World Council of Churches Office of Communication
Press Release
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26 August 1999


The Moderator of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Central Committee has challenged WCC member churches to work together as a dynamic fellowship to counter some of the tendencies of the 20th century which has become human- rather than God-centered.

"The church is not a museum, destined to remain immutable and untouchable," said His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of Cilicia, in his report on the opening day of the Central Committee, Wednesday, 26 August. "The church is not a self-centered and self-sufficient reality... The church must search constantly for more relevant modes of being church."

The 158-member governing body of the WCC, elected last December by delegates to the WCC's Eighth Assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe, is meeting at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva, Switzerland, 26 August through 3 September.

Aram I, who is serving his second seven-year term as the Committee's moderator, noted in a wide-ranging report that "western liberal values" are in part responsible for the rise of religious fundamentalism and destructive ethnocentrism. He called upon the ecumenical movement to resume its role of providing a setting "for a meaningful and creative dialogue between cultures and traditions."

His Holiness offered words of caution to those who believe things are going "smoothly" between Orthodox churches and other WCC member churches, and warned that optimism that the Council's financial crisis will soon be over "is premature."

More fellowship, less programmes
Reflecting on the "clear message" sounded by Harare delegates, Aram I said the WCC must spend less time looking inward. "It should focus less on programmes and more on fellowship-building," he said.

Although it should not neglect its "institutional obligations," the Council should develop a "relational style" with its member churches, he said. But member churches must also work on enhancing their relationships with the Council and with one another.

"The question is not what the Council can do for the churches, but also what the churches can do for the Council and what the churches through the Council can do for each other," he declared. "The Council should reflect what the churches are and do on the local level; and the churches should manifest the perspectives and expectations of the global fellowship in their own context."

He reminded the Central Committee that the WCC is a fellowship of churches. "The primary purpose of the Council is not establishing programmes... (but) to call the churches to "visible unity in one faith and in one eucharistic fellowship.'"

Legacy of the 20th century
As the churches move to enhance their fellowship and witness in the next century, they must contend with some of the left-over problems of the 20th century, Aram suggested.

He expressed concern that humankind has become too human-centered and not enough God-centered. Individualism and aggressive consumerism "have almost made the human being the center of the world," he said. "The rights of the individual have primacy over spiritual and ethical values, particularly in Western societies.... But the more humanity dominates the creation, the more it accelerates the process of the earth's destruction and human self-annihilation." The churches have an important task to call humanity back to its accountability to God, he said.

The Moderator also warned of the dangers of "ethno-nationalistic ideological movements" that erupt in violent conflicts such as that between Yugoslavia and Kosovo. "The church sometimes finds itself caught between the imperatives of the Gospel and its ethnic ties and obligations," he said. "The ecumenical movement must engage the churches, on the local, regional and global levels, in a comprehensive and critical discussion on ethnicity and its implications on the role of churches in society."

Journey of hope
As the Central Committee prepares to govern the WCC for the next six years, Aram I said, the many challenges should be faced in a spirit of hope.

Some challenges that faced the former Central Committee remain, he said, including relationships with Orthodox members and budget problems.

"Many think that everything went smoothly with the Orthodox in Harare, and that the "Orthodox concerns' will soon be met," he said. "We must not pretend things are in order and moving smoothly." Up to now little progress has been made in setting up the process for a "Special Commission" called for by delegates in Harare to discuss Orthodox concerns about their membership in the Council, he noted.

Even so, the Moderator expressed optimism. "We are fragile indeed. We must be ready for the unexpected, for the good surprises of the Holy Spirit as well as for the bad surprises of the "powers and principalities' of the world. But, empowered by the Spirit and sustained by the common vision, we are firmly committed to continue our journey of hope."

World Council of Churches Media Relations Office Tel: (41.22) 791.61.53 / 791.64.21 Fax: (41.22) 798.13.46 E-Mail: media P.O. Box 2100 CH-1211 Geneva 2

For more information contact:
Karin Achtelstetter, Media Relations Officer
tel.: (+41 22) 791 6153 (office);
e-mail: media
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The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 336, 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.