Inside Issue N°10 - December 2002

Consultation calls for local initiatives in interreligious dialogue
New WCC logo
Christmas message: "Fear not!"
People (in memoriam)
Special Commission debates continue
Focolare founder's visit to WCC evokes "Spirituality of unity"
WCC to save costs and enhance effectiveness
New ecumenical research centre
What's happening on the web?
Ecumenical accompaniers begin work in Palestine and Israel

Recent resources
General information on WCC News


The ecumenical cross and boat have a new look! The new logo will appear on all WCC stationery, publications and souvenirs - a change-over that should be complete by the end of the year. While this is now the official WCC logo, other ecumenical organizations and agencies may use their own discretion in deciding either to adopt it or continue with the former one. The new logo can be downloaded at:

Consultation calls for local initiatives in interreligious dialogue

Listening to the debate are, from the right: Dr Seyed Amir Akrmai, secretary for interreligious dialogue, Islamic Culture and Relations Organization; H.E. Sayyid Mohammad Ali Abtahi, president of the Institute for Inter-Religious Dialogue and vice-president of the Islamic Republic of Iran; H.E. Dr Abdelouahed Belkeziz, secretary-general of the Organization of the Islamic Conference; and Rev. Margaret Orr Thomas, Presbyterian Church (USA), member of the WCC's Interreligious Relations and Dialogue advisory group.

“Globalized markets and information systems threaten to create new structures of oppression and thus feed extremism and militancy,” says the final report of a consultation on “Christians and Muslims in Dialogue and Beyond”.

Forty representatives of international Christian and Muslim organizations, scholars and activists participated in the 16-18 October consultation in Geneva, organized by the World Council of Churches' (WCC) office of Interreligious Relations and Dialogue (IRRD). According to IRRD programme executive Dr Tarek Mitri, the consultation focused on “a critical examination of the present state of relations between the participants' respective communities, and an assessment of what has been achieved” through inter-religious dialogue. .

The consultation was co-chaired by WCC central committee moderator H.H. Aram I and Dr Mohamed S. El-Awa, an author and lawyer from Egypt. High-profile participants included H.E. Dr Mohamed Al-Sherif, general secretary of the Islamic Call Society, and the vice-president of Iran, H.E. Sayyid Mohammad Ali Abtahi, who is also the president of the Institute for Interreligious Dialogue. H.E. Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, recently-appointed president of the Vatican Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, and WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser also spoke at the opening day of the event.

Journalists from Arab-language media joined French-, English-, and German-language colleagues to cover the consultation, that included a reception at the local mosque.

Local intiatives
Participants expressed concern about the impact of globalized coverage of “events where Christians and Muslims are perceived to be in conflict”. Such reports, they said, “often contribute to the worsening of unrelated situations. Misunderstandings, mutual misconceptions and lack of trust are then exploited by self-serving politicians and extremists to set the communities against each other.” Responding to the concern, the consultation report emphasizes “the role of education by and for our communities as a key arena in which to create the trust and mutual understanding which are essential to resist attempts to exploit religious differences for destructive ends”.

In reviewing what has been done and learned about interreligious dialogue in recent years, participants shared encouraging stories of local initiatives to build trust and understanding by Christians and Muslims in many parts of the world. One discussion group focused in particular on the role of parents, teachers, and local faith leaders in forming attitudes and behaviours in their communities, and pointed to practical ways in which such educational initiatives could be developed: “... education must be a collaboration between Christians and Muslims in the development of curricula, textbooks and teacher training: we can no longer talk about each other but must talk with each other”.

The message at the heart of the consultation was that local initiatives will be the main source of models of new ways of living together. While high-level gatherings will continue to allow important exchanges, real change will happen in the communities in which Christians and Muslims live, pray, worship and work together, the consultation said.

Christmas message: "Fear not!"
Human fears, reactions to fear, and God's gift of liberation are the subject of this year's Christmas message from the World Council of Churches. The message, from general secretary Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser to WCC member churches, begins by naming some of the fears that people in different parts of the world are struggling with as they approach Christmas this year.

