So what is the WCC? And…ecumenism?

(This is post #2 of posts specifically related to my trip to Korea for the WCC. If you missed Post #1, check it out here!)

So I keep saying I’m going to Korea for the World Council of Churches (or WCC for short) but most people I talk to don’t know what that is, or why it exists. I sure didn’t know until I applied for this opportunity! So I thought I would share with anyone who was interested what the WCC is.

What is the WCC?

In their own words:

The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior according to the scriptures, and therefore seek to fulfill together their common calling to the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

It is a community of churches on the way to visible unity in one faith and one eucharistic fellowship, expressed in worship and in common life in Christ. It seeks to advance towards this unity, as Jesus prayed for his followers, “so that the world may believe.” (John 17:21)

In short, it is a group of churches (some might say, denominations), with all their diverse practices and doctrine, united in prayer and common life, visibly expressing and seeking unity for the sake of the world.  The WCC officially held its first assembly in 1948 in Amsterdam, but it has its roots in the missionary movement of the early 20th century.

It is the broadest and most inclusive expression of ecumenical effort in modern times. The WCC brings together churches, denominations and church fellowships in more than 110 countries and territories throughout the world, representing over 500 million Christians and including most of the world’s Orthodox churches, scores of Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist and Reformed churches, as well as many United and Independent churches.

I see. Coolio. So you’re going to the WCC?

Yep, I’m going to the 10th Assembly of the WCC.

African delegates in procession at the Third Assembly of the World Council of Churches, New Delhi, India, 1961. (Credit: WCC Photo)
African delegates in procession at the Third Assembly of the World Council of Churches, New Delhi, India, 1961. (Credit: WCC Photo)

What is an assembly of the WCC?

The assembly is the highest governing body of the World Council of Churches (WCC), and meets every seven years. It is a moment when the fellowship of member churches comes together as a whole in prayer and celebration.

There have been nine previous assemblies.  This year is the 10th assembly and it will take place in Busan, South Korea, from October 30th through November 8th.  This video is not only informative, but will get you pretty pumped about how inspiring the WCC is:

So how did you end up going to something as cool as the WCC?

Haha, great question. Well, I am going not as a delegate or an official observer, but as part of the Graduate Ecumenical Theological Institute (GETI),  a program/course for “younger theologians” from around the world. GETI begins before the WCC, on October 25th. I heard about this opportunity to apply for GETI through an email that my school sent out and well… here I am, 2 days away from leaving for Korea!

8th Assembly of the WCC, Harare, Zimbabwe 1998. (Credit: Christ Black/WCC)
8th Assembly of the WCC, Harare, Zimbabwe 1998. (Credit: Christ Black/WCC)

What will you do as GETI participants?

Stay tuned! That deserves its own post!

So you keep saying “ecumenical.” What the heck does ecumenical mean?

Ecumenism comes from the Greek word, oikoumene, which means “the whole inhabited earth.” It has come to be applied to the efforts at healing divisions among Christian traditions for the sake of the world, in response to Christ’s prayer for unity (John 17:21).

It’s like interreligious dialogue, but for Christian traditions. One might say it is inter-denominational efforts at common ground and fellowship.

Does this mean my particular faith tradition doesn’t matter?

Nope.  It matters. Most Christians have a church “home” where they feel most comfortable and where the majority of their theological understandings lie. This is good. The unity that Christian churches seek is not a call for uniformity, but a longing for unity that values the diversity of gifts brought by various Christian traditions. Diversity does not have to be a threat.  But we do simultaneously recognize the limits of that diversity.  Profound divergence can occur and undermine communion. But we have our most perfect expression of this unity in diversity is the Holy Trinity-absolute oneness and distinction of persons.  Woah. Quite an example!

But why is ecumenism important?

Well, in the words of the Decree on Ecumenism  from the Second Vatican Council, division [in the church] “openly contradicts the will of Christ, provides a stumbling block to the world and inflicts damage on the most holy cause of proclaiming the good news to every creature.”  Christ wills that all His people are one, for the life of the world. Our divisions contribute to the world’s pain, instead of offering healing and hope. Ecumenical efforts seek unity, not for its own sake, but for the world’s sake.

Ok, I can get behind this odd word now.

Great! Stay tuned for more info on what GETI is and for updates on my trip.

Thanks for journeying with me in anticipation,  friends!

With increasing excitement,


10 thoughts on “So what is the WCC? And…ecumenism?

  1. What an opportunity! I got the chance to spend a few weeks at the Ecumenical Center in Geneva, Switzerland a couple Januaries ago and got to see the installation of the WCC General Secretary. Enjoy the Assembly!

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