The future of the World Council of Churches (WCC) lies in giving those less fortunate in the world a voice, a former Dutch church leader told a gathering in Amsterdam to commemorate the WCC’s 60th anniversary.
The gathering took place on Aug. 22 in Amsterdam’s Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) to mark the founding of the ecumenical body in Amsterdam 60 years ago.
Guest of honour at the anniversary event was Dutch Queen Beatrix, who was presented with the first copy of a jubilee book entitled, The Ecumenical Movement at a Crossroads.
The WCC must radically change, said Albert van den Heuvel, who was active in the council from 1959 to 1980, and is a former general secretary of the Netherlands Reformed Church, then the country’s largest Protestant denomination. He said the council should reduce its staff, studies and conferences, and that it should close down its secretariat in Geneva and replace it with offices in each of the continents.
The council’s strength does not lie in the pursuit of big buildings, power and influence, said Van den Heuvel. Rather, its strength lies in telling the stories of victims of injustice, war and violence. “Give them a voice,” he urged. “That is when the council is at its absolute best.”
In the forum discussion, former Dutch foreign affairs minister Peter Kooijmans argued for an official body to identify areas in the world where tensions could quickly escalate into armed conflict.
Queen Beatrix also took part in commemorative events to mark the 40th and 50th anniversaries of the WCC in 1988 and 1998.
Expressing gratitude to the “Dutch churches and ecumenical friends” that planned the Amsterdam event, WCC general secretary Rev. Samuel Kobia said in an Aug. 20 press release, “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.”
The main religious celebration of the WCC’s 60th anniversary took place in February in Geneva’s St. Pierre Cathedral, during a meeting of the council’s central committee.
The WCC has more than doubled the number of churches in its membership since the opening assembly in 1948, up from the then 147 churches to the current 349 churches.