Pointing to the existence of “a widespread sense of insecurity and powerlessness”, Raiser uses the story of the shepherds near Bethlehem on that first Christmas night, who are suddenly confronted with the overwelming power of the holy, to suggest that “fear is not a sign of human weakness to be concealed. In the emotion of fear, we anticipate a potential danger or threat and mobilize possible defences. The fear of God or the holy one is known in all religions. In this fear, we acknowledge that our life is vulnerable... We need not be ashamed of our fears: they remind us that we are human creatures and not God.”

How do we respond to fear? Raiser notes that while fear can bring people closer to one another and/or mobilize them to common action, it can also cause them “to follow blindly those who offer or promise security”. This may lead to exploitation and disempowerment. How can we avoid that, and “How can we break the vicious circle that the very search for security becomes itself the source of increased fear - that security measures become ends in themselves?” Raiser asks.

“God knows our human fears, but God wants to take them away,” is the answer he offers to his own question. Referring back to the angel's message to the shepherds - “Fear not: for see - I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10) - Raiser suggests that “God does not offer us security, but the utterly vulnerable love in the child of Bethlehem. It is the love of 'God with us' that can cast out fear (1 John 4:18) and liberate us from the idolatry of security.” Reminding us that this is also the message of the Ecumenical Decade to Overcome Violence, he concludes with the apostle Paul's conviction that nothing “in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38f.).

PEOPLE: In Memoriam

Rev. Dr Richard Shaull of the Presbyterian Church, USA (formerly the United Presbyterian Church of the USA) was a former president of the World Student Christian Federation (1968-72) and played a key role in the Geneva conference of Church and Society in 1966. His early ministry was spent as a missionary in Colombia and Brazil, and his latest appointment was as professor of Christian mission at Princeton Theological Seminary (USA). He was a visiting professor at the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey from 1962-63. World Council Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser spoke of him as one “of the group of creative and influential theological minds who have contributed decisively to the ecumenical renewal in theology and to preparing the way for the articulation of contextual theology”. He was 82. A former WCC Communication staff member, the Rev. C. Michael de Vries, died 11 November in the Netherlands at the age of 79. He was the communication secretary for radio and television. His work culminated in the establishment of Intervox, which regularly produced taped interviews for radio stations around the world. He had a particularly important communication role in two WCC assemblies in Uppsala (1968) and Nairobi (1975), including the production of radio cassettes on issues facing the assemblies. Raiser described him as a “gifted translator... a gentle and sensitive person with a deep faith commitment, who considered his work with the WCC as a particular ministry which he was called to exercise”.
The former dean of Frankfurt, Dr Dieter Trautwein died on 9 November 2002 at the age of 74. A liturgist and theologian, Trautwein was the enthusiastic creator and translator of numerous songs and hymns now used by congregations in Germany and beyond. At the beginning of the '50s, he participated in one of the first ecumenical seminars at the Bossey Ecumenical Institute. Later on, as a youth pastor, he played a significant role in editing a revision of the well-known ecumenical songbook Cantate Domino. He participated in the Faith and Order Commission meeting in Accra (1974) and played an important role in preparing the common worship for the WCC assembly in Vancouver (1983). Deeply concerned by questions of justice and forgiveness, Trautwein devoted much energy to ecumenical solidarity with churches in South Africa, and to maintaining alive the memory of the Shoah. He became a member of the Presidium of the German Kirchentag in 1977. Trautwein leaves behind him a rich hymnologic heritage for common Christian worship.

Special Commission debates continue

The report of the Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the World Council of Churches (WCC), received by the last meeting of the central committee, continues to get varied reactions. One member, Bishop Dr Margot Kässemann of Germany, has resigned from the committee because she believes the document “implies crucial changes for cooperation among the member churches,” particularly in regard to ecumenical worship. Another German bishop, a former moderator of the central committee and now retired, Bishop Heinz Joachim Held, has written: “I am convinced that the Orthodox provocation in the run-up to the eighth assembly was not only understandable and justifiable from an Orthodox point of view, but [...] also necessary, beneficial and worthwhile to the WCC.”

