World Council of Churches Celebrates 60th Anniversary

The world's largest ecumenical body celebrated its 60th anniversary Friday afternoon in Amsterdam, Netherlands, at the same church it had held its opening service decades ago.

Representatives of member churches gathered at the Nieuwe Kerk Church for "prayerful celebration" for the official founding of the World Council of Churches on Aug. 23, 1948.

At its founding, the WCC had only 147 member churches but now it has grown to 349 churches, denominations and church fellowships representing more than 560 million Christians worldwide.

"Stating that in seeking Christ they found each other, the 147 churches that sixty years ago came together in Amsterdam, Netherlands committed themselves afresh to Christ and covenanted with one another in constituting the World Council of Churches (WCC)," said WCC general secretary the Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia, in a statement.

"It is significant that as we gather sixty 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," he added.

Among the representatives at the celebration is the head of the National Council of Churches USA, the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon.

"Structurally, the National Council of Churches USA and the World Council of Churches are not related," Kinnamon noted. "[But] spiritually, we are inseparable in our history and our goals for the future. God has blessed us with 60 productive years in the World Council of Churches, and we celebrate with gratitude and hope for the future."

Although celebration events are taking place this week, the central event for the WCC 60th anniversary was actually held earlier this year on February 17 in Geneva during a meeting of the WCC central committee.

The central committee is the Council's chief governing body in the 7-year period between WCC assemblies.

During the February celebration, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I shared the accomplishments of the Council during its 60 years existence to the audience at St. Pierre Cathedral in Geneva.

Other anniversary events this week include the presentation of the first copy of the book The Ecumenical Movement at a Crossroads to Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands. The book - a collection of essays by leaders connected with the ecumenical movement, including Nelson Mandela – complements the anniversary event by focusing on the role of churches in today's world, especially in the area of international relations.

Also, a documentary of the WCC will be aired by the Dutch national TV channel Nederland 2 on Sunday, and a radio service with the former director of the WCC's humanitarian and refugee services will be broadcast by BBC's Radio also on Aug. 24.