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29 January - 6 February 2001
Potsdam, Germany

30 January 2001

Churches urged to create ecumenical space for better understanding
WCC general secretary´s report to the Central Committee

Churches should create an "ecumenical space" for understanding each other better, said the the general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser.

Dr Raiser wanted the churches to work towards "a safe space which allows for open discussion, where all can get a hearing and where the search for a common mind can take place without the pressure to win an argument or a vote."

Presenting his report to the WCC Central Committee here on 29 January, Dr Raiser said that ecumenical space should also be sacred or spiritual, continuously renewed through common prayer and worship. "It should finally be a sustainable space with structures of governance which are open and flexible... and with a praxis of education and formation which continuously reconstitutes new generations of leadership."

Dr Raiser´s comments closed his presentation in which he lifted up some of the challenges facing the "search for full communion ... when all the churches are able to recognise in one another the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church in its fullness." He said that the official position of the Roman Catholic Church and of the Russian Orthodox Church, "who both consider their own communion to be the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church as established by our Lord and Saviour himself" was a challenge to the work of the WCC and other conciliar bodies.

"They both declare that in faithfulness to the apostolic tradition they cannot recognise in other churches the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, even though they acknoweldge church unity as a gospel imperative", Dr Raiser noted.

On the other hand, he added, many of the Protestant churches have no difficulty in recognising each other as churches, "but their attachment to denominational autonomy and/or confessional integrity stands in tension with affirmation of the catholicity of the church." Though these churches have an open mind for ecumenical fellowship with other churches, "their being part of this fellowship does not fundamentally affect their ‘being church’".

According to Dr Raiser, being in relationship and in fellowship should be the basis for the churches in the ecumenical movement.

Speaking on some of the developments in the WCC, Dr Raiser gave as one example the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance founded in December 2000 as an open ecumenical space in which all partners in the ecumenical movement can have equal participation.

The Alliance, which is facilitated by the WCC, brings together the regional ecumenical organisations and fellowships, church agencies, Christian World Communions and international ecumenical and Roman Catholic organisations "to work strategically on priorities identified as common to our witness and work". The Alliance will initially focus on global economic justice with a focus on global trade, and ethics of life with a focus on HIV/AIDS.

Dr Raiser said that the project is an answer to the challenges created by the process of globalisation. He hoped that the Alliance will provide a new model for ecumenical cooperation and will be a source for new inspiration and encouragment, "showing that the ecumenical movement has the potential of shaping an alternative to the process of globalisation based on solidarity and cooperation rather than on competition and confrontation."

Earlier, explaining the context of the 29 January-6 February Central Committee meeting, Dr Raiser said that racism, anti-semitism and aggressive xenophobia are prevailing in many parts of Europe.

"We are still confronted with an exclusivist, defensive or confrontational mentality which projects enemy images and responds with intolerance to what is alien and strange in an increasingly pluralistic and multi-cultural context," Dr Raiser commented.

This is the first time that the WCC Central Committee has met in united Germany. Three Central Committee meetings were held previously in Germany during "the ideological and military bloc confrontation of the cold war".

Photos from the Central Committee

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The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 342, 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.