WCC NEWS: A newsletter of the World Council of Churches, April 2001, Number 05

Inside issue number 5
April 2001
Please feel free to reproduce this material and pass it on.

The Churches Commit Themselves to a
Decade of Work for Peace

A colourful and enthusiastic crowd of people gathered from all over the world to say "NO" to violence in all its forms. This was the international launch of the "Decade to Overcome Violence: Churches Seeking Reconciliation and Peace" (DOV) in Berlin, Germany, on 4 February of this year. The celebrations began in the morning with an ecumenical service in four languages, with hymns and music from different cultures, commemorating child victims of violence throughout the world.

Geneva 2000 ecumenical team.

Stewards putting candles
around the DOV symbol

Festivities continued in the afternoon at the House of World Cultures, with a display of different ways and means of overcoming violence. This was followed by a cultural programme interspersed with official speeches and a Message marking the start of the Decade.

"Are you ready to work for peace?" asked one of the two presenters at the beginning of the event. "You’d better be," replied the other, Diana Mavunduse, the WCC’s DOV communicator, "You’re in for ten years of it!"

The celebrations culminated with a candle-light procession through the streets of Berlin to the famous Brandenburg Gate, itself a symbol of both oppression and reunification. Here central committee members gathered round to form the DOV logo with the lighted candles. Regional DOV launches will be held in the coming months.

Information about times and places, and news of the DOV can be found on the WCC website at http://wcc-coe.org/wcc/dov/index-e.html.

WCC News

Produced by:
WCC Public Information Team

Guest editor for this issue:
David Fines (Canada)

Managing editor:
Kristine Greenaway

For information write to:
WCC Communication
150 Route de Ferney
PO Box 2100
1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland

Tel: (41-22) 791 6111
Fax: (41-22) 791 0361
Email: bob@wcc-coe.org

David Fines

David Fines

The guest editor of this issue of WCC News is David Fines, editor-in-chief of Aujourd’hui Credo, the French-language magazine of the United Church of Canada, the only monthly magazine of the Protestant Reformed tradition published in French in North America. After studying psychology and theology and several years of pastoral work, he came to his present post five years ago. He is also the regular presenter of the radio programme "Les chemins protestants" broadcast in Montreal.

Where are the Young People?

It is disappointing to see so few young people in the WCC and in the ecumenical movement in general, but that’s the way it is, says Freddy Knutsen, who runs the WCC youth programme. Things are gradually changing, though, and the stewards programme organized around central committee meetings has contributed greatly to this trend.

The stewards gather a week before the meeting for an intensive seminar on the WCC and the ecumenical movement, with discussions on issues of concern to the WCC. They are then asked to prepare a project on ecumenism to present to their own local community. Involving them in discussions with members of central committee has been greatly appreciated on both sides, Knutsen says.

Some of the Stewards at central committee

Some of the Stewards at central committee

Perhaps the most valuable aspect of this experience is the testimony of the young stewards themselves. Working side by side, in close contact with other faith traditions, encountering and sharing their differences, they learn not just to communicate what ecumenism is, but to experience it as a reality. The meetings between the stewards and members of central committee help the latter discover what it means to live ecumenically, and not just talk about it.

Portrait of a young ecumenist

Olga Oleinik was one of the 39 young people invited to the recent meeting of the WCC central committee in Potsdam, Germany. This 25-year-old from Belarus works at an interchurch aid coordinating centre in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. The centre is run by the Russian Orthodox Church, the Baptist Union of Belarus and some Lutheran communities. Olga is an administrative assistant; besides secretarial work her duties include the documentation service, correspondence and communication. Though she knew nothing about ecumenism before she started work at the centre, she now finds it hard to imagine any other way of working in the church.

In most cases - though not all, she admits - young people are more open to ecumenism than older people. But they don’t know much about it, mainly because they lack information and contacts. If some are against it, she says, it’s because they’ve been influenced by people who are strongly anti-ecumenical.

Olga thinks this kind of exposure programme is a very effective way of interesting young people in the ecumenical movement. Speaking of young people in her country, for many of whom the future is anything but rosy, she said she hoped they could be given the opportunity to travel as much as possible, to encounter other cultures and visit other churches. "It’s important to broaden their contacts and their outlook on the world," she says.

Hello to New WCC
Staff Members

  • Diana Mavunduse, a Lutheran from Zimbabwe, appointed as communicator for the Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV)
  • Laura Short, a Mennonite from the United States, new DOV consultant in the Cluster on Relations
  • Tara Tautari, of the Maori Methodist Church in Aotearoa/New Zealand, appointed as executive secretary for Education and Ecumenical Formation (with responsibility for scholarships)
  • Guillermo Kerber, a Roman Catholic from Uruguay, consultant for Impunity, Truth and Reconciliation, International Relations team with responsibility for Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • Linda Hartke, a Lutheran from the United States, appointed as coordinator of the new Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance.
  • A Common Celebration of Easter

    For complicated historical reasons, the churches celebrate Easter according to different calendars. Sadly, the date of the main festival in the Christian liturgical year therefore varies from one church to another. This year is an exception, because the calendars coincide and Easter will be celebrated on the same date by all the Christian churches.

