2000: The year in review
Ecumenical space: building trust for common action
The World Council of Churches (WCC) continued its effort in 2000 to enlarge the "space" for ecumenical life and work, a concept that emerged from more than eight years of study and consultation on a "Common Understanding and Vision of the WCC". Ecumenical space is "where the search for a common mind can take place without the pressure to win an argument or a vote", says Konrad Raiser, WCC general secretary.

Geneviève Jacques, director of the WCC Cluster on Relations, says ecumenical space refers to opportunities that enable members of the ecumenical family to deal with divisive issues in a spirit of trust. "This is a time of increased fragmentation in society, and it impacts on the churches, influencing them to turn back to their life in separate denominations and parishes," she says. "The WCC is called to take a stronger role to challenge fragmentation and regain the meaning of oikoumene."

One example of an ecumenical space, the Joint Working Group between the Roman Catholic Church and the WCC, met for the first time since the WCC's 1998 assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe, in Antelias, Lebanon, in May. There, the Group began work on an agenda that included study of baptism, national and regional councils of churches and ecumenical dialogue, particularly their significance for the life of the church. As part of the great jubilee celebration, representatives of the WCC were also invited to participate in events in Rome.

However, ecumenical relations got a jolt on 5 September when the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued Dominus Iesus, a document that many people outside the Roman Catholic Church thought carried a very different tone from what they had been hearing from Roman Catholics in ecumenical dialogue.
Leading morning worship on the second day of the WCC's 2001 Central Committee meeting in Potsdam, Germany, was Cardinal Georg Sterzinsky of the Roman Catholic Church in Berlin.
In part, Dominus Iesus dealt with relations of Christianity to other religions, and reasserted the distinctive and essential role of Jesus Christ against any attempts to put him on the same level as founders or teachers of other religions. But the document also dealt with the relation of the Roman Catholic Church to other Christian bodies, and asserted that they could not be regarded as churches in the fullest and truest sense. Lutherans, who had just reached a high point in ecumenical relations the year before in the signing of a joint Lutheran-Roman Catholic document on justification, saw Dominus Iesus as a retreat and reacted strongly. Likewise, Anglicans saw the tone of the document as sharply at variance with the ecumenical relations they thought they had been developing in their dialogue with Roman Catholics.

"It came as an unexpected bombshell during the jubilee year," says the general secretary of the WCC. But subsequent statements by some Vatican officials against the approach taken in parts of the document showed that the way the ecumenical teaching of the Second Vatican Council is to be interpreted has not been definitively established. "We now see that Dominus Iesus may have done us a service," Raiser says. "It made visible that what seemed to be a problem between the Roman Catholic Church and other churches is in fact an unresolved tension within the Catholic church and its hierarchy. Therefore, we can now discuss it. It has become a common ecumenical problem."

In another effort to enlarge ecumenical space, the WCC has formed a Joint Consultative Group with Pentecostals, and it met last year for the first time. This meeting, held in France in June, made "a good beginning", but it is "too early to say what will happen", according to Raiser. Participants decided they should begin by examining the way Pentecostals and WCC member churches perceive each other.

Meanwhile, the WCC has been developing the idea of a "forum" that would bring together representatives of Roman Catholics, Pentecostals and Evangelicals for occasional joint meetings with WCC member churches to advance Christian unity and, where possible, enable all participants to move together with a sense of Christian mission.

Some 20 Evangelical and Pentecostal leaders from various parts of the world accepted a WCC invitation to discuss the proposed Forum of Christian Churches and Ecumenical Organizations at a meeting 9-11 September at an Evangelical institution, Fuller Theological Seminary, in Pasadena, California, USA. They suggested that the term "ecumenical" be avoided in developing the proposal because of negative connotations the word carries in some Evangelical circles, and that the name be Global Christian Forum. A continuation committee met 13-14 December and decided that a larger meeting should be held 8-14 December 2001 to decide whether a forum should be convened and, if so, when and how it should be arranged.

Faith and Order's work on common baptism has been a key to ecumenical progress, enabling many churches, despite continuing, sometimes serious differences, to accept one another as true parts of the one body of Christ, says WCC Faith and Order team coordinator Alan Falconer.

A 1-4 June worship consultation in Prague, Czech Republic, brought together representatives from a wide range of churches, from Orthodox to Kimbanguist (an African-instituted church in the Democratic Republic of Congo), to discuss such sensitive issues as: How does the believer's faith relate to baptism as a sacrament of the church? If we do have a common baptism, why

Baptism in a Russian Orthodox church...
not a common eucharist? What about the significant number of churches who do not recognize the baptism of other churches? Or those who perform baptism in other ways, for example without water, or those which practise no rite of baptism at all?

The difficult questions remain; following responses from churches, theologians and liturgists, a further round of discussion under Faith and Order auspices is scheduled for October 2001.

Falconer, for his part, maintains that different baptismal practices are not "innocent", but reflect deep-seated differences in understandings of the church and what it means to be Christian.

Falconer also underlined the good cooperation between two traditionally distinct streams of the historical ecumenical movement - Faith and

... a Mormon church in Guyana...

Order, and Mission and Evangelism - evidenced by a July consultation on ecclesiology and mission that brought people from both constituencies and from different denominational positions to Höxter, Germany, to dialogue on the relationships between mission and church. The consultation was jointly organized by the WCC's Faith and Order, and Mission and Evangelism teams, and hosted by the Coptic Orthodox Church in Germany.

Participants - theologians, missiologists and missionaries from all traditions - worked with a 1982 WCC document entitled Ecumenical Affirmation on Mission and Evangelism, and a recent Faith and Order study document on The Nature and Purpose of the Church, but also through story-telling, encounter, reflection and common prayer.

