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


2 September 1999


The "Special Commission" on Orthodox and Protestant dialogue in the World Council of Churches (WCC) will hold its first meeting in the first week in December 1999 in Geneva.

The scheduling decision was made Tuesday evening, 31 August, at an informal meeting of designated representatives to the commission who serve on the WCC Central Committee, and announced Wednesday at a press briefing by Bishop Rolf Koppe (Evangelical Church in Germany), who heads the department of ecumenical affairs and ministries abroad of his church.

"It’s obvious to all of us that the World Council of Churches is in a process of renewal," said Dr Gabriel Habib, a former general secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches who is currently the consultant on International Affairs at the National Council of Churches of the USA. "The fellowship we have had for the past 50 years now requires [that it] renew itself and [that] its method of work become even more relevant."

Koppe said 30 persons from "each side" will take part in the first meeting, which will identify issues and set the agenda for future meetings. The second meeting will be held in 2000, on a date to be decided in December.

"You have heard it said that the dialogue between Orthodox and Protestant churches is frozen," Koppe told journalists. "I prefer to speak of a sleeping dialogue, moving from dreaming a nightmare of separation to dreaming of harmony between churches."

Divisions between Orthodox and Protestant members surfaced clearly after a meeting of Orthodox churches in Thessaloniki in May 1998 called for a radical restructuring of the Council, and after the Orthodox churches in Georgia and Bulgaria withdrew from the WCC.

The Special Commission is scheduled to meet over the next three years, and "has a good chance to make proposals for the future shape of the WCC," Koppe told reporters. The bishop declined to be drawn into speculating what those proposals might be, joking with one reporter that his main hope is that "we will come to an end before my retirement in 2006".

Teny Pirri-Simonian of the WCC’s Church and Ecumenical Relations team, who participated in the press briefing, said Orthodox members have long been concerned about their inability to affect Council policies on theological issues, such as ordination of women and human sexuality. Dr Alan Falconer of the WCC’s Faith and Order team, pointed out that the Council has taken no stands on these or other issues.

Even so, Pirri-Simonian said, "Orthodox churches never felt comfortable with statements that came out of the WCC... (Orthodox) always made a minority statement."

"Soon after Thessaloniki we were impressed by the reaction of member churches and, since then, there is a very special interest to listen. I hope there will be fruitful results that will have an effect on the World Council of Churches."

Habib expressed confidence that Orthodox churches will remain active in the Council during the three years the commission will meet. "They consider the commission a good opportunity to make the World Council of Churches a better home," he said. "They will not withdraw; however, they would like to challenge the WCC."

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.