World Council of Churches Central Committee Meeting, Geneva, Switzerland, 13-20 February 2008
"We intend to stay together" (1)--Perseverance in seeking unity
Rev. Dr Walter Altmann
Let me begin this address by saying that it will be somewhat different from the customary reports of previous years. At the evaluation done at our first full central committee meeting in August/September 2006 comments were made suggesting more time be allocated for discussion with one another following the presentation. I agree fully with this desire. The central committee does not meet that often, and when it does, there is always a very heavy agenda. And we are expected to jointly build up our programme, including the visions and hopes that give meaning to it. So this address, shorter than usual, is to be understood as an invitation to sharing and dialogue.
This is the second full meeting of this central committee. Two years have elapsed since our last assembly, and we are already taking steps towards the next one. At our last meeting I recognized and called for "a common journey of gratitude for God's marvellous gift of unity", in our responsibilities as central committee members. I also mentioned that our common journey derives from "a beautiful, though difficult, ecumenical commitment" which brings us together, with all "the many differences that exist among us". I grounded our passionate ecumenical commitment in the hope which strengthens our faith and love on the basis of Christ's resurrection.
Our constitutional mandate
At this meeting we are celebrating the WCC's 60th anniversary. Celebrations are occasions for remembrance and the revival of good memories. But we certainly do not celebrate to applaud the existence of the WCC but rather to remember the legacy which those who went before left to us. We do this in order to move forward with a greater sense of commitment, in a world situation remarkably different from the one faced by the delegates who gathered in Amsterdam in 1948 to constitute a World Council of Churches.
As is well known but always meaningful to recall, our Constitution states as its basis: "The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour according to the scriptures and therefore seek to fulfil together their common calling to the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit." (I) Under III, Purposes and Functions, we find first of all that "the World Council of Churches is constituted by the churches to serve the one ecumenical movement." That is, on one side the WCC does not identify itself with the ecumenical movement, but understands itself as part of a wider ecumenical movement. On the other hand, it does not understand its task as serving itself, but as being an instrument to serve the ecumenical movement, which is, as said, wider than the WCC and of which it is a part. So if we look back into our history and look forwards into the future, the main question to be raised is by no means how strong the WCC may have become, but rather how well it has served and continues to serve the ecumenical movement. Of course it is assumed that this service has been and remains highly significant. So if I emphasize the dimension of service to the ecumenical movement, it is not because of doubts which might be raised to that effect, but because it is crucial to constantly remind ourselves of what the WCC was created for and of what it must always remain.
The same section of the Constitution also states that "the primary purpose of the fellowship of churches in the World Council of Churches is to call one another to visible unity in one faith and in one Eucharistic fellowship, expressed in worship and common life in Christ, through witness and service to the world, and to advance towards that unity in order that the world may believe." The emphases were added by me to underline the holistic approach given by the WCC as an instrument of service to the one ecumenical movement. …