    After many consultations, the WCC has expressed the wish that this exception should become the rule so that the churches can celebrate the founding event of their faith on a common date. This would no longer be calculated according to either calendar, but would be based on accurate data obtained with modern techniques of astronomical observation.

    Theologians of different traditions -- Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox -- have agreed to reflect on the subject.

    Orthodox Easter worship in Tirana Orthodox Easter worship in Tirana

    The Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche

    The Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche

    Click here for
    more information

    Lively Debates at the WCC Central Committee

    From 28 January to 6 February of this year the WCC central committee held its first ever meeting in the reunited Germany. It met in Potsdam, outside Berlin, the city which was for so long a symbol of division. Now the emphasis was on reconciliation and overcoming violence. The committee officially launched the Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV) and took the opportunity to reflect on the many different forms that violence can take.

    The central committee, with 158 members, is the WCC’s main governing body, meeting every 12 to 18 months. It implements assembly decisions, supervises WCC programmes, receives reports and approves the budget. The moderator is His Holiness Aram 1, Catholicos of Cilicia. Many important issues were debated during the meeting. The Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC presented its interim report and the members expressed their appreciation of the progress made so far.

    Another lively debate took place on "humanitarian intervention", with the suggestion that the term be replaced by "protection of endangered populations in situations of armed force". The question of whether the churches can ever accept the use of violence was not resolved. However, the central committee urged that reflection on this fundamental issue should continue, and sent a report on the subject to the WCC member churches "for study, reflection and use as deemed appropriate".

    In its plenary session on the world economy, the central committee unequivocally condemned the immorality and unfairness of the debt burden on poor countries and resolved to undertake a serious theological analysis of globalization and its effects. It also issued statements on the conflicts in the Middle East, Sudan, Colombia, Cyprus and Indonesia.

    Visit One Another

    If the churches want to preserve their credibility, their relevance and even their identity in a rapidly changing world, they have to act together. At the recent WCC central committee meeting, many speakers stressed the importance of visits between churches and told of invaluable encounters.

    For the moderator, His Holiness Aram I, "praying together, reflecting together, working together at local level is certainly one of the best ways of bearing witness to the world". WCC general secretary Konrad Raiser emphasized, however, that the churches should not expect the WCC to set up a big programme of visits, but should take the initiative themselves.

    African Religiosity

    Enugu, Nigeria, was the venue for an important meeting between representatives of the Roman Catholic Church, African theologians and members of the WCC. They met there from 8 to 14 January to discuss the place and role of Africa in world Christianity. For Hans Ucko of the WCC’s team on Interreligious Relations and Dialogue, who set up the meeting, Africa’s influence throughout Christian history has been consistently played down. Yet it has been present all through, from the African church fathers to Negro spirituals, and its contribution has been extremely rich. The purpose of the Enugu meeting was to start a process of reflection on Africa’s role. Participants welcomed the fact that Africa was at last being placed at the centre of a religious debate rather than being discussed only in terms of its "problems".

    Among the many subjects discussed was the question of African religiosity. It was decided to continue this reflection, consolidating the network of contacts, continuing the dialogue and extending it to other religions (Islam, traditional religions), encouraging local contributions. Two other important consultations are already planned, one next year specifically on French-speaking Africa and the other, in 2003, on the important place of women in African religion.

    Monastery of Gracanica, near Prestina.

    Monastery of Gracanica, near Prestina.

    A Team from CEC/WCC Visits Yugoslavia

    For the first time since the political changes there, a joint team from the WCC and the Conference of European Churches (CEC) has visited the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. A group of seven people headed by the general secretary of the WCC, Konrad Raiser, and his CEC counterpart, Keith Clements, met the country’s religious leaders from 15 to 19 February 2001. In Belgrade, the delegation had fruitful meetings with representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church, notably His Holiness Patriarch Pavle and the holy synod, as well as with teachers and students at the faculty of theology.

    The team’s efforts focused chiefly on re-establishing communication with the various religious authorities in the country, after years of restrictions and isolation. New possibilities for cooperation between the Yugoslavian churches and the WCC were discussed: holding certain WCC meetings in Serbia, sending students to the Ecumenical Institute, Bossey, or involvement of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the Special Commission. Cooperation between Orthodox and Protestant churches was also discussed.

