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XII. Proposal for a forum of Christian churches and ecumenical organizations


The Committee reviewed the parts of the moderator's and general secretary's reports referring to the idea of a Forum, studied the presentation by Marion Best, listened carefully to the plenary discussion, and received written contributions. The Committee received the document, "Proposals Regarding a Forum of Christian Churches and Ecumenical Organizations", based on an August 1998 consultation convened following the February 1998 executive committee meeting which encouraged "further exploration of issues as well as the calling of a consultation to examine the proposal (i.e., of a forum) in more detail with key partners". This consultation brought together participants from the conference of Christian world communions, from the REOs and the NCCs, from international ecumenical organizations and from member churches of the WCC.

The Eighth Assembly encouraged the central committee of the WCC to continue the process of consultation with leaders of the various bodies who have expressed interest in the forum.

In this process, the Eighth Assembly commended for serious attention the report of the August 1998 Bossey consultation setting out AProposals Regarding a Forum of Christian Churches and Ecumenical Organizations" (see appendix II).

In affirming further work towards the goal of providing opportunity for a more effective, more sustaining, more inclusive network of relationships among churches and ecumenical organizations, the Eighth Assembly offered the following guidance to the central committee in this effort:

a) the WCC needs to give careful consideration to the nature and scope of its role with other partners in working towards the initiation of the forum;

b) there needs to be a clearly articulated distinction between the nature and purpose of the WCC and that of the forum;

c) participation by churches in a forum should in no way be seen as comparable to the ecumenical accountability and commitment of ongoing membership in the WCC;

d) much can be learned from the positive experience of various kinds of forums currently existing in some regions of the world, and exploration of the usefulness of forums in other regional or national contexts is encouraged;

e) it is assumed that there will be the need for a modest organizing and facilitating structure with limited responsibility for convening, organizing, funding, and evaluating the forum; establishing and sustaining this structure should be the shared responsibility of the participating churches and organizations;

f) in order to achieve comprehensive participation, the process of invitation should be as inclusive as possible, based on the criteria for participation stated in appendix II, point 9, and should remain open into the future;

g) the distinctive ecclesial self-understanding of each member church and ecclesial family of the WCC, of Christian world communions such as the Anglican Consultative Council, the Baptist World Alliance, the Lutheran World Federation and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, needs to be honoured as the concept of the forum is developed;

h) consultation with the Joint Working Group between the RCC and the WCC, and with the proposed WCC-Pentecostal joint working group is encouraged to help clarify the potential nature of the involvement of these churches in the Forum;

i) consideration should be given to whether regional or national forums could be seen as an alternative or as complementary to the concept of a global forum.

 

APPENDIX II:
Proposals Regarding a Forum of Christian Churches and Ecumenical Organizations

1. A consultation took place at the Château de Bossey, near Geneva, 26-29 August 1998, to consider the possible creation of a broad-based forum of Christian churches and ecumenical organizations. Twenty-eight participants represented the WCC, Christian world communions, regional ecumenical organizations, national councils of churches, international ecumenical organizations and churches not at present associated with major ecumenical structures.

2. The gathering noted dramatic changes in the world situation, as well as major developments in relationships between churches and between ecumenical organizations. Efforts to advance Christian unity now take many forms, have many players and focus on many centres. However, this diversity raises urgent questions about how to strengthen the wholeness of the movement against tendencies towards fragmentation and competitiveness, not least in view of shrinking resources. A more effective, more sustaining, more inclusive network of relationships is needed to bring differences of understanding among the partners into a mutually committed dialogue so that all may find their way to a clearer discernment and a more faithful obedience.

3. The following proposal for a forum of Christian churches and ecumenical organizations emerged in the course of the consultation. It is offered in the hope that churches and ecumenical structures may discern in it a way forward for the years immediately ahead.

Goals and objectives

4. The proposed forum is possible because of the unity which is already given in Christ. It is called for because of our common faith in a reconciling God whose church knows itself summoned to become God's reconciled and reconciling people.