... and a Lutheran church in South Africa.
The dialogue revealed "quite a wide consensus" on an holistic definition of and approach to mission, as well as the need for more work on relations with people of other faiths and the impact of "post-modernity" on the understanding and practice of mission. These questions are to be followed up by the Mission and Evangelism team, while the specifically ecclesiological issues will remain central in the Faith and Order team's agenda.

Topics ranging from faith healing in the charismatic movement to lessons learned from Indigenous spirituality, from healing rites in classical liturgies to insights from scientific research on the impact of religion on healing, were explored at a consultation on faith, health and healing organized by the WCC's Mission and Evangelism team in cooperation with the University of Hamburg's Mission Academy. The consultation brought around forty missiologists, mission practitioners and medical personnel to the academy in June. The relation between mission, health and healing has been identified by the Mission and Evangelism team as a field for new study over the next few years, and the consultation was seen as a promising start in that direction.

Charismatic worship in a Presbyterian church in Cuba.
A message strongly affirming pluralism and diversity in India and stressing the need to respond to Hindu fundamentalism and violence against Christians was sent to India's churches by participants in a mission training programme organized by the Mission and Evangelism team along with the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI). Thirty pastors, lay evangelists, students and Christian social activists from nine regions, seven linguistic groups and various denominational and spiritual backgrounds attended the 11-25 February training programme. The message, entitled "We are the letters of Jesus Christ", said that an appropriate approach to evangelism in India needs to be holistic and linked to peoples' struggles for justice, peace and creation, in particular the plight of Dalit and tribal peoples as well as that of marginalized women and children.
40,000 people, mostly Dalits and Indigenous People, live in Kusumpur, a slum area on the outskirts of Delhi.
"There are some situations in which the style and content of religious education can promote misunderstanding and mistrust where religious tensions have already led to violent confrontations," says Education and Ecumenical Formation (EEF) team coordinator Simon Oxley. An "Open Letter" from a consultation of religious educators from six major world faiths, convened by the WCC's EEF team in October in Bangkok, challenged faith communities and state school systems to provide religious education that offers a sympathetic rather than a biased understanding of all faiths. The letter, sent to religious educators around the world, pointed out that learning about the faith of others can not only promote communal harmony, but also be a means of spiritual development within the learner's own religious tradition.

Within the WCC, efforts continued in 2000 to deal with objections raised by Orthodox churches in the Council's membership to some of its ways of working. A Special Commission to assess the issues involved met for the first time in 1999. Activity in 2000 included meetings of all its sub-committees and an October meeting of the full commission, hosted in Cairo by the Coptic Orthodox Church. The goal is to reach the point where the Orthodox are able to say they feel like full and equal partners in the Council, not just marginal members of a dominantly Protestant body, operating in a Western style.

Members of the Commission have come to a "shared vision" about the "common journey" they are on, says Georges Lemopoulos, an Orthodox layman who is deputy general secretary of the WCC. A move to decision-making by consensus rather than majority vote is on its way, he says. This seems to be a move that can change the ethos of the Council. The work of the Special Commission follows up on the WCC's earlier re-examination of its life under the theme of "Common Understanding and Vision", and will go beyond issues of specific interest to the Orthodox and address widely shared concerns that are both institutional and ecclesiological, he says.

The WCC's ability to assist in creating space was illustrated by a February meeting in Athens for theological educators in Orthodox theological institutions around the world. Together with theological educators in the wider church, the educators considered how they could support one another in the different contexts in which Orthodox theological education takes place. They also reflected on Orthodox contributions to and participation in ecumenical theological education. According to Oxley, "the meeting was thus an important first step in a new process".

The Russian Orthodox Church, the largest of the Orthodox churches, held a jubilee bishops' council in August. The council issued two documents that will help to provide a framework for assessing the Russian Orthodox relationship to the WCC. One was on the relation of the Russian Orthodox Church to other churches, and the second document dealt with the social teaching of the Russian Orthodox. The bishops' council decided to take no action regarding participation in the WCC until release of the report of the Special Commission, scheduled for 2002.

Ecumenism has become controversial among the Orthodox of Eastern Europe, Lemopoulos says, partly because church leaders in the communist era were the ones who got involved in it, and who aroused suspicion because communist authorities allowed them to travel. The challenge now is to involve people, especially the younger generation.

Meanwhile, all Orthodox churches were celebrating the millennium year. Most of the heads of the Orthodox churches gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate Christmas in January according to the Julian calendar. They concluded the year with a pilgrimage to Nicea in December, Christmas according to the Western calendar. There, they recited the Nicene Creed in the ruins of the church where in 325 the ecumenical council declaring the true divinity of Christ was held. It was the first time in modern times that the structure has been used as a church. In both celebrations, Orthodox commitment to Christian unity was reaffirmed and what could be qualified as an Orthodox ecumenical agenda was elaborated.

As part of the process of deepening WCC ties with individual member churches, Raiser visited the Patriarch of the Syrian Orthodox Church and WCC president, H.H. Ignatius Zakka Iwas, in Damascus in May, and Armenian Catholicos, Garegin II, in Armenia in September. The Catholicos, in turn, visited the WCC in Geneva on 28 February 2001.

Jubilee Bishops' Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, Moscow, 2000
Traditional Armenian cross at Holy Etchmiadzin.

Lifting up the work of church in society / Working for peace and reconciliation /
Sharing alternatives to economic globalization
Finance / Obituaries

Yearbook 2001 index page
"Who are we" page