    The delegation also had the opportunity to talk with the new president of Yugoslavia, Vojislav Kostunica, notably on church-state relations and the difficult situation of the 700,000 refugees and displaced people.

    In Novi Sad the group met the leaders of Protestant communities. A sensitive problem for them is the fact that ethnic and religious minorities are often the same group of people. But, they said, the new government deserved to be trusted.

    His Beatitude Archbishop Anastasios of Albania
    H.B. Archbishop
    Anastasios of Albania

    Rev. Bärbel Wartenberg-Potter
    Rev. Bärbel Wartenberg-Potter

    Dr Ahn Jae Woong
    Dr Ahn Jae Woong


    His Beatitude Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, a member of the WCC central committee, has recently been awarded the Athenagoras Prize for human rights for 2001. This prize, in memory of Patriarch Athenagoras, a great promoter of peace, was presented to Archbishop Anastasios on 17 February in New York for the part he has played in the renaissance of the church in Albania.

    Rev. Bärbel Wartenberg-Potter, for many years in charge of the women’s desk at the WCC, will be installed as Bishop of Holstein-Lübeck in the North Elbian Evangelical Lutheran Church, on 1 April of this year. She was ordained to the ministry in 1980. After leaving the WCC, she taught Lutheran theology at the United Theological College in Kingston, Jamaica, before returning to work as a parish minister in Stuttgart in 1991. For the past three years she has been general secretary of the Council of Christian Churches in Germany.

    The central committee of the Christian Conference of Asia has elected Dr Ahn Jae Woong as the organization’s new general secretary. Dr Ahn Jae Woong is a member of the Presbyterian Church in Korea and has served the ecumenical movement in Asia in different capacities for three decades, including student associations and urban rural mission.

    In part because of the pressure of work that lies ahead for the WCC with the changes shortly to be proposed by the Special Commission, the central committee agreed to extend the mandate of the WCC general secretary, Dr Konrad Raiser, for one year up to December 2003. It congratulated him on the outstanding leadership he has brought to the WCC and the ecumenical movement as a whole.

    Click here for a list of
    WCC member churches

    Click here for more information
    about new members

    The WCC is Growing

    At the recent meeting of its central committee the WCC welcomed nine new churches: the Mara Evangelical Church of Myanmar (associate member), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia, the Convention of Philippine Baptist Churches, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana, the Africa Inland Church (Sudan), the Association of Baptist Churches in Rwanda, Ekalesia Niue (Pacific), and the United Reformed Church (Scotland), the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa, the latter two each resulting from the merger of two churches already belonging to the WCC. The WCC extended family now has 342 members.

    The French Protestant Federation, the National Council of Churches of Burundi, the Federation of Protestant Churches and Missions of Cameroun (FEMEC) and the Council of Churches of Malawi were also admitted as associate councils.

    Lastly, the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe and the Ecumenical Youth Council in Europe are now recognized as international ecumenical organizations in working relations with the WCC.


    In March, the general secretary of the World Council of Churches, Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser, will visit the Asia-Pacific region:

    • Bangladesh (9-14 March)
    • Sri Lanka (14-18 March)
    • Samoa (19-23 March)
    • Cook Islands (23-27 March)
    • Tahiti (28-31 March)
    From 23 to 27 April, Dr Raiser will be in Nashville, Tennessee, to attend the annual conference of the WCC ‘s 26 member churches in the United States.

    From 25 to 27 May, he will be in Lebanon to take part in the celebrations marking the 1700 anniversary of the founding of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

    Our Smallest Sister

    The history of one of the new member churches admitted into the WCC at the last central committee, the Ekalesia Niue, is worth recounting.

    The island of Niue, 2,400 kilometres north-east of New Zealand, measures only 260 km2. With its 2000 inhabitants it is the world’s smallest democratic state. The first sizeable migrations from Samoa and other Polynesian islands took place in the 16th century. In 1774 the British sea captain, James Cook, put in there and in 1901 the island was annexed by New Zealand. After a first constitutional assembly in 1960, Niue gained its independence in 1974.

    Christianity came to the island in the mid-19th century. After a first fruitless attempt, missionaries of the London Missionary Society (LMS) returned in 1846, this time bringing with them a man called Peniamina, a native of Niue who had lived in Samoa and been trained by the LMS. His testimony was quickly accepted by his people and by 1854 almost the entire island was converted.

    The church, then called the LMS Church in Niue, became independent in 1970, with the name Ekalesia Niue. It has 1500 members, 13 parishes and 10 pastors, representing 75% of the island’s population. It also ministers to the migrant community of around 4,500 people who have left Niue for Aotearoa/New Zealand. The Ekalesia Nuie is particularly active in work with young people, Christian education, communication and lay training. The Christian women’s federation also welcomes women from other denominations. The Ekalesia Niue quickly became involved in ecumenism. One of the biggest problems it faces is the large migration of people away from the island to Aotearoa/New Zealand as a result of growing unemployment, low standards of education and Niue’s difficult economic situation.

