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Listening: Celebration and transformation on World's Churches' agenda

[Episcopal News Service]  The first Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in the 21st century opens in Porto Alegre, Brazil, February 14, under the theme "God, in your grace, transform the world."

The Assembly, which meets every seven years, is the highest governing body of the WCC, the world's broadest global gathering of churches and Christian organizations. The diverse and dynamic event manifests the churches' commitment to seeking unity, common witness and service to the world.

The gathering in Porto Alegre is the ninth assembly since the WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Attending this Assembly are 691 registered delegates from 348 member churches, more than 500 other representatives, advisors and guests, and 350 staff, stewards and interpreters. They will engage in five thematic plenaries, 22 ecumenical conversations, six committees, 90 Bible study groups and more than 200 workshops and events.

The official Episcopal Church delegation includes: the Very Rev. Cynthia Black, advisor; Carmen Brooks; the Rt. Rev. Christopher Epting; Sarah Harte; and the Rev. Kwasi Thornell.

The Assembly is seen as an opportunity for renewal of the WCC's culture, following a report from a special commission on Orthodox participation, and a move to consensus decision-making.

Committees will review the work of the Council since the Assembly last met in Harare, Zimbabwe, in 1998, and propose future priorities and policy guidelines. They also will present a slate of candidates for election to the WCC central committee, and propose an Assembly message to be shared with congregations throughout the world.

A feature of the Assembly will be its rich prayer life. There will be opening and closing celebrations, common morning and evening prayers outdoors in a tent, midday Eucharist services in the university chapel and Sunday worship with local congregations.

Plenary themes include economic justice, Christian unity, overcoming violence, Christian identity and interreligious dialogue, and Latin America. Other key issues include a focus on ecumenism in the 21st century, reflecting the growth in numbers and influence of Pentecostal and evangelical groupings.

The assembly will consider making public statements on issues such as nuclear disarmament, United Nations reform, terrorism and counter-terrorism, and water.

Prominent personalities at the assembly will be three Nobel Prize laureates -- Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Adolfo Perez Esquivel and Rigoberta Menchu -- Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, Cardinal Walter Kaspar, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and Metropolitan Kyrill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad (Russian Orthodox Church).

It is expected that the refocusing of the WCC's priorities will include a move to strengthen the involvement of a younger generation.

Young people gathered prior to the Assembly for community-building, ecumenical conversations and a meeting with WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia. Other pre-assembly events were organized for gatherings of Indigenous People, disability advocates, and women delegates to the Assembly.

Young people also will be prominent among the 2,300 people attending the associated Mutirao - a program for churches, ecumenical organizations and individuals "coming together to make a difference," including an exhibition, cultural celebrations, workshops, lectures and space for student and congregational groups to gather.

The Assembly concludes on February 23.

Daily news, webcasts and video about the 9th Assembly are available online at:

[The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical fellowship of churches founded in 1948, today the WCC brings together 348 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other churches representing more than 560 million Christians in over 110 countries, and works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church. The WCC general secretary is Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia, from the Methodist Church in Kenya. Headquarters: Geneva, Switzerland.]