World Council of Churches celebrates 70 years since its founding

To celebrate the 70th anniversary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), hundreds of people gathered from across the world for an ecumenical prayer service at the Nieuwe Kerk, a 15th-century church in Amsterdam, the very spot in which the organization was founded.

The World Council of Churches (WCC), an organization formed as a fellowship of churches that believe in the doctrine of Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Saviour of mankind.

WCC goal is to provide a forum to promote tolerance and unite various Christian denominations. It is not an organized church and does not espouse any particular religious doctrine other than the belief that Jesus Christ is Lord and Saviour.

The council assembly, the controlling body of the WCC, meets approximately every six years at various international locations.

WCC grew out of two movements of the late 1930s: The Faith and Order movement and the Life and Work movement. The Faith and Order movement sought to address church organization and beliefs and the Life and Work movement addressed practical issues that impacted the lives of believers.

In 1938, representatives from both movements gathered in the Netherlands with the plan to create a unified constitution and merge into one council. However, World War II put these plans on hold until the following decade.

The WCC assembly appoints a central committee who selects 26 executive committee members and six co-presidents. This elected team carries out the work of the WCC between meetings of the assembly.

WCC maintains a headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. The Council began with 147 denominations but has now grown to include 345-member denominations.

Under the theme “Walking, Praying and Working Together,” the service featured special music, greetings from the Council of Churches in the Netherlands, and a procession of pilgrims from all over the world. WCC general secretary Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit offered a sermon, and Dr. Agnes Abuom, the moderator of the WCC Central Committee, led the congregation in prayer.

A “Walk of Peace” through Amsterdam was also held beginning in the Hoftuin of the Protestant Church in Amsterdam and ending at Dam Square.

In his sermon, titled “The Love of Christ Compels Us,” Tveit looked back on the first WCC assembly in 1948 in Amsterdam, reflecting on the difficult questions the delegates were asking at the time.

“The assembly message from Amsterdam shows that the delegates were bold in speaking to the reality of the world,” he said. “Their faith was a hope, against the realities of many of their recent experiences.”

They believed together that God still loved the world, Tveit reflected. “We give thanks for contributions the churches could make together to peace,” he said. “They saw that they—themselves— were called to be a sign of the fulfillment of God’s promise.”

They knew that the need for reconciliation was urgent but difficult, he continued. “They knew they were called to be peacemakers,” he said. “They were convinced that overcoming the forces dividing humanity and also threatening relationships within and among the churches would require that they themselves had to be united in love.”

WCC since its creation has supported and inspired church participation in struggles for justice, peace and creation. One example is the highly-valued support given by the churches, through the WCC’s Programme to Combat Racism, to the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.

Also, support to efforts to bring about an end to the two-decades-long civil conflict in Sudan, or to the reunification of North and South Korea, or to the defense of human rights in Latin America during the decades of brutal military dictatorships in that region are three among many other examples.

Recognition of the importance of inter-religious dialogue and relations with other faiths, as well as of the churches’ responsibility for the integrity of creation, have been hallmarks of the ecumenical movement.

Today, both the ecumenical movement and the WCC are changing. New forms of ecumenical commitment are emerging; young people are finding their own expressions (and thus assuming ownership of) ecumenism and church; amidst the multiplicity of ecumenical bodies, the WCC is redirecting its energies to doing what it does best and is uniquely equipped to do.

The WCC shares the legacy of the one ecumenical movement and the responsibility to keep it alive.

As the most comprehensive body among the many organized expressions of the ecumenical movement, the Council’s role is to address global ecumenical issues and act as a trustee for the inner coherence of the movement.

Most importantly, WCC’s quest is for unity, particularly as it relates to justice and peace across the world.

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