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Report of the policy reference committee III

Report of the policy reference committee III in response to the report of the moderator, the report of the general secretary and the report of the special commission on orthodox participation.

02 September 2002

World Council of Churches
Geneva, Switzerland
26 August - 3 September 2002

Report of the policy reference committee III


Report of the Officers (GEN 1)

1. The Committee recommends that the Central Committee receive with approval the Report of the Officers.

2. In relation to particular aspects of the report, the Committee
i) recommends, regarding Israel/Palestine, that the Central Committee express
support for the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme, and
concern for local Christian communities and the care of the historic sites and buildings;
ii) recognizes that a further statement on Zimbabwe at this stage would not be helpful to the Christian community there, and that the priority must be the continuance of support for the local churches and the promotion of humanitarian aid without interference;
iii) recommends that the Central Committee take urgent action to ensure improvement in the situation where, notwithstanding the WCC’s financial position, 47% of member churches, including some in North America and Europe, make no contribution to the Council;
iv) commends the study material already produced for the Decade to Overcome Violence and, in view of the developments since the launch of the Decade at Berlin last year, recommends that the Central Committee now reaffirm its commitment to promoting the Decade.

Report of the Moderator (GEN 2)

3. The Committee recommends that the Central Committee express warm appreciation for the Moderator’s Report, and in particular for his innovative exploration of the theological significance of globalization and its relation to the catholicity of the church.

4. The Committee recognizes the challenges involved in presenting and discussing such complex issues in ways that are accessible to lay people as well as to those with theological training. The Committee recommends the prior circulation of the reports of both the Moderator and the General Secretary, and emphasizes the need for theological and terminological precision.

5. The Committee recommends that the Central Committee ask Faith and Order to pursue the Moderator’s proposal that a brief statement on ecclesiology be developed for discussion at the 9th Assembly. This statement, in particular, should take into account the relation between the church as local community and universal reality, and of both the church’s diversity and oneness (see also paragraph 13 below).

Report of the General Secretary (GEN 3)

6. The Committee recommends that the Central Committee express warm appreciation for the General Secretary’s report. The Committee also encourages the General Secretary to explore further ‘the shaping of a future ecumenical configuration’ for the 21st Century (paragraph 43) with a view to including his thinking on this matter in his final report to next year’s Central Committee meeting. The Committee noted Policy Reference Committee II’s proposals concerning:
· discussion at the next Assembly of how the WCC might relate ‘more organically’ to the Regional Ecumenical Organizations and Christian World Communions;
· the development of thinking on ‘mutual vulnerability’ for exploration with churches, NGOs, and governmental agencies;
· the need for further work on ecumenical leadership development (paragraph 35).

Report of the Special Commission on Orthodox Participation (GEN 5)

7. The Committee, taking account also of comments from Policy Reference Committees I and II, recommends that the Central Committee express deep appreciation for the work of the Special Commission in addressing the range of challenging issues and concerns before them.

8. The Committee, recognizing the spirit of mutual trust and commitment to discerning the mind of Christ, and respecting the diversity that underlies the Special Commission’s proposals, recommends that the Council move to a consensus method of decision-making as defined in paragraph 48 and in Appendix B to document GEN 5, noting that a limited number of matters will still be decided by vote, as described in paragraph 49.

9. The Committee emphasizes that the detailed arrangements and mechanisms involved in the consensus method require further careful attention. It suggests the necessity for a transition process in which the Central Committee and its Officers are trained in and begin to practice specific means of consensus decision-making. The Committee recommends that a draft of the necessary revision of the Rules of Procedure should be placed on the agenda of the next meeting of the Central Committee for testing.

10. The Committee recognizes the need for continuity in discussion of outstanding issues relating to Orthodox participation. It therefore recommends
a) that a permanent committee be set up comprised of 14 members, half of them from Orthodox churches;
b) that, until the next Assembly, the Steering Committee of the Special Commission should fulfill this role;
c) that the Committee’s terms of reference should be as set out in paragraph 50 (e), (f), and (g) of the Special Commission’s Report.

