Churches, Christians Prepare for 9th WCC Int'l Assembly

Thousands of churches and church-goers around the world will celebrate unity in diversity during the upcoming World Council of Churches’ General Council in February.

The WCC’s ninth assembly is set for Feb. 14-23 in Porto Alegre, Brazil, marking the first time the event has been held in Latin America.

Up to 1,200 church delegates and representatives of affiliated organizations are expected to attend the event at the Catholic Pontifical University, along with about 1,800 non-official participants.

Preparations for the assembly, held once about every nine years, were already underway by early 2005, when top WCC representatives set the date, location, and theme of the assembly – “God, in your grace, transform the world.”

According to Norman Shanks of Scotland, moderator of the assembly planning committee, the theme reflects both the global and individual need for “healing and change, recognizing our dependence of God and acknowledging that we all have a part to play in the process of transformation.

The Rev. Larry Pickens, chief executive of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concern, meanwhile said he believes the assembly will provide a great opportunity for Christians to taste that transformation in the ecumenical movement.

"My sense is that the World Council of Churches and the ecumenical movement face a time of transition and, yes, transformation," he told the United Methodist News Service "As the Church's witness to the world develops, the assembly is an opportunity for us to sharpen and focus our mission as God's people."

Plenary sessions and discussions will surround a variety of topics from economic justice, religious plurality and church unity.

Observers from evangelical circles, such as the World Evangelical Alliance, will also be present at the assembly, bringing yet another voice to the ecumenical table.

For those who are unable to attend but wish to partake in the assembly, the WCC has prepared a panoply of resources related to the event. A brochure on Feb. 12, “Assembly Sunday,” provides ideas for prayer and worship, and program documents, prayer, Bible studies, news stories and feature articles are regularly being posted on the assembly site.

The planning team has also prepared for live-webcasting of several plenary sessions, and will also provide video summaries of main events each day.

In light of such ongoing preparations for the assembly, the Rev. Samuel Kobia, general secretary of the WCC, is urging “churches, communities and Christians in all places to pray together" on Sunday, Feb. 12, the day the assembly begins.

He is also encouraging Christians to continue praying throughout the assembly period "so that the Spirit of God will come upon us and guide our work during that time, and to offer solidarity and support for the event and the proposals and vision which will emerge from the gathering."