5. The forum is intended to help build more significant, more inclusive relationships. It will not speak for the participating bodies, but it will provide a way for them, transcending the limitations of existing frameworks, to think new thoughts, dream new dreams, and glimpse new visions.

6. Seeking to be open to the charisma the Spirit gives to Christ's people, the forum's style will be open, expectant and relying on a minimum of rules and structures. One condition for participation, therefore, is a willingness to accept other participants as bona fide partners in a dialogue, the aim of which is to strengthen the obedience of all to Christ.

7. The occasional gatherings of the forum will provide opportunities for worship, exploration of matters of common Christian concern and development of enhanced mutual understanding. They are not conceived as decision-making, programme-initiating or document-producing events. However, they might lead to new forms of cooperation.

Participation

8. This is a forum, not an organization, therefore the question to be considered is participation, not membership.

9. Participation will be based on confessing the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour according to the scriptures and seeking to fulfil together the common calling to the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It should be characterized by the desire to mutually engage in the search for obedience to Christ.

10. Participants will mainly be representative of church bodies and ecumenical organizations of international significance. Some participants will also be individuals who are representative of and accountable to identifiable constituencies with a commitment to our common calling.

11. Roman Catholics, Orthodox, evangelicals, Pentecostals, and other families represented in the conference of Christian world communions, as well as regional ecumenical organizations, international ecumenical organizations and the World Council of Churches, are among those envisaged as participants in the forum.

12. Criteria of participation include willingness to listen, to talk and respond together with others in the Christian family to God's calling. Participants must have mutual respect and respect for the self-understanding of the others.

Size, process and content of forum meeting

13. The forum is a concept that will be manifest in many ways, including international meetings. Once the idea has taken root, it could meet in various configurations and locations.

14. The initial meeting should be made up of 150 -250 participants, depending on the response to the invitations issued. The process will be designed to allow maximum participation. This will begin by soliciting issues and challenges from the participating bodies prior to the meeting.

15. There will be a balance of plenary and small group time, with space for celebration and spontaneity. Worship will be an integral part of the forum. The meeting should reflect awareness of the historical forces that bring participants together and should provide opportunities for in-depth discussion.

16. The distinctiveness will be in the style of meeting which will promote open dialogue of sharing without a focus on documentation and recommendations. No votes will be taken.

17. Provision might be made for a group of Alisteners@ to help discern and articulate the insights gained by the gathering.

Funding, timing

18. Participants would be expected to cover their costs. In order to ensure fullest participation, the organizing committee will seek funds to cover certain overhead expenses and make available a modest amount for subsidies.

19. The initial forum meeting may take place as early as the year 2001.

Organizing mechanisms

20. A small continuation committee drawn from the consultation of August 1998 will continue as a bridge between the process thus far and its future. It could also become the nucleus of the organizing committee for the first forum meeting.

21. The continuation committee is to consider responses to this proposal and to work out the modalities of a first meeting of the organizing committee by October 1999. This continuation committee will need to meet before mid-1999.

22. A small group of eminent persons who have a broad basis of credibility among Christians and churches might be constituted by the continuation committee to serve as an inviting body. This group may or may not need to meet. Invitations to participate would then go with the signatures and under the patronage of these persons.

23. The organizing committee should be called by the continuation committee in consultation with the leaders of the interested bodies who by the responses to the initial proposal sent after this meeting would have expressed interest in the forum.

24. It will include representatives of ecumenical partners of international significance who currently have various levels of collaborating as well as new partners representing the wider community such as Pentecostal churches, the World Evangelical Fellowship, the Organization of African Instituted Churches who may express interest. A strong representation of the Roman Catholic Church was also stressed.

25. The tasks of the organizing committee will include:

a) receiving and evaluating responses which contribute to building the agenda;
b) building an inclusive agenda;
c) taking care of logistics and budget of the forum;
d) raising some funds for the overhead costs as well as for granting a small subsidy to those who might need one;
e) preparation of a procedure for evaluating the first meeting of the forum.


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