The World Council of Churches says that its 11th assembly, originally planned for September 2021 in Karlsruhe, Germany, is postponed until 2022 due to the gravity and uncertainties related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The WCC Assembly normally meets about every seven to eight years and it is the highest governing body of the ecumenical grouping of churches representing more than 500 million Christians worldwide.
"We hope that, by 2022, we will have more certainty and knowledge about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we hope that waiting to convene the assembly will mean fuller participation by all who want to walk, work, and pray together," said WCC moderator Agnes Abuom.
"This was a very difficult decision to make but we trust that it will be offset by the joy we will feel about being able to gather, together at last, in 2022."
The executive committee of the WCC said it made the decision in close consultation with the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), the umbrella for Lutheran and other Protestant churches and other host churches and local partners.
"The decision, announced on June 3, was made due to the gravity and uncertainties related to the COVID-19 pandemic, with final dates still to be set.
"It is hoped that an assembly in 2022 will provide a better opportunity to secure the full participation of the ecumenical fellowship. The location in the Rhine River city of Karlsruhe will remain the same," the WCC said.
The EKD, the Evangelical Church in Baden, Council of Churches in Germany, and other churches of various confessions in Germany, France, and Switzerland jointly invited the assembly to Karlsruhe.
The city of some 310,000 people is in a European region located near the French-German border.
The assembly will bring together 800 official delegates from the WCC's 350 member churches, and many other participants and visitors, all of whom will gather in prayer, and celebrate their fellowship.
The theme is "Christ's love moves the world to reconciliation and unity."
The WCC said the assembly theme will be reflected upon in the light of the dramatic global situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic will also have a significant impact on assembly planning in terms of program, logistics, and finances.
New dates for the assembly in the second half of 2022 are currently under discussion and will be decided upon together with the Karlsruhe exhibition center, Messe Karlsruhe.
The bulk of the WCC's founding churches were European and North American, today most member churches are in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, the Middle East and the Pacific.
A WCC has the task of determining the overall policies of the council and electing the WCC central committee, the main governing body between assemblies.
On June 3 the executive committee confirmed Rev. Ioan Sauca as interim WCC general secretary and he will hold the post until the WCC central committee meets in June 2021.
Sauca, who is from the Orthodox Church in Romania, has been professor of Missiology and Ecumenical Theology at the WCC's Ecumenical Institute in Bossey since 1998 and its director since 2001. He has served as a WCC deputy general secretary since 2014.
Olav Fykse Tveit, who is now the presiding bishop of the (Lutheran) Church of Norway stepped down from his post as the WCC general secretary at the end of March 2020 after serving two terms in office.