Delegates at the largest ecumenical gathering in a decade elected a new decision-making body on Wednesday to lead the World Council of Churches (WCC) into the next decade.
At the WCC’s 9th Assembly on Wednesday, delegates elected the 150-person central committee, which serves as the main decision-making body of the Council between assemblies. The new committee, according to the WCC, counts 63 women (42 percent), 22 youth (15 percent), and six indigenous persons (4 percent). Of the committee, 97 members are ordained (65 percent).
Since last Tuesday, the WCC has been hosting its international assembly in Porto Alegre, Brazil. While the 348-church ecumenical body has held such gatherings in the past – with this year’s marking the Council’s ninth assembly – the shifting landscape of modern-day Christianity has formed a completely new terrain for the world’s largest Christian body.
"WCC assemblies have been landmark events in the life of the ecumenical movement for almost 60 years, gathering together a unique and comprehensive spectrum of Christians and churches," WCC’s general secretary, the Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia, said in a statement prior to the gathering. "I hope that this Assembly, being the first one in the 21st century, will mark the beginning of a new phase in the search for Christian unity, and will be characterized by its vision of a new culture and forms for the modern ecumenical movement."
In addition to the newly-elected central committee, delegates on Wednesday also appointed presidents for each of the world regions and for the Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches. The role of the WCC presidents is to promote ecumenism and to interpret the work of the WCC, especially in their respective regions. The presidents are ex-officio members of central committee.
Also on Wednesday, the WCC leadership and many delegates urged the Council to find ways of strengthening youth participation and ways of involving young adults in the leadership and decision-making of the church fellowship. Delegates endorsed measures designed to strengthen youth participation in the organization’s decision-making, and, according to the WCC, proposals for a new representative body for youth will be discussed on the last day of the Assembly.
In his statement prior to the Assembly, WCC’s general secretary had expressed the desire to give greater attention to visibility and substantiality of youth presence and participation throughout the assembly.
"Their (the young people’s) aspirations and interests need to be heard and their involvement needs to continue well beyond the event," Kobia stated.
He said that in all areas, "we need to find new ways of enabling youth participation, and creative approaches to ecumenical formation and leadership training, in order that we may see young people becoming central actors in the WCC, now and in the future."
By the end of the pre-assembly conference which took place up until Feb. 14, the Assembly’s opening day, around 250 attendants under 30-years-of-age were mobilizing to suggest that a global youth representative from the WCC be allowed to serve as one of the group’s presidents.
However, with the WCC currently in its 57th year as the largest ecumenical organization in the world, changing its structure to accommodate younger participants could pose a challenge to the group’s regions which have been reticent to nominate youths for president positions in the past.