The World Council of Churches and 'ecumenical consciousness': How the constitutional responsibility of fostering 'ecumenical consciousness' has been reflected in the World Council of Churches' educational and formational activities from 1948-2006.

  • Simon Oxley

Student thesis: Phd


The thesis explores the manner and extent of World Council of Churches activities that reflect the obligation in its original constitution to develop ecumenical consciousness among the members of the churches. The study explores the possible original meaning of ecumenical consciousness and the implications of widening understandings of ecumenism and develops a working definition of ecumenical consciousness. That definition is seen as having particular significance not only for the structures and activities of the WCC but for the ecumenical movement as a whole.Social movement analysis is used to seek to understand better the nature of the ecumenical movement and its relationship to the World Council. Whilst not completely identifying the ecumenical movement as a social movement, it is suggested that an understanding of participation, the framing of issues of contention and the purposes of social movement organisations can all contribute fruitfully to understanding the ecumenical movement. This perspective leads to questions about whose ecumenical consciousness needs to be addressed and about cognitive and emotional mobilisation.These questions provide a framework for engaging with the stated understandings of the educational and formational activity of the World Council from its foundation to the Porto Alegre Assembly in 2006. From the Library and Archives of the World Council, the research draws on the official documents of Assemblies and Central Committee meetings and perhaps, more significantly, on reports of less high profile consultations and papers of staff discussions. Because of the way in which the World Council operates, this historical analysis is divided into the periods between Assemblies. The conclusion reached is that periods of creative thinking about people's involvement and participation which might lead to the formation of ecumenical consciousness have alternated with reversions to more formal processes of teaching about the ecumenical movement. The expectations of the member churches of the World Council have been directed more towards being supported in their separateness than being challenged ecumenically. The demands of particular issues (ecclesiological and justice/peace) have led to a greater concentration on content rather than process. The value of ecumenical experience has been recognised but not always the necessity of learning through reflection on that experience. It is suggested that these and other tensions have resulted in the World Council being unable to benefit from the potential of an ecumenically conscientised constituency.The thesis concludes with a chapter considering the implications of these conclusions for the future work of the World Council, arguing that, both for its own good and that of the ecumenical movement, it needs to work to develop an ecumenical consciousness in the people of its whole constituency as well as in the institutional churches and their leaders.
Date of Award31 Dec 2010
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester


  • ecumenical education
  • ecumenical formation
  • ecumenical consciousness
  • ecumenical learning
  • ecumenism
  • World Council of Churches
  • ecumenical movement

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