World Council of Churches
The World Council of Churches, founded in 1948, is an international interdenominational ecumenical organization of orthodox and protestant Christian churches. The Council's main purpose is to work for Christian church unity and renewal. It offers member denominations a forum in which they can discuss issues and work together in a spirit of tolerance and mutual understanding. The governing body of the Council is its Assembly. The Assembly meets every six years at various locations throughout the world and appoints a large central committee which in turn chooses an executive committee of twenty-six members. The committee of twenty-six works with specialized committees and six co-presidents to carry on work between Assemblies. The Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches was held between August 15th and August 31st on Northwestern University's Evanston campus. The Chicago American (8/18/54) billed the Assembly as "the most important gathering in the University's 103 year history." The man responsible for bringing the World Council to Northwestern was James Alton James, a retired member of the University's Department of History and former Dean of the Graduate School. Active in church life, James served as a delegate to the Council's First Assembly held in Amsterdam in 1948. James learned that the Second Assembly would be held in the United States on a college campus and decided Northwestern would be the ideal location. Upon his return from the First Assembly, James worked for several months to secure the approval of the Council's Central Committee for the Northwestern site. After approval was granted a local Committee of 100 was formed to take care of housing, transportation, and general arrangements for the delegates when they arrived. University and City of Evanston officials worked closely in planning for the Second Assembly. The plenary sessions of the Second Assembly were held in Northwestern's new McGaw Hall. In fact, the main reason for constructing this building was to provide a space large enough for the plenary sessions. Worship services were held at the First Methodist Church of Evanston. Assembly delegates roomed in University dormitories and in most fraternity, sorority, and independent houses as well as in the Northwestern Apartments. Many private homes in Evanston housed 600 of the more than 1200 accredited visitors. The Assembly received national press attention when United States President Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered a special convocation address on August 19th, 1954, and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by the University.