    The Ekalesia Niue is a member of the National Council of Churches of Niue, the Pacific Conference of Churches and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches.

    Injured during an anti-racism demonstration in Germany

    Injured during an anti-racism
    demonstration in Germany
    photo: epd bild / Langer

    Click here for more
    information on the WCC
    and combatting racism

    A Survey of Actions to Combat Racism

    Racism is an ongoing concern of the WCC and it expects to have an active presence at the UN World Conference on Racism to be held next September in Durban, South Africa.

    The Justice, Peace and Creation team has been investigating what the churches are doing to combat racism. It has launched a major survey of the actions against racism initiated by or involving churches in Europe, where acts of racist violence are increasingly frequent. This wide-ranging inquiry started with Germany and Austria in 1999.

    The overall findings are positive: initiatives are being taken, anti-racist campaigns are being organized, the churches are being mobilized but this is certainly not enough. Those in charge of the survey say that more effective campaigns and more sustained efforts by the churches are needed, especially among young people.

    The survey will continue, looking next at France and Britain.

    Red Alert on
    Planet Earth

    Ecology will continue in the forefront of WCC concerns. This was reaffirmed by its central committee, which also voiced dismay at the damage still being done to the environment, above all by the life-style of "the industrialized countries which bear the major moral responsibility for precipitating climate change". The committee likewise expressed its disappointment at the failure of the international conference on climate change sponsored by the UN in the Hague last November.

    But climate change is by no means the only worry for Martin Robra, executive secretary for ecology and theological ethics at the WCC. Genetic engineering and other genetic modifications, for example, entail very serious and often as yet incalculable risks. He mentioned that several groups committed to the protection of the environment and/or defending the rights of Indigenous peoples had reported that an Australian company had signed an agreement with the Tongan ministry of health, concerning research into the genetic make-up of the Tongan people. With the National Council of Churches in Tonga, the WCC is therefore preparing a conference on "bio-piracy", to be held in Tonga in mid-March.

    This unrelenting violence affecting communities and creation is one of the forms of violence that will have to be addressed by the recently launched Decade to Overcome Violence.

    The "6-10-5 Campaign"

    The 6-10-5 campaign was started at the last WCC assembly in Harare in 1998, but only really got off the ground last year. The aim is to increase WCC member church contributions from around 6 million to 10 million Swiss francs over a period of 5 years. All the member churches will be approached, region by region, either by letter or directly. The percentage of churches paying their membership fees has already gone up from 48% to 51%.

    New Resources

    Elisabeth Behr-Sigel and Mgr Kallistos Ware
    Behr-Sigel deals with the historical context and the difficult growth of consciousness of this issue. Ware sets it in perspective in the light of patristic anthropology and Orthodox theology.
    102 pp, FRF.95.-, Editions du Cerf, Paris, 1998
    Ed. anglaise : COE, 2000, CHF11.50, USD7.50, GBP4.95

    Lewis S. Mudge and Thomas Wieser, eds
    What Can Churches and Christian Communities Do?
    What should be done to put into action the agreements and conventions the international community elaborated to make viable a sustainable society? What can churches and Christian communities contribute?
    206 pp, CHF22.50, USD14.50, GBP9.50

    Jeffrey Gros FSC, Harding Meyer and William G. Rusch, eds
    Reports and Agreed Statements of Ecumenical Conversations on a World Level, 1982-1998 The reports that have resulted from bilateral talks between churches on a world level. An indispensable resource book for everybody engaged in the Christian ecumenical dialogue.
    956 pp CHF65.-, USD42.50, GBP27.50. . Co-published with Wm B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, USA

    Peter Bouteneff and Dagmar Heller, eds
    Essays in Hermeneutics.
    176 pp, CHF22.50, USD14.50, GBP9.50.

    A Living Church - Faith and Dreams in Albania
    After 23 years of religious persecution, the church in Albania was in an appalling state. The story of the its dramatic renaissance in the decade that followed, led by Archbishop Anastasios, one of the most visionary leaders of the world-wide church, is told in image and interview.
    46 minutes, available in PAL or NTSC. CHF29.50, USD19.50, + postage

    Journey to Jubilee -- 50 years of the World Council of Churches
    A short film tracing the history of the WCC from its first assembly in 1948 up to its 50th anniversary. French version pending.
    27 mn, available in PAL or NTSC. CHF29.50, USD19.50, plus postage.

    Music of the ballet: a magnificent suite for violin, violincello, piano and voice quartet.
    CHF20.-, USD12.90, GBP8.50.

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