11. The Committee, despite full discussion, was unable to reach agreement on the title of the Committee, in view of different understanding of the significance of the word ‘Standing’. The majority of the Committee, however, recommends that the title "Permanent Committee on Consensus and Collaboration" be adopted in the meantime.

12. The Committee acknowledges the comments of the Special Commission (paragraph 51 of GEN 5) concerning the possibility of joint moderators and vice-moderators in the WCC’s governing bodies. In view of the lack of consensus within the Special Commission (and within the Committee itself) on this matter, the Committee recommends that the Central Committee refer it to the Permanent Committee on Consensus and Collaboration for further consideration.

13. The Committee recognized the Special Commission’s concern about ecclesiological issues and reaffirms its recommendation (see paragraph 5 above) that Faith and Order should do further work on the issues raised in paragraphs 15 –18 of the Special Commission’s report in preparation for the 9th Assembly.

14. In relation to the Special Commission’s proposal concerning common prayer, the Committee, conscious of the significance of the affirmation that ‘if we cannot pray together, we cannot stay together’, and aware of the value of common prayer in situations of courage, renewal and inspiration, recommends that the Central Committee receive the document “A Framework for Common Prayer at WCC Gatherings” (Appendix A to the Special Commission’s Report) and commend it to those preparing common prayer at WCC gatherings. The Committee recommends that it should be recognized that this is a framework, not a prescription or even guidelines, appropriate for major WCC gatherings (especially Assemblies and Central Committee meetings) where formal acts of common prayer take place. The Committee recommends that prayer services at such gatherings be clearly identified as “confessional” or “interconfessional” and that, where a “confessional” approach is adopted, clear information should be provided about the tradition concerned. The Committee wants to emphasize that there is no intention that this framework be taken to be “universally applicable within the ecumenical movement” (paragraph 4 of Appendix A). However, the Committee does maintain that, at every point, sensitivity and understanding be shown to other traditions and situations, and in particular, the position of women and the pastoral and theological significance of exclusive and inclusive language.

15. The Committee recommends that the Central Committee remit to the Permanent Committee on Consensus and Collaboration for further consideration the points identified in paragraph 6 of Section C of the Special Commission’s report relating to
· the ecclesial nature of common prayer;
· sensitive issues arising in relation to common prayer at WCC gatherings;
· the development of the life of common prayer within the fellowship of the WCC;
· use of the framework in Appendix A to GEN 5, reflection in the light of that experience, and further refinement of the framework as necessary.

16. The Committee considered the recommendations (Section C. 7-9) of the Special Commission relating to membership of the WCC (dealt with also in the report of the Membership Study Group – GEN 6 – which Policy Reference Committee 1 has discussed). The Committee noted with satisfaction that the proposed increase (to 50,000) of the minimum membership of churches seeking to join the WCC does not affect the position of existing member churches. The Committee recommends that the Central Committee agree to:

a) the category of ‘churches in association with the WCC’;

b) the principle of adding theological criteria to the criteria for membership;

c) the change in the process of churches joining the WCC whereby applications are dealt with at meetings of the Central Committee and not the Assembly;

d) the preparation of the necessary revisions to the Constitution and Rules with a view to these being approved at the next meeting of the Central Committee for final confirmation at the next Assembly.

Site of the 9th Assembly (GEN 13)

17. The Committee considered, as a preliminary issue, whether it was responsible to go ahead with the planning and preparation for an Assembly in the WCC’s current financial situation. The Committee was reminded of the response when member churches were consulted on this prior to the Harare Assembly. They spoke very positively about the strong need for periodic opportunities for member churches to come together in Assembly, and of the regenerative effect resulting.

