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GEN 10 Report of the Steering Committee of the Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC

22 February 2005

The Steering Committee continuing the work of the Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC met inMinsk, Republic of Belarus, June 16-19, 2004, hosted by Metropolitan Philaret of Minsk, head of the Orthodox Church of Belarus (Moscow Patriarchate). The practical arrangements were efficiently ensured by the Saints' Methodius and Cyrill Christian Educational Centre.

On June 15, Metropolitan Philaret hosted the General Secretary of the WCC, Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia, and members of the Committee to a festive dinner. Representatives of local churches and other religions joined in greeting the Committee, offering a strong symbol of the inter-confessional and inter-religious co-operation in Belarus.

The meeting started on June 16 with a time of prayer. It was chaired by Bishop Rolf Koppe (Evangelical Church in Germany) and Metropolitan Gennadios of Sassima (Ecumenical Patriarchate). Morning prayers were led by members of the Committee.

During their  meeting in Minsk, Committee members were able to encounter the life and witness of the local church - in parish life, social work and education. The reverent memory of the 20th century Minsk Diocese martyrs is an inspiration for the renewal of church life. The vitality of ecumenical initiatives in Belarus - the Belarus Round Table, bringing together the traditional Christian confessions of Belarus, and the Bible Society - is a hopeful sign of ecumenical commitment.

On June 17-18, the Institute for Religious Dialogue and Inter-confessional Communications organised an International Seminar on the "Possibilities and Challenges of the Ecumenical Movement Today" during which members of the Committee gave lectures on different issues from the wider ecumenical agenda. The General Secretary of the WCC opened the seminar, offering brief reflections on the work of the WCC.

Before the Committee meeting began, Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia, together with Metropolitan Philaret and Fr Leonid Kiskhovsky, were received by the President of the Republic of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko.

The Committee will meet again next year (April 12, arrival; April 17, departure) in a venue to be decided later. 

1.                  Introduction

In the General Secretary's address to the Steering Committee, he underlined that, although he had not been personally involved in the work of the Special Commission, he had followed the developments carefully. He emphasised his commitment to ensuring the implementation of the recommendations of the Special Commission.

He invited the Committee to think about the period ahead as the WCC prepares for the Ninth Assembly and looks beyond, and proposed some areas where the experience gained from the Special Commission could be of particular help (e.g. membership contributions; reconfiguration of the ecumenical movement; ecumenical space, spirituality).

2.                  Ecclesiology

The Steering Committee received an advance copy of the "Statement on Ecclesiology for the Ninth Assembly of the WCC", prepared at the request of the Central Committee (2002) by the Faith and Order at a meeting in Nicosia, Cyprus (2004).

In its previous meeting in Thessaloniki, Greece (2003), the Committee had offered  suggestions as to the expectations of the document, proposed that some of its members be included in the drafting process, and requested that a copy of the draft be shared with its members.

The document was now before the Committee, which was invited to offer comments. It was made clear that, before finalizing the statement for submission to the assembly, the Standing Commission of Faith and Order would also receive input from the Faith and Order Plenary Commission, and the Executive and Central Committees.

Members of the Committee recognised with appreciation that the statement:

(a)   takes up what Faith and Order has been discussing for many years, builds on previous assembly statements, and goes further than the Canberra Statement on Unity (especially in the areas of local/universal and of reconciled diversity);

(b)   is sober, avoids triumphalism, and contains powerful sections (such as §9) that can be easily communicated.

The Committee offered the following suggestions for further consideration:

(a)    giving it a title which puts the emphasis on "unity" and "ecclesiology" (the latter would be important from the perspective of the relation to the work of the Special Commission), rather than saying merely a "statement";

(b)   exploring the possibilities for using the spirit of the statement in the context of the assembly worship, as a symbolic expression of  commitment;

(c)    looking at how the statement relates to the mission of the church.

It was also noted that the statement might include the following:

(a)    an acknowledgement that Christian divisions constitute real wounds in the Body of Christ;

(b)   a reminder of  "the existence of two basic ecclesiological self-understandings" within the fellowship, as underlined in the Special Commission Report;

(c)    a suggestion as to the direction of a spiritual and liturgical language, expressing through a language of prayer the pain of  brokenness.

The General Secretary offered further explanation about the way the statement could be used as part of the Assembly Message to the churches and how it could have implications for the Council's future programmes.

The Committee agreed to give further consideration to the statement at its meeting in 2005.

3.                  Consensus

The Steering Committee received the "Draft Rule XVI: Conduct of Meetings" and the "Working Draft of the Manual for Meeting Procedures". These two documents were drown up by a small group ([1]) and presented to the Executive Committee (February 2004), which  received and shared them with member churches for comments and suggestions.

