Model of WCC new chapel in Grand-Saconnex.

Model of WCC new chapel in Grand-Saconnex, 1960s.


Inside, the chapel symbolizes a tent; the waves in the ceiling suggest the wind blowing across the roof. The chapel is a reminder that, although we have not yet reached full fellowship, the churches are on a pilgrimage toward unity. 

Both the architect, Eric Möller, and the interior designer, Knud Lollesgaard, came from Denmark and used Nordic furnishings and natural materials in the design of the chapel. 

Occasionally one can hear the wood as it shrinks or swells. One is not cut off from the outside world inside the chapel.

The wooden oak panels on the glass windows filter the light but also allow the outside world to be seen, Gods creation: nature, trees, people, movement.

Moving is a dimension of faith, reflected former WCC general secretary Most Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, presiding bishop of the Church of Norway.

The ecumenical pilgrimage has many steps,” he said. This ecumenical chapel and the great hall next to it represent my best memories from the ecumenical fellowship and some of the most blessed moments of my life.”

Tveit added: The move now is into the next and necessary phase of renovations, rebuilding and reestablishing the housing and the economy of the WCC. Even more, to make the ecumenical center a reinforced and renewed center for the one ecumenical movement. May God bless our going out and going in, from now and for ever more!”

Prayer 1965

The Ecumenical Centre, headquarters of the World Council of Churches and location of offices of ten other international church bodies, was dedicated on July 11, 1965. The service received continent-wide coverage via Eurovision. The centre, built at a cost of $ 3'000'000 (£1'071'500) contributed by the WCC's member churches around the world, has been occupied by staff since Easter 1964, when office sections of the building were completed. Formal dedication, however, was delayed to coincide with a meeting of the WCC's Executive Committee which opens here tomorrow and pending completion of the chapel..Here, Visser't Hooft preaching in the chapel.


Changes in the chapel

Over the years, the chapel has changed, a fact noted in an especially descriptive way by Rev. Jane Stranz, who most recently worked in the press office of the WCC 11th Assembly. Over the years, our idea of what is ecumenical and what is a a prayer space for everybody has changed,” she said. For example, she noted, there are far more gifts and images in the chapel than when it was first built.

Stranz poses a key question about the chapel: How do we live with this idea of an ecumenical prayer space being a place where we can all feel at home—but where we can all feel the challenge as well?” she asked. 

One way the chapel makes people feel at home is that they are led into the space by walking across waves” in the marble floor, symbolizing the waters of baptism.

The feel of the natural world also draws people together: the abstract stained glass windows show the rising and the setting of the sun around the world – the whole inhabited earth, the oikoumene. And the chapel breathes" through its wood panelling, sparking many people to comment what the sound means to them. 

As WCC director of Communication Marianne Ejdersten described: The walls are whispering.” She added “I take always a moment to pray in the chapel and thinking of all the churches worldwide praying and working together for unity, justice and peace.”

The music coming from the chapel was the first thing that caught the attention of Beth Ferris, who arrived at the Ecumenical Centre in 1985, ready to take up her new position as study and interpretation secretary for work related to the Refugee Service. 

The music that was different from the US hymns I was used to,” she said. I poked my head in and realized people were singing in a language that was strange to me. Wow,’ I thought, this is going to be a different working environment than Ive been used to.’  And of course, that initial impression turned out to be right.”

For Simon Oxley, who worked at the WCC from 1996-2008 as the WCC executive secretary for Education, the chapel was a physical symbol that the WCC is more than just another international organisation serving global networks. Whatever else I did as a staff member, participating in worship there remained significant,” he said. 

Prayers and inclusivity

Dr Marcelo Schneider, a WCC programme executive for communication and church relations based in Brazil, has developed a tradition over the years as he visits the chapel. Whenever I come to Geneva, I go to the chapel and say a little prayer when I arrive, and I do the same when I leave,” he said.

The chapel is a place that also symbolized a caring, inclusive community, reflected Evelyn V. Appiah, who worked in the Sub-unit on Renewal and Congregation Life, Lay Participation Towards Inclusive Community, and Lay Centres, Academies, and Movements for Social Concern.

Worshipping and praying together in the beautiful chapel, using materials collected from churches, and monastic communities around the world, was impressive,” she remembered. Monday service was well-attended to start the week.”

Ivars Kupcis, a communication officer, will always remember hot August days, when the expanding and contracting wood in the chapel makes soft cracking noises. There would always be a gentle wind because of temperature differences—the kind of wind you could feel,” he said. You feel it almost like a touch of the Holy Spirit coming from the chapel.”

Anam Gill, who served as a senior communicator during the WCC 11th Assembly, also vividly remembers spending time at the chapel. To me, it felt like the heart of the Ecumenical Centre, silently pulsating with life,” she said. The waters of baptism mosaic at the entrance of the chapel deeply moved me, and seeing the Cross of Reconciliation from Europe, made from bombs after the Second World War, brought tears to my eyes but also filled me with hope that we can overcome difficult times.”

In 2010, the WCC and Implenia embarked on the Green Village property development project to contribute to the renewal of international Geneva. The project includes six new buildings, each named for a city that hosted a global climate summit – Montreal, Kyoto, Stockholm, Durban, Rio, and Lima.

The project foresees the renovation and construction of a new Ecumenical Centre called Lima, in which the historic chapel, Visser t’ Hooft Hall, grand foyer, and Brugger gardens will be preserved. For the next three years, the WCC, its sister organizations and tenants, will work from the Kyoto building.

Read the feature story: The World Council of Churches in Geneva: A pilgrimage to places of ecumenical memory


21 June 2023, Geneva, Switzerland: His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew of the Ecumenical Patriarchate preaches as opening prayer is observed at the Ecumenical Centre Chapel, as the World Council of Churches central committee gathers in Geneva on 21-27 June 2023, for its first full meeting following the WCC 11th Assembly in Karlsruhe in 2022.