Theme: Christ’s love moves the world to reconciliation and unity
Usually held every eight years, this Assembly comes after a year’s delay because of the COVID pandemic which has taken many lives and highlighted the profound inequalities that exist in contemporary society.
Bringing together more than 4000 participants from all over the world, a WCC Assembly is a special event in the lives of its 350 member churches, ecumenical partners, and other churches.
With a membership including most of the world’s Orthodox churches, scores of Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, and Reformed churches as well as many charismatic, independent, united, and uniting churches, a WCC Assembly is the most diverse Christian gathering of its size in the world. It is a unique opportunity for the churches to deepen their commitment to visible unity and common witness.
As the highest governing body of the WCC, the General Assembly is the only time when the entire fellowship of member churches comes together in one place for prayer and deliberation. It has the mandate to review programs, issue public statements, and determine the overall policies of the WCC. It also elects the Council’s eight presidents and its 150 member Central Committee to oversee the WCC’s work until its next assembly. Each of the WCC member churches selects its own delegates to the Assembly, with allowance made in the allocation of delegates for balancing of confessional, cultural, and regional representation. In addition to delegates and advisors from member churches, there will also be a number of delegated representatives form associated organizations and from non-member churches like the Catholic Church and Pentecostal churches with whom the WCC is in dialogue. Considerable effort is made to bring together as wide as possible a group of participants, and in recent years extensive programs have been organized for visitors.
Worship and Bible study give the Assembly its spiritual and theological grounding. Small group sessions invite the building of friendships and community across multiple boundaries, and some enjoy the experience of the Assembly as a kind of Christian festival.
The relationship between the Catholic Church and the WCC is monitored by a Joint Working Group (JWG). Established in 1965 to support ongoing dialogue and collaboration, the JWG has an advisory role to its parent bodies, namely the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) and the Assembly of the WCC to which it regularly presents an account of its activities. In this context, the Catholic Church through the PCPCU appoints 12 Catholic theologians as members of the Faith and Order Plenary Commission, and 18 members of the JWG. About 12 experts are invited regularly to different programs of the WCC, and two full-time Catholic staff members are seconded to the WCC office in Geneva. During its second five-year mandate, the JWG studied the possibility of Catholic membership in the WCC. Over the course of this study, the JWG became increasingly aware of disparity between the two bodies, particularly in terms of relative size and differing organizational structures, which would present challenges for both. In 1972, the focus of the JWG shifted from the membership issue to improved collaboration.
The WCC describes itself as a fellowship of churches who confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour. Usually seen as a translation of the Greek koinonia, the word fellowship in this description recognizes that the unity in Christ of all who believe in him already exists before any decision to come together. It is a given reality which the WCC member churches are pledged to making visible; they are committed to being together and to staying together. Succinctly stated at the 1991 Canberra Assembly, the unity of the Church is both a gift and a calling. May this assembly with its focus on an ecumenism of the heart be for the churches and the world at large a Gospel witness to the Christian meaning of love and the kind of unity for which Jesus prayed.
(edited from an online article by Sr Dr Donna Geernaert, SC)