Most comments have focused on the proposals for redefining what is meant by ecumenical worship or common prayer, and what guidelines are necessary for preparing worship at ecumenical events. Some churches experience praying together as one of the most authentic ways of searching for unity. But Orthodox commentators point out that “prayer can also be a point of disagreement between churches and might even show greater unity than is the case”.
The Special Commission met for the last time at Järvenpää, Finland, 27 May-2 June 2002.
They call for ecumenical sharing of worship in which one confession leads the worship and others join. They object to a liturgy which uses symbols, prayers and liturgical extracts from different confessions. “That only causes confusion,” say some Orthodox commentators.

This view has drawn a variety of reactions. A WCC Presbyterian staff member, speaking at a WCC staff workshop on the Special Commission report, said: “Our annual general assembly features an 'Ecumenical Service of Worship' through which Presbyterian leaders encourage participants to go home and organize local expressions of ecumenical worship. If the WCC now tells us that there is no such thing as 'ecumenical worship', we face some difficulty explaining that within our own church, as well as a rethinking of our relations with other churches.”

“We have to take care not to exercise spiritual violence[...],” says Held. “I believe this concern for the identity and integrity of others to be one of the fundamental marks of New Testament humility, which is one of the decisive ecumenical virtues.”

New proposals that the WCC should use a consensus model for decision-making in all its meetings have generally been well received, though there are clearly different understandings of what consensus means and how it should be achieved. Even within the central committee debate, there were some strong words. “Let us be honest with each other. Some of us are afraid [that consensus] can be misused as another way of playing the power game,” said one member. Another even called it a “document of fear”. This drew a counter response: “This is not necessarily a step backward out of fear. It comes out of a dialogue of love moving towards a dialogue of truth and authenticity.”

Finally, the central committee agreed to test the consensus process at its next two meetings in 2003 and 2005.

WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser believes that the report has the potential to help the Council “go beyond a particular institutional identity that it has received from the founding generation, which was deeply rooted in a particular Protestant tradition”. He hopes that this will make the WCC more ecumenical. “The Special Commission has demonstrated that, as long as we try to spell out the difficult relationship between the Orthodox and other churches in the fellowship in terms of power conflict, it is unsolvable and will break the WCC apart,” he warns.

Chiara Lubich, founder and president of the Focolare Movement, with WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser during Lubich's visit to the Ecumenical Centre on 28 October 2002.

For more information on the visit of Chiara Lubich to the WCC, see:

Focolare founder's visit to WCC evokes “spirituality of unity”

The long search for unity and its “recent difficulties... have led people to speak of stagnation, or a winter period, in ecumenism”, states a joint message on Christian unity released by Dr Chiara Lubich, founder and president of the Focolare Movement for spiritual and social renewal, and World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser following Lubich's visit to the Ecumenical Centre on 28 October. The message goes on to stress both leaders' “renewed hope for our common ecumenical journey” through “a spirituality to be lived that we can call a 'spirituality of unity'”.

Lubich's visit to Geneva - which included a seminar with students and faculty at the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey on 26 October, and worship at St Peter's Cathedral in Geneva on 27 October - came at Raiser's invitation. During her meetings with staff at the WCC, Lubich noted that this “spirituality of unity”, which “requires us to empty ourselves as Christ did”, is the Focolare contribution to overcoming “collective disunity” not only among churches but among humanity as a whole. Raiser recalled that one of the key insights from the 1925 Stockholm Life and Work conference was that “the closer we come to the cross of Christ, the closer we come to each other”. In expressing appreciation for the emphasis on spirituality, he noted that “our search for unity is not to construct edifices, but to pull down all that divides us”.

