| An important step towards renewing the "structure, style and ethos" of the WCC was taken on Monday, 2 September, when the Central Committee received and endorsed with some procedural changes the Final Report of the Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC. |
Earlier in the meeting, discussion focused on the Report's five main themes: ecclesiology, social and ethical issues, common prayer, a consensus-model of decision-making, as well as future membership and representation in the Council. The proposed changes to the future worship life of the WCC sparked off passionate reactions. Bishop Margot Kaessmann of the Evangelical Church in Germany expressed regret that the proposals on common prayer would divide
worship into "confessional" and "interconfessional" experiences. Bishop Christoph Klein of the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Romania, on the other hand, said that while he might have felt as strongly about ecumenical worship three years ago, this was before he joined the Commission. For him, explained Klein, the experience had been "a learning process" where he had gained an appreciation of Orthodox sensitivities about ecumenical worship. "This is not necessarily a step backwards out of fear. It comes out of a dialogue of love, moving to a dialogue of truth and authenticity," Klein suggested. The Very Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky of the Orthodox Church in America also defended the outcome of the three-year-process. While he has participated in many ecumenical worship services, he has declined to participate in those that might create an impression that Orthodox and Protestant churches have already united, Kishkovsky said. For him, the report's worship provision "is a proposal to protect a broad ecumenical worship space for all traditions". The proposal on "common prayer" was received and referred "for further consideration" to the Permanent Committee on Consensus and Collaboration.
In the final debate, it was the shift to consensus decision-making that caused the most concern, and the Committee decided to test the process of consensus-building in the 2003 and 2005 meetings of the Central Committee, and to present the results at the General Assembly in 2006.
The Committee adopted a statement on South Asia that addresses religion, politics and intolerance in the region, particularly in Bangladesh, as well as the conflict situations in Sri Lanka and between India and Pakistan. Other statements addressed the threat of military action against Iraq, violence in Colombia, and the ecumenical response to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Committee adopted minutes on the peace process in Sudan, Micronesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the September 11 tragedy, and the implications of the US government's response.
The 158-member Central Committee also reviewed the WCC's programme plans for 2003-2005 with a view to strengthening the organization and charting a course for the future. The Committee was responding to the Finance Committee's call for a reduction in spending in view of the absence of general reserves to cover an eventual shortfall in operating budget income in 2003.
In a report prepared jointly by its Finance and Programme Committees, the Central Committee accepted proposals for a plan to considerably reduce budgeted expenditures for 2003. The reductions will require significant adjustments to programme and infrastructure costs. The plans are to be approved by the WCC officers and representatives of the Programme and Finance Committees, no later than the beginning of December 2002. The report also recommends that WCC delegates from every region communicate the "urgency of the situation" to their churches.
The Committee set the course for the election of a new WCC general secretary. It appointed an 18-person search committee which will seek candidates to succeed Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser. Raiser, who has served as general secretary since January 1993, plans to retire at the end of 2003.
Looking ahead to 2006 and in response to an invitation from the National Council of Christian Churches in Brazil (CONIC), the Committee selected Porto Alegre, Brazil, as the site for the next General Assembly.