They were reassured by advice on the financial arrangements (where the costs of the Assembly are met partly from a special WCC budget within which funds are already accruing - to the extent of CHF 1.1M out of the budgeted CHF 1.5M; member churches are encouraged similarly to set aside funds on a regular basis; and a certain amount comes from special funding and visitors’ contributions). The Committee recommends therefore that the planning and preparation for an Assembly in 2006 should continue.

18. In a full discussion of the possible venues for the Assembly, the Committee took into account also the venues proposed for the CWME Conference. Emphasis was placed on the importance of having an effective local team and infrastructure, particularly in the light of the significant WCC staff reduction since Harare. It was also noted that the Korean churches had provided revised figures on the basis of which, the estimated costs for Seoul were reduced to only slightly more than those for Porto Alegré indicated in GEN 13.

19. The Committee considered a proposal that the Assembly venue should be decided not at this Central Committee meeting, but postponed until the February meeting of the Executive Committee, when the political and practical considerations relating to Cyprus would be clearer. The Committee wishes, however, to recommend that the decision should be taken now, and owned by the Central Committee itself, so as to enable preliminary preparations for the Assembly to proceed, and the arrangements for the CWME Conference to go ahead.

20. The Committee thought it might be helpful to Central Committee members to identify the pros and cons of each site.

Assembly Site



Nicosia, Cyprus

No previous Assembly in Middle East

Higher Cost

Orthodox setting

Accommodation distance from Assembly venue

Ecumenical context – Middle East Council of Churches

Risk/uncertainty about 2006 situation (will EU accession lead to unification?, church situation)

Political and inter-faith dimension – witness for peace in a divided island; proximity to Israel/Palestine

Security assured

Government support

Familiarity with English

Seoul, Korea

Enthusiastic growing churches

Doubts about plenary facilities

Political context (vestiges of ‘cold war’)

Risk/uncertainty about 2006 situation (will new President continue ‘Sunshine Policies’?, conflict possibilities ; would unification result in societal ‘implosion’?)

Opportunities to increase ecumenical co-operation

Less expensive

Challenge of setting in non-Christian society

Porto Alegré, Brazil

No previous Assembly in Latin America

Risk/uncertainty about 2006 situation (elections; economic issues)

Social/economic context (globalization, etc.)

Strong ecumenical commitment, including Roman Catholic Church and Pentecostals

Facilities siting is certain

Least expensive

Local infrastructure and support

        21. In addition, Gordon How provided information about other points mentioned to him by those he had met, regarding the cultural and social context in each place including:
              Nicosia: peace, human rights issues in a divided country; the only remaining divided city; Cyprus’ European Union entry likely in 2006; ecumenical understanding of Orthodox Church, and its historical and present role.

              Seoul: peace, human rights issues in a divided country; churches’ engagement with reunification; China’s effect on Asia and the world; polarity of social activism and salvationism in Korean churches; inter-faith context; rapid economic growth; globalization, secularity and spirituality – a ‘multi-form society’; mission strategies of mega-churches; the role of electronic media in Korean life

              Porto Alegré: democratic political structures; the struggle with debt in Latin America; issues relating to indigenous peoples; Pentecostal realities; benefit to ecumenical movement in Brazil and neighbouring countries; global implications of environmental issues in Amazon region; migration and land reform issues; contact with liberation theologians.

      The Committee recommends that the Central Committee express particular thanks to Gordon How for his work in preparing for the Central Committee’s decision.

      22. The Committee recommends that the Central Committee reach a decision by ballot, and recommends a procedure whereby, if one of the sites does not have an absolute majority after the first vote, a second vote takes place between the two sites that obtain most votes on the first ballot. Members of the Committee may be interested to know that within Policy Reference Committee III, by a narrow margin, expressed the following view: Porto Alegré – 9 votes; Seoul – 8 votes; Nicosia – 8 votes.

      23. The Committee recommends that the possibility should be explored of holding the next Central Committee meeting at one of the venues not selected for the Assembly.