World Council of Churches Office of Communication
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27 August 1999


Ecumenism -- the effort to forge cooperative ties and unity among the world’s Christians -- has been a lively movement in the 19th and 20th centuries. But a question as to whether it has become a static institution was discussed at the Central Committee meeting of the World Council of Churches (WCC) today.

"We are looking toward the future when we speak about the viability of the ecumenical movement," said the Rev. Kathryn Bannister, one of the presidents of the WCC, as she opened a discussion on the "viability" of the ecumenical movement.

Discussions in the form of "padares" - an African type of conversation granting openness and equality to all speakers - are a new feature of the meeting, as they were at the WCC’s eighth assembly in Zimbawbe last December. Part of the protocol is that people are allowed to speak their minds and not have their names attached to reports on their comments.

"We have many questions before us as to how the instruments of the ecumenical movement serve the movement," Bannister said, as the meeting opened.

An African participant had no doubt about ecumenism’s continued viability. "If the ecumenical movement is God’s mission," he said, "and if God’s mission is alive, then the ecumenical movement will live."

A participant from the Caribbean region noted that the ecumenical movement has different expressions, of which the WCC is only one. The movement lives and advances, he said, as it creates different relationships -- some personal, some institutional -- among Christians around the world.

Some things that were once key activities of the churches, such as education, health care, and social work, have now been taken over by other agencies, said a WCC official taking part in the conversation. "Others are emerging," he said, "who may be much more effective in rendering these services than we are."

Agencies involved in this kind of ecumenical work are also re-assessing how they function, a staff member of an ecumenical development organization pointed out. The projects they do in the areas of relief, health and education are good but they sometimes find themselves working in a "hostile environment," or in situations where the greater need might be advocacy aimed at rooting out the cause of the problem rather than providing aid.

Participants also stressed the need to revive an "ecumenism of the heart," the inspiration and fervour of the movement’s earlier days, and to provide "ecumenical formation" for young people. The search for a broad "spiritual ecumenism," rather than just church cooperation or dialogue has become more important than it was before, said one participant.

Another noted that movements succeed because people are inspired by their goals, and that while the ecumenical movement has a long history, the goal and the nature of church cooperation and unity must respond to "clear needs and expectations". Yet another participant thought that the ecumenical movement is being "reborn all the time".

Several such "padare" discussion are to take place during the WCC Central Committee meeting in Geneva, which ends September 3.

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.