The World Alliance of Reformed Churches has agreed to unite with the Reformed Ecumenical Council to create a new "global entity" that will group 80 million Reformed Christians - writes Stephen Brown.
"This is a truly, truly important moment," said WARC president the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick after the alliance's executive committee, meeting in Trinidad, voted unanimously on 22 October to unite with the REC, whose executive committee had agreed to the proposal in March.
The Geneva-based WARC has 75 million members in 214 churches in 107 countries, while the Grand Rapids, Michigan-headquartered REC has 12 million members belonging to 39 churches in 25 countries. Of the REC's member churches, 27 also belong to WARC.
"We will be a stronger community which serves a wider part of the Reformed family," WARC general secretary the Rev. Setri Nyomi told Ecumenical News International.
The members of the two groupings trace their roots back to the 16th-century Reformation led by John Calvin, John Knox and others, as well as to earlier church reform movements such as the Waldensians in the Piedmont valleys of Italy, and the followers of Jan Hus in the Czech lands.
The REC's president, Dutch pastor the Rev. Douwe Visser, told ENI he hoped the decision to unite would lead to Reformed churches around the world having a "stronger voice".
WARC said that all member churches of the two existing groups at the time of union should become members of the new body, with the exception of churches under suspension in either organization. South Africa's Nederduitsch Hervomde Kerk van Afrika (a minority denomination of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa) is a member of the REC but was suspended from WARC in 1982 because of the church's support for apartheid.
The recommendation to create the new body to succeed WARC and REC came out of a meeting of leaders from the two groups in early 2006.
The leaders proposed the new body be called the "World Reformed Communion" but the WARC governing body has recommended further discussions about the name.
WARC traces its roots back to an alliance of Reformed churches founded in 1875, and to the International Congregational Council, which held its first meeting in 1891.
The REC was founded in 1946 as a grouping of Reformed churches that did not belong to WARC. But from the 1960s onwards some churches became members of both bodies.
With acknowledgments to ENI: www.eni.ch