The Committee was invited to participate in this process, with the understanding that the drafting of  Rule XVI should be finalized by the Executive Committee (August 2004), that the Central Committee would be invited to adopt it (February 2005), and that the Ninth Assembly would operate according to this new rule.

The Committee underlined that the new methodology of consensus, based on deliberation and discernment, is a move to a new ethos and culture requiring a change of attitudes. This shift has the potential to strengthen and deepen the fellowship of churches.

With reference to the document "Draft Rule XVI: Conduct of Meetings", the Committee proposes that:

(a)    Article 1a read: " … These provisions shall serve as guidelines also apply for conduct of meetings of commissions. …".

(b)   Articles 6b and c should be reconsidered. The proposed solution could be confusing, especially during assemblies and large gatherings. The Committee encouraged further exploration of the appointment of a small "screening group" which would transmit the names of speakers to session moderators (this was implemented during the CEC Assembly in Trondheim, Norway, in June 2003).

(c)    Article 7a read " … to discern God's will for the Council fellowship of churches".

(d)   Article 8f be included in Rule XVI. The Committee expressed satisfaction with the present proposal even though it is slightly different from the initial recommendation of the Special Commission. The Committee also suggested reviewing the wording of this article, to make it clearer and simpler.

(e)    A new article be added in an appropriate place under 9b, reading "If the moderator's ruling on a point of order is challenged, the delegates shall decide the ruling of the moderator by a two-thirds majority".

(f)     Article 9b read: "…. Rule XVI (8) (d) (iv) and (g) (f)…."

(g)    Article 9k read " … have his or her opinion recorded in the minutes, or in the report of the meeting, or both";

With regard to the "Working Draft: Manual for Meeting Procedures", the Committee:

(a)    noted that this document is still in progress and needs both completion (e.g. § 15, 16, 17, 18) and corrections to be in accordance with the Rule XVI (e.g. §8f and 10b);

(b)   agreed that the "Manual" should help participants appreciate the potential of the consensus method and understand the procedures;

(c)    proposed that the "Manual" accompany the Constitution and Rules of the WCC as an extra resource;

(d)   suggested that a person with communication skills prepare a simpler, shorter, user-friendly version for wider distribution.

4.                  Membership

The Steering Committee received a report on Membership Issues dealing with:

(a)    progress regarding the implementation of the recommendations of the Special Commission on membership;

(b)   the current situation with regard to applications for membership;

(c)    the question of non-active member churches.

Concerning the proposed amendments to the Constitution and Rules, the Committee reviewed the responses received from the churches so far. The question was raised as to who would respond to these comments from the churches and how, especially on substantive matters. The General Secretary sollicited the advice of the Committee. It was noted that  critical comments such as those received from the Methodist Church of New Zealand and the Reformed Church of France reflected the position of these individual churches and were not necessarily representative of all the member churches belonging to these traditions. The Committee expressed concern about the points raised by the Reformed Church of France: as the letter claimed to speak on behalf of "the Churches of the Reformation", the WCC could ask the assistance and advice of the WARC. Another suggestion was to invite the church to share and discuss its objections with the other WCC member churches in France. The Methodist Church of New Zealand could be encouraged to do likewise.

With regard to the comments about the new category of Churches in Association with the WCC (e.g. from the Church of England), the Committee agreed that the proposed new Article could be revised according to suggestions made (e.g. financial contributions), but that the principle of creating this category should be maintained.

The Committee commended the work done on groupings of member churches for the purpose of representation and participation in the WCC. It was observed that no church could be forced to join a grouping but that in many countries the churches could benefit from the system, especially the smaller churches.

With regard to non-active member churches the Committee was informed that 32 churches had not paid any contribution since the Harare Assembly and had not responded to letters. The General Secretary explained that the matter had been discussed by the Officers who had recommended a personalised approach to these churches before applying the measures decided by the Central Committee in 2003. The Committee agreed, noting that sanctions would be unavoidable if no results were obtained.

5.                  Communication Strategy

The Steering Committee discussed the communication and reception of the Special Commission Report. It recognized that, despite widespread discussion of the report, there was still a limited level of knowledge and understanding of some of these issues in the member churches. Some have a sense that the Special Commission has lost momentum since the adoption of the report. Committee members discussed the need to strengthen understanding and reception of the Special Commission Report and its implications for the life and work of the WCC.

