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World Council of Churches commemorates date of founding in Amsterdam 60 years ago


Church leaders around the world have continued their celebrations of the founding of the World Council of Churches 60 years ago in Amsterdam on August 23, 1948, when the grouping officially came together to forge greater Christian unity.

“Stating that in seeking Christ they found each other, the 147 churches that 60 years ago came together in Amsterdam, Netherlands committed themselves afresh to Christ and covenanted with one another,” said the WCC’s general secretary, the Rev. Samuel Kobia, before he left Geneva to attend a commemorative event held in Amsterdam on August 22.

“It is significant that as we gather 60 years later at the same venue, we note that the churches have been faithful to their commitment. Not only have they stayed together but they have deepened and broadened the fellowship,” Kobia added.

On August 22, Kobia joined a small group in the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam to mark the creation of the WCC. The opening service of the WCC’s founding assembly took place in the same building on the same date in 1948. Sixty years later in the church, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands received the first copy of a new WCC jubilee book, “The Ecumenical Movement at a crossroads.”

The current WCC general secretary, who is to step down from his post at the end of 2008, said he was presenting the book with gratitude to the “Dutch churches and ecumenical friends” that had sponsored and planned the Amsterdam anniversary event. “Today the challenges of seeking visible unity appear to be even stronger but we, nevertheless, look to the next 60 years with hope and confidence as we are inspired by the spirit of our ecumenical ancestors who made Amsterdam 1948 possible,” said Kobia.

A documentary about the WCC, to be aired by the Dutch national TV channel Nederland 2 on August 24, is one of a number of broadcasts in different countries that will cover the anniversary, and which will also focus on the first general secretary of the organization, Willem A. Visser ’t Hooft, who was Dutch.

U.S. churches played an important role in the founding of the WCC and continue to share its history, said the Rev. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches USA, in a statement. “This is an important anniversary for all of us. Years before the WCC was officially formed, American churches helped keep the spirit of the WCC alive,” Kinnamon added.

“The founders of the World Council of Churches thought the WCC would be launched 10 years earlier than it was,” said Kinnamon, an ecumenical scholar and former member of the WCC’s staff dealing with doctrinal issues. “In September 1939, the churches of Europe ran for cover when their countries went to war against one another. It took years for the dust to settle.”

The BBC on its Radio 4 national station will broadcast a worship service, led by a former director of the WCC’s humanitarian and refugee work, the Rev. Myra Blyth, on August 24. The program will also include contributions from the WCC president from Europe, Dame Mary Tanner, a Briton, as well as WCC staff and students of the council’s Ecumenical Institute in Bossey, Switzerland.

The central event of the 60th anniversary celebrations has already taken place in Geneva on February 2008 during a meeting of the WCC central committee, the council’s chief governing body in the seven-year period between WCC assemblies.

During a festive ecumenical celebration on February 17, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos I reminded a near-capacity congregation at Geneva’s St. Pierre Cathedral that while the WCC had accomplished much in its six decades, churches should be prepared to confront their differences honestly and to examine them in the light of the scriptures.

“The bonds of friendship between divided churches and the bridges to overcome our divisions are indispensable, more now than ever. Love is essential, so that dialogue between our churches can take place in all freedom and trust,” said Bartholomeos in a homily.

The WCC groups 349 churches in more than 110 countries and territories throughout the world, and represents more than 560 million mainly Anglican, Orthodox and Protestant Christians.


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