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Ecumenical panel recommends steps to advance Christian unity

February 1, 2012

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia

Representatives of a broad range of Christian churches and organizations met here from Jan. 14-19 to complete a report and make recommendations for significant advances toward Christian unity and inter-religious cooperation.

The Continuation Committee on Ecumenism in the 21st Century came into being following the 9th Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in 2006. It will submit its report to the diverse bodies its members represent during the build-up to the 10th Assembly of the WCC at Busan, Korea in 2013.

The committee’s membership was designed to include participants drawn not only from the WCC but also from the Roman Catholic Church,  global Christian confessional communions, regional ecumenical organizations, national councils of churches, specialized ministries, youth movements and renewal movements, as well as members of Pentecostal, charismatic and evangelical communities.

Their recommendations are aimed at suggesting concrete patterns, through which Christians may explore “constructive ways of living out our unity even in the face of the challenge of engaging the theological and ethical issues that threaten to divide.”

In a time of worldwide cultural upheaval, the report aims to motivate world Christianity to pursue the biblical calling to unity in Christ (John 17:21) and to promote abundant life for all (John 10:10). This common vocation ranges from actions undertaken in the global context to those of congregations and their associates on the local level.

The group acknowledges, “The ecumenical movement has its center in the Triune God and not in us nor our own efforts, plans and desires.”

To enable dialogue and cooperation among Christians, the committee recommends that the WCC “take on a convening role as a gift to churches and ecumenical partners,” while noting that this convening role “is exercised in recognition of and within the limits set by the 1950 Toronto Statement, which clarifies that the WCC is not a church nor a super-church.”

Those who are active in the ecumenical movement are advised to take into account today’s “financial constraints” and to discover creative ways of “staying focused and coherent while encouraging churches to invest in the vision and work, and finding resources to sustain the life-giving impact of the ecumenical movement.”

The report calls on Christians to reflect on the implications for churches, ministries and mission programs of the ongoing shift in the demographic centre of Christianity from the northern hemisphere to the global South.

During their meeting in Addis Ababa, members of the committee met formally with leaders of two national churches: the patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and the president of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus.

Patriarch Abune Paulos, who currently serves as a president of the WCC, encouraged the committee to “be bold” in its recommendations and recalled important contributions made by the ecumenical movement during times of tribulation and triumph for churches in such places as Ethiopia and South Africa.

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