The World Council of Churches executive committee met virtually on 1-3 June. The work of the committee, in three intense sessions, focused on governance matters, giving consideration to the ways of working until face-to-face governance meetings can occur again; and to finance matters, with the need to address the requirement for a revised budget for this year. In addition, two public statements have been prepared, discussed and issued, the first concerning the role of churches as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, and the second a “Statement on Racial Justice in the USA.”
WCC 11th Assembly postponed
The executive committee, on behalf of the central committee of the World Council of Churches, has decided, in close consultation with the Evangelical Church in Germany and other host churches and local partners, to postpone the 11th assembly, originally planned for September 2021 in Karlsruhe, Germany, until 2022.
The decision, announced on 3 June, was made because of the gravity and uncertainties related to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is hoped that an assembly in 2022 will provide a better opportunity to secure the full participation of the ecumenical fellowship. The location in Karlsruhe will remain the same.
WCC moderator Dr Agnes Abuom said, “We hope that, by 2022, we will have more certainty and knowledge about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we hope that waiting to convene the assembly will mean fuller participation by all who want to walk, work, and pray together. This was a very difficult decision to make but we trust that it will be offset by the joy we will feel about being able to gather, together at last, in 2022.”
The Evangelical Church in Germany, Evangelical Church in Baden, Council of Churches in Germany, and other churches of various confessions in Germany, France, and Switzerland jointly invited the assembly to Karlsruhe, in a European region located between the borders of the three countries. They have reaffirmed their invitation for 2022, which has been warmly accepted by the WCC.
Metropolitan Prof. Dr Gennadios of Sassima, vice-moderator of the WCC and moderator of the WCC Assembly Planning Committee said that the priority of the WCC is the safety, inclusivity and love of the fellowship as a whole. “We make this decision with the feeling of care, love and dignity of the one human family. May God help us reach the assurance of safety and equality that we need to hold an assembly that is able to welcome all with joy and love.”
Emphasizing the opportunity that postponing the assembly opens for churches, vice-moderator Bishop Mary Ann Swenson said, “I believe that working, walking and praying together in the midst of COVID-19 will enable our fellowship, our staff, and all our churches to more deeply appreciate and incarnate in our lives and work the very theme we have chosen for the assembly itself: ‘Christ’s love moves the world to reconciliation and unity.’ “
Bishop Prof. Dr Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, chair of the Evangelical Church in Germany Council, said, “Karlsruhe remains in many ways an ideal place for a cross-border ecumenical assembly with a European dimension.”
He reiterated that “the most important reason why we are inviting the assembly to Europe is that we hope to receive something. Given the challenges we will have to face in the coming years, this major ecumenical event can be a visible sign of one world in solidarity, peace, and justice.”
Bishop Prof. Dr Jochen Cornelius-Bundschuh of the Evangelical Church in Baden said he is looking forward to using the time gained to work with all the churches in the region. ”Let us continue to move and be inspired by the wonderful theme.”
Dr Frank Mentrup, mayor of the city of Karlsruhe, said the invitation to the WCC would of course also be valid for 2022. “The whole of the city is very happy to welcome church representatives from all over the world here in Karlsruhe – here in the heart of Europe, in a region steeped in history, where neighbours have long since become close friends, where we and our partners on this side and across the Rhine, across borders, in Baden, the Palatinate, in Alsace and also in Switzerland, working together and amicably connected to a future worth living,” he said. “The structures created form a strong basis for the upcoming challenges and for the success of the WCC assembly in Karlsruhe – also in 2022.”
Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca, WCC interim general secretary, underlined: “So much creative thought and hard work have already gone into preparations for our next assembly. I am grateful to all who have contributed thus far; and I am confident that, with our continued collaboration, the support of the churches, and God’s continued blessings, our 11th assembly will even more deeply contribute to the life, witness, and spirituality of Christians everywhere.”
The WCC executive committee released a public statement on the role of churches in the context of COVID-19. Focused on love, steadfastness, hope and courage, the statement reflects on the damage COVID has wreaked over the last five months —and how churches can offer hope.
The church is called to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth, the statement reads. “We pray that churches everywhere will be empowered and equipped to be messengers of unity, trust and truth, against the voices promoting division, suspicion and unsubstantiated rumour.”
The WCC executive committee has issued a second statement reiterating its call for a conversion that will end all forms of racism and racial discrimination.
The executive committee took time to reflect on the continuing unrest in the US, where protests continue in many cities in the wake of the death of George Floyd. Churches across the world are collectively expressing anger combined with a clarion call for a change—once and for all—in a nation that has tolerated violent racism for too long.
Amongst the matters addressed with regard to governance, the executive committee committed to meeting as required by video-conference during this year, and defined notice periods for calling such meetings. Further, it was recognised that a temporary amendment to the rules would be required to extend the range of matters which might be brought to central committee to be decided by vote, before the central committee can meet again.
The interim general secretary has been sending monthly accountability reports to the WCC central and executive committees to share information on the WCC’s focus and adjustment during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The executive committee approved a revised budget 2020, in which no programme deficit is projected. Further, a revised capital expenditure limit has been approved, ensuring that the investment in the new IT system can take place, with the project to be launched this year.
Discussions about the WCC budget centered around how the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on what was planned for both 2020 and 2021.
Appointments leadership staff
The WCC executive committee announced its interim staff leadership roles on 3 June. Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca was confirmed as interim WCC general secretary; Rev. Dr Odair Pedroso Mateus appointed interim WCC deputy general secretary for Unity and Mission; and Doug Chial appointed interim director of the WCC Office of the General Secretariat. They will hold their posts until the WCC central committee meets in June 2021. Pedroso Mateus will continue to serve also as director of Faith and Order and Chial as responsible for the IMD. Pedroso Mateus and Chial were appointed by the WCC executive committee at an online meeting held on 3 June, on the recommendation of the interim general secretary. They will hold their posts until the WCC central committee meets in June 2021.
The WCC Staff Leadership Group is led by the interim general secretary, and in addition consists of the two deputy general secretaries and the interim director of the WCC Office of the General Secretariat. Prof. Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri continues as deputy general secretary for Public Witness and Diakonia as before, as do the other previous members of the Staff Leadership Group, director of Finance Elaine Dykes, and director of Communication Marianne Ejdersten, in their present roles and mandates
The WCC remembered the life and work of Rev. Prof. Dr Mary-Anne Plaatjies van Huffel with an online memorial service on 4 June. Plaatjies van Huffel, known as a transformative church leader in sub-Saharan Africa, passed away on 19 May. The South African pastor and academic had been serving as the WCC president from Africa since 2013.
The next WCC executive committee meetings will be held online during July, and November. During 2021, the central committee meeting will be held 22-30 June, with the executive committee holding its meeting on 21-22 June.