The World Council of Churches 11th Assembly — What’s next?

CTBI General Secretary, Dr Nicola Brady, shares her thoughts on how we might take forward the themes of the recent global event.

It’s hard to believe the WCC Assembly has come and gone since we have been talking about it for so long. In CTBI we had the privilege of supporting networking and fellowship between the British and Irish participants before and during the event, and next month we’ll be bringing them together to reflect on what the longer-term impact of the Assembly might be for our work. You can read some of the reflections from participants in the most recent CTBI magazine.

At the World Council of Churches (WCC), the leadership team got straight to work with a meeting of the new Central Committee taking place on the day the Assembly ended. The Central Committee is responsible for governance and ensuring implementation of the mandate set by the Assembly. It will also pick up areas of work that were incomplete when the Assembly ended. In early October the WCC staff team is meeting to reflect on the mandate given by the Assembly and how this will shape and inform their work, particularly as they prepare for the next meeting of the Central Committee in June next year and begin to form new Commissions and Working Groups.

In CTBI we’ve been thinking about how the Assembly experience and messages might impact our own work. Our AGM took place last Monday, 3 October, and there, as in other ecumenical gatherings I’ve attended in recent weeks, we’ve been praying with the Assembly worship materials. There is such a rich resource there, available in video on the WCC YouTube channel as well as texts on the website, and it is really worth exploring. The services of worship were undoubtedly the aspect of the experience that was most frequently commented on by participants, because they were such a moving and powerful expression of unity in diversity. 

In CTBI we have long been conscious of the way in which our work crosses borders, and the Assembly theme and the whole experience has both challenged and inspired us to explore how we might invest more in those relationships that cross borders and deepen our sense of global community, reflecting specifically on how our Christian faith speaks to that reality. I found it encouraging that the gathering of the Global Ecumenical Theological Institute, which was happening alongside the Assembly developed the theme of ‘Christ’s love moves the world to reconciliation and unity’ into ‘Christ (re)moves borders’. For those interested in exploring these questions in greater depth from a British, Irish and wider European perspective, we invite you to join us in Liverpool on 8 November for an event entitled ‘Life Beyond Borders’.

‘fractured fellowship’

There were of course disappointments that the Assembly could not achieve greater unity of purpose in its response to some of the major social justice issues facing humanity at present. While there is much to celebrate in the breadth of representation, the level of participation and the very serious investment in this dialogue, we could also see clearly the consequences of our fractured fellowship and how this impedes the Church in its response to violence and injustice. It is a timely reminder why the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity retains such importance. The material has just been published for 2023 taking inspiration from the experience of the churches of Minneapolis in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, and making the connection, in the British and Irish context to the 30th anniversary of the murder of Stephen Lawrence.

Finally, if what you have experienced or heard about the WCC Assembly has got you enthused for international meetings of the Church, we can now look forward to the next Assembly of Conference of European Churches (CEC) which will take place from 14 to 20 June in Tallinn, Estonia, hosted by the the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Orthodox Church of Estonia.

CEC Assemblies happen every five years. Similar to a WCC Assembly, the purpose is to take decisions in matters of governance and set a direction for the programmatic work. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to take part in the previous Assembly in Novi Sad, Serbia, in 2018, and this was a very positive and encouraging opportunity for dialogue, relationship-building and learning about the challenges facing the church in different parts of Europe. The theme for 2023 will be: ’Under God’s Blessing — Shaping the Future’. The planning committee says:

“The CEC Assembly will be a significant moment of prayer, fellowship and reflection for the life and witness of the churches in Europe. The theme will bind the assembly participants in an ecumenical spirit to offer churches’ contributions toward Europe’s future. Together, they will highlight the voice of Christian faith in European societies, addressing policymakers.”

A summary of the business of the 11th WCC Assembly.

Read the experiences of delegates from our national Member Churches at the WCC Assembly

“A kaleidoscope of humanity’ Rev Dr Ben Aldous shares a reflection on his experience in Karlsruhe.