General Secretaries
of the World Council of Churches

The general secretary of the WCC is elected for an extendable five-year mandate. He is nominated by the members of the Central Committee elected at the General Assembly. The general secretary implements the programme adopted by the Assembly. Willem Visser’t Hooft was the first to hold the office.

1948-1966, Willem Visser't Hooft (1900-1985)

  • Willem Adolph Visser't Hooft (1900-1985)
    Willem Adolph Visser't Hooft (1900-1985) © Wikimedia Commons

Pastor Visser’t Hooft was nominated General Secretary of the WCC in formation at the Constitutive Assembly in 1938. He was elected General Secretary of the WCC at the first Assembly in 1948. He was re-elected several times until he retired in 1966. He was then appointed Honorary President of the WCC at the Assembly in Uppsala in 1968.

Willem Visser’t Hooft strengthened and consolidated the missions of the WCC’s departments. He developed many reflections and discussions on the theme Churches and society, and always linked the Ecumenical requirement to fundamental structures of the Church as they continued to expand over the centuries.

1966-1972, Eugene Carson Blake (1906-1985)

  • Eugène Carson Blake (1906-1985)
    Eugène Carson Blake (1906-1985)

Pastor Carson Blake was a member of the Presbyterian Church in the United States. He presided over the National Council of Churches. Before taking on responsibilities with the WCC, he was a friend of Martin Luther King and an ardent defender of human rights. At the WCC he contributed to implementing the programme against racism.

1972-1984, Philip A. Potter (1921-2015)

  • Philip Potter (1921-2015)
    Philip Potter (1921-2015) © Wikimedia Commons

Pastor Philip Potter, born in the Dominican Republic, was a member of the Methodist Church. He was very active in student communities and president of the WCSF from 1960 to 1968. As such he participated in the Mission and Evangelisation department of the WCC. He was elected General Secretary of the WCC and developed the Churches and Society programme, the main lines of which were set out at the Assembly in Uppsala. The idea was to help theChurches reflect on the means towards an ‘equitable and liveable society based on participation’.  He played an active part in the struggle against Apartheid, led by Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu.

Under his mandate the document Baptism, Eucharist, Ministry (BEM) was issued. It was written by the Faith and Order department that representatives of the Catholic Church joined in 1975.

Philip Potter always stressed the fundamental unity of faith, witness and action.

1985-1992, Emilio Castro (1927-2013)

  • Emilio Castro (1927-2013)
    Emilio Castro (1927-2013) © WCC

Pastor Emilio Castro was born in Uruguay and was a member of the Methodist Church. He studied theology in Basel with Karl Barth. He started working in the WCC early and led the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism. Then he became the fourth General Secretary of the WCC. Under his mandate he launched the Peace, Justice and Integrity of creation project, one of the subjects tackled at the Assembly in Canberra; he launched a reconciliation process between the WCC and the Pentecostal Church. Sympathetic to those engaged in the theology of liberation, he was openly opposed to  dictatorships in South America, and continually sought ways for emerging countries to develop, thus drawing criticism from liberal economic circles.

1993-2003, Konrad Raiser

  • Konrad Raiser (1938)
    Konrad Raiser (1938) © Wikimedia Commons

Pastor Konrad Raiser was born in 1938. He was a Lutheran, and a member of the German EvangelicalChurch (EKD). After studying theology in Germany and at Harvard in the United States, he joined the WCC and worked with the Faith and Order department. He was elected General Secretary at a time when the organisation was experiencing stormy debates, as representatives of the Orthodox Churches confronted those of the Pentecostal Churches on the theme of the Holy Spirit. Debates on the problems related to the world economic order were heated and the wars in the Near-East causing worries: ‘What does being the Church mean in a globalisation and violent context?’ he asked the Central Committee of the WCC in 2002.

2004-2009, Samuel Kobia

  • Samuel Kobia (1947)
    Samuel Kobia (1947) © WCC

Pastor Samuel Kobia was born in Kenya in 1947. He was a member of the Methodist Church. He was trained in Chicago and at MIT in urban planning, and took part very early in the WCC’s  department Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation. He was at the head of an information mission in Sudan, on its geopolitical ambiguities and its suffering. He called on Churches to ceaselessly work on repairing the world and restoring human dignity. He was sometimes criticised for his strong positions against several governments in Israel, and did not seek to renew his mandate.

Olav Fykse Tveit, depuis 2010

  • Pasteur Olav Fykse Tveit (1960)
    Minister Olav Fykse Tveit (1960) © Wikimedia Commons

Pastor Olav Fykse Tveit succeeded him in 2010. He was born in 1960 and was a member of the Lutheran Church in Norway. He took part in the plenary Commission Faith and Order of the WCC, and was also co-president of the small group – Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum.


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