission, the Harare assembly noted that "other churches and ecclesial families" have concerns similar to those expressed by the Orthodox.

    For more information on the Special Commission please consult the following pages on this site, or please contact Media Relations Office, Tel: (+41.22) 791.64.21

    For more information contact:
    the Media Relations Office
    tel.: (+41 22) 791 6153 (office);
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    The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 337, 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.