Report of the General Secretary, by Konrad Raiser

Article excerpt

1. Once again, I add my words of welcome to those of the moderator. This time I have the particular pleasure of welcoming you to my own country and to its reunited capital, Berlin. Even though, for practical reasons, our meeting is being held at Potsdam, we are conscious of the fact that the setting is marked by the particular role of Berlin for Germany and Europe as a whole. When we met in Geneva sixteen months ago, the invitation to hold the next meeting of the central committee in Berlin was only intimated by Bishop Huber, the bishop of the regional church in Berlin and Brandenburg. After careful explorations and the decision of the council of the Evangelical Church in Germany to support this invitation with a generous special financial contribution, the executive committee gratefully accepted.

2. Since then, much work has been done here in Potsdam and Berlin as well as in Geneva to prepare for this meeting. We are grateful to our hosts for their warm welcome. This meeting of the central committee has generated considerable interest locally in Berlin, Potsdam and beyond, as you will have realized already at the opening service yesterday, which was prepared and led by representatives of the German national ecumenical body, and at the subsequent reception. Our morning worship in the coming days will be led by representatives of the Christian churches in and around Berlin, forming the Ecumenical Council of Berlin and Brandenburg. There will be many opportunities during our programme to meet with and to hear representatives of church life and political leaders of Germany. These encounters will hopefully give you an impression of life in this country ten years after its unification and of the ecumenical activities of the German churches.

3. In presenting my report to you I shall first dwell on the context of our meeting. It invites us to reflect on the significance of our coming to the reunited capital of Germany which is no longer the symbol of division but of the beginning process of reconciliation in Europe. This provides a new perspective on the period of the cold war and can inspire our reflections on overcoming violence. I shall then refer to some developments in the lye of the WCC since our last meeting in 1999. In the concluding section I want to use the emphasis on "being church" from the report of the Programme Committee at our last meeting to reflect on the ecclesial identity of conciliar ecumenical bodies.

I. The context

4. This is of course not the first time that a central committee of the WCC meets in Germany. But for many, if not the majority, of you it will be your first visit to this country and to Berlin. Recalling the three earlier occasions when the central committee met in Germany may help to introduce you to the context of our meeting which has been interwoven in so many ways with the life of the WCC during these past decades.

5. Since the inaugural assembly of the WCC in Amsterdam in 1948, ecumenical developments have been deeply marked by the ideological and military bloc confrontation of the cold war, symbolized by the so-called "iron curtain" running right through Germany. Nowhere has this history been reflected and experienced as dramatically as in the divided city of Berlin. For decades, the German churches in East and West were the only institutions bridging this dividing line, and their special relationship continued even after the Berlin Wall was erected in 1961. The links of the WCC with the churches in the two German states became a testing ground for the resolve of the ecumenical movement to overcome the confrontational spirit of the cold war and to act as a bridge-builder.

6. The earlier meetings of the central committee in Germany reveal therefore something of the tensions and ambiguities associated with this situation. In 1974, the central committee met in Berlin (West) for the first time. This was the official designation of the political entity of the western part of the divided city, the status of which was the subject of contentious discussions among the four powers which still held ultimate authority over the city according to international law. …