In an earlier press conference, WCC deputy general secretary Mr Georges Lemopoulos welcomed Lubich's third visit to the WCC, and noted that “the WCC always engages with enthusiasm all those who have the vision and work for unity”.

During her visit, Lubich made a generous donation for the work of the WCC in interreligious relations.

WCC to save costs and enhance effectiveness

The World Council of Churches (WCC) has announced plans to reorganize its Geneva- and New York-based staff around the five “historic” themes of the Council's work. The five themes are faith and order; mission and ecumenical formation; justice, peace and creation; international affairs, peace and human security; and diakonia and solidarity. The reorganization reflects the WCC's need to reduce planned expenses for 2003, and new thinking on how to fulfil the Council's mandate of seeking unity and cooperation among its 342 member churches worldwide.

According to WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser, “The Council, through this reorganization, has manifested its will and its ability to respond constructively to a critical situation. The adjustment of the internal organization and leadership structure will result in a clearer profile of the WCC's programmes and strengthen its cooperation with ecumenical partners.”

Via the reorganization, and faced with a predicted shortfall of income against planned expenses of CHF 6.3 million, the WCC has reduced its budget for 2003 by CHF 7.4 million. This amount includes a CHF 1.1 million surplus which will allow the Council to begin replenishing its general reserves and to provide a cushion for contingencies. The reduction in budgeted expenses for 2003 is to be accompanied by an income-generating strategy that will focus on assuring the ongoing support of current donors, and then seek to establish relations with new donors.

Financial pressure on the WCC is due to a combination of reduced contributions from donors and losses in the value of its investment portfolio. This led to a large draw-down on the organization's reserves over the last three years. The WCC's policy decision-making body, the central committee, at its meeting in Geneva in September 2002 called for the creation of a task group of four central committee members to review the situation and advise staff on the steps needed to reduce expenses. Their report was received by the WCC officers and other assigned central committee members who met in Geneva 14-15 November.

As a result of the announced expense budget cuts for 2003, WCC staff will be reduced by 16 full-time equivalent positions to a level of 141 FTE's. This reduction will be achieved in part due to retirements, relocation of activities and staff positions in cooperation with regional partners, reductions of working time, and termination of contracts.

“We hope that these changes in the organization will lead to a period of stability in which the staff, member churches and other supporters of the WCC are able to devote themselves to meeting the global ecumenical challenges before us,” says WCC vice-moderator Dr Marion Best.

Recent Resources

Indispensable to university and seminary libraries and all those interested in ecumenism!

Nicholas Lossky, José Míguez Bonino, John Pobee, Tom Stransky, Geoffrey Wainwright and Pauline Webb, eds

This title has become a standard reference work since its original publication in 1991. In this second edition, nearly 700 entries - by some 370 leading figures in the ecumenical movement from every Christian confession and all parts of the world - define and explore the history, churches, people, issues and terminology of the ecumenical movement. The original 650 articles have been updated and some 50 new ones added, to take into account the momentous changes of the 1990s. Articles are fully cross-referenced, and many are enhanced by short bibliographies.
1332pp., illustrated, Sfr.125.00, US$77.50, £58.00, Euros 79.00

Masao Takenaka
Christ and Culture in Japan
A visual and thought-provoking exploration of spirituality in the Asian Christian tradition. In Japan in particular, bamboo is a key cultural symbol, whose characteristics are interpreted in the light of their religious significance.
86pp., illustrated, Sfr.14.00, US$8.50, £5.95, Euros 9.00

Christoph Stückelberger
An Illustrated Overview

This introduction to trade ethics asks topical questions and reveals approaches and strategies which can foster responsible arrangements for trade at global, national, corporate and individual levels.
248pp., Sfr.28.00, US$16.95, £11.95, Euros 19.00, German (available), French (in preparation)

New ecumenical research centre

With more than 100,000 books, periodicals and pamphlets pertaining to the 20th-century ecumenical movement and a wealth of archival material, the Geneva Ecumenical Centre and Bossey Ecumenical Institute libraries house the largest such collection in the world. As World Council of Churches (WCC) librarian Pierre Beffa points out, 97 percent of the shelves are occupied. But it is more than merely a question of space. If historical material is to be usefully archived, and new material added, careful thought needs to go into the future development of the two libraries to function as one coherent whole, offering good facilities for researchers.