Committee members emphasized the need for a proactive communication strategy prior to the Ninth Assembly, especially for members of Central Committee and delegates at the assembly, and proposed the following actions:

(a)    Production, as soon as possible, of a short study guide or brochure interpreting the main issues of the Special Commission Report. The final version should be checked with the co-moderators of the Steering Committee. The English version is a priority, then the WCC working languages. Other languages may follow.

(b)   Communication of the importance of the shift to the consensus method, including the theological, cultural and institutional implications of this change for WCC. Attention should also be given to ensuring an accessible and attractive presentation of the "Manual for Meetings".

(c)    Explanation of the Special Commission proposals around prayer and worship, which have been a source of controversy and misunderstanding, including in the  documentation and the worship book.

(d)   Dissemination of the formal responses of WCC member churches to the Special Commission Report in an appropriate way (e.g. sharing the response of the EKD with the Executive Committee and the Special Commission).

The Committee encouraged its own membership and the WCC member churches to use the preparatory phase of the Ninth Assembly to promote confidence and understanding of the Special Commission and its implications, through appropriate actions and in relevant events, e.g.:

-         the Faith and Order Plenary Commission (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, July 2004);

-         the Executive Committee (Seoul, Korea, August 2004);

-         the Consultation on Reconfiguration (Geneva, Switzerland, November 2004);

-         the Conference on World Mission and Evangelism (Athens, Greece, May 2005);

-         preparatory events for delegates to the assembly, organised by member churches (such as Germany, Canada, Nordic countries, etc.).

The Committee invited the staff to elaborate further a plan of action up to the assembly.

6.         Special Commission at the Ninth Assembly

The Steering Committee discussed the need to strengthen understanding and reception of the Special Commission Report, especially at the WCC Ninth Assembly. The Special Commission process constituted a priority carried through between two assemblies and this should be highlighted in Porto Alegre. As the preparations for the assembly have started, the Committee offered the following suggestions:

(a)    the reports of the Moderator and General Secretary should stress the significance of the Special Commission; this will be of fundamental importance, especially in preparing the assembly for a change of culture in the WCC;

(b)   the "Harare to Porto Alegre Report" should include a chapter on the work of the Special Commission;

(c)    deliberative session(s)/hearing(s) should be arranged on the concerns of the Special Commission;

(d)   the plenary on unity should highlight concerns and issues on unity raised by the Special Commission;

(e)    the worship material should explain some of the Special Commission's recommendations on the prayer life of the fellowship of churches.

7.         Permanent Committee on Consensus and Collaboration

The Steering Committee assessed the various views reported to it about the future work of the Permanent Committee which will continue the work and the concerns of the Special Commission after the Ninth Assembly.

The Committee affirmed that the mandate and terms of reference of the Permanent Committee provide the necessary guarantee that it will continue "the authority, mandate, concerns and dynamic of the Special Commission" on Orthodox participation in the WCC.

The Committee strongly recommended that:

(a)    the members of the Permanent Committee on Consensus and Collaboration be appointed by the Central Committee meeting immediately after the assembly;

(b)   prior to the assembly the General Secretary inform all member churches about the importance of the Permanent Committee and make them aware of the nomination procedures.

8.                  Common Prayer

The Steering Committee, noting that the concerns and issues surrounding common prayer continue to be critically important in many churches and ecumenical contexts, anticipated a discussion in its next meeting on views, concerns and questions emerging in response to the theme of common prayer as expressed by the Special Commission Report.

It is the view of the Committee that the spirituality theme emphasized by the General Secretary is connected to the common prayer theme, and that consideration of common prayer should reflect this connection.

9.         Reconfiguration of the Ecumenical Movement ([2])

The Steering Committee expressed appreciation for the reflections shared by the General Secretary and noted the urgent need to hold together the Special Commission and reconfiguration processes in the life of the WCC. It is important to ensure that the two agendas are able to enrich one another, rather than competing or colliding with one another. The General Secretary acknowledged the significance and relevance of this concern. He stated that the next stage in the reconfiguration discussions should include reflections on the relationship between this discussion and the Special Commission process and recommendations.

[1] The group met in the Ecumenical Institute, Bossey,  February 9-11, 2004, and was composed of Bishop Juan A. Edghill, Ms Anne Glynn-Mackoul, Fr Mikhail Gundyaev, Ms Christa Kronshage, Maître Albert Laham, Dr Janice Love, Bishop Yeznik Petrossian, Dr Jill Tabart

[2] Cf.  Consultation on" Reconfiguration of the Ecumenical Movement", convened by the World Council of Churches, Antelias, Lebanon, 17-21 November 2003, WCC Publications, 2004