Which is where a Geneva bank comes into the picture. Banque Pictet has informed the WCC of its decision to make a CHF 3.7 million grant for a centre for ecumenical research. WCC staff are currently identifying needs related to records, historical, and sound/video/photo archives management, and comparing various information technology archives- and library-management systems. The grant will allow the libraries and archives to be fully catalogued and become more accessible not only to researchers but also to those with access to the world wide web.

Beffa, who retires at the end of 2002 after 37 years of service, is both excited by the new horizon, and impressed by the magnitude of the task ahead. The ongoing challenge of “one ecumenical library on two sites”, he explained to WCC News “is to make them work well together!”

What's happening on the web?

Many ecumenical groups and organizations today are creating “online communities”. Whether a discussion board, news-group, list-server, chat-room, or some other form of live exchange on the world-wide web, those who design and moderate such communities are having to invent the rules as they go along. Young Leaders On-Line is a “tool-kit” on how to lead online communities.

A joint project of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and Vesper Society (USA), Young Leaders On-Line identifies different types of online communities and offers advice on defining rules to govern online community behaviour, choice of appropriate technology, and the qualities - technical, social and visionary - required to lead such communities.

Group of WCC-sponsored students from seven African countries at the Mindolo Ecumenical Foundation (MEF) in Zambia. Established in 1958 to train Africans for leadership roles, the MEF is a pan-African ecumenical institution.

On the redesigned scholarships web-page, the message is clear: “WCC scholarships are about investing in the future of the community.” Designed to help churches equip people to fulfil their mission, they go to individuals who have been nominated by a church or related ecumenical organization. Applications are endorsed by national correspondents before going to Geneva. Scholarship holders benefit from ecumenical exposure and formation in countries other than their own; they undertake to use what they learn in identified roles on their return. The new web-page provides information on criteria and procedures, application forms, news on scholarship holders and a list of national correspondents around the world.
The WCC Decade to Overcome Violence (2001-2010) calls churches, ecumenical organizations and “all people of good will” to work together - with communities, secular movements, people of all living faiths - for peace, justice and reconciliation. In order to help that happen and to promote networking, the Council is designing a new web space where information, ideas, stories, pictures, reports and resources relating to the Decade will be invited and received, sorted and shared. Watch the WCC homepage for news on the launch of the new interactive DOV website!

Ecumenical accompaniers begin work in Palestine and Israel

Vests with the logo of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel identify the 17 participants currently working with local churches, church-related organizations and Palestinian and Israeli peace groups in Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, Ramallah, Beit Sahour and Nablus. Here in the photo: accompaniers join Israelis and Palestinians demonstrating against the Israeli-constructed wall between Abu Dis and Jerusalem. The wall cuts 60,000 Palestinian residents off from the city of Jerusalem.

To date, over 40 churches and ecumenical partners are participating in the Ecumenical accompaniment programme. This first group of accompaniers come from Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Norway and the United States.

A new 22-minute video, “Ending Occupation: Voices for a Just Peace”, is available in English. Produced by the WCC in cooperation with ACT International and the United Church of Canada, it features interviews with local church and religious leaders and Palestinian and Israeli human rights activists, and outlines the root causes of violence in the region and opportunities for a just peace. Available from WCC International Relations,

For more information, see

As this edition of WCC News goes to press, a WCC pastoral delegation is returning from a 2-9 November visit to Pakistan to listen and learn from people about the situation in Pakistan as a result of the war in Afghanistan, and the challenges facing the churches there. Reflections from the visit will be included in the next edition of WCC News.

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WCC Public Information Team
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Kristine Greenaway

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