VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS 5/20/14)—In their first national meeting in more than three years, National Council of Churches’ member communions and partners came together in Washington May 19-20 in their first Christian Unity Gathering.
More than 200 persons celebrated the rejuvenation of the NCC in an event filled with worship, music, bible study, and a discussion of crucial national issues on which members will focus their attention.
Foremost among those issues is the crisis of mass incarceration in the United States that exposes what Sojourners editor Jim Wallis termed America’s original sin: racism.
“The energy and joy of being in one another’s presence in worship and celebration of our common life in Christ were stirring,” said A. Roy Medley, ABCUSA general secretary and chair of the NCC Governing Board chair. “We also knuckled down to do hard work together on the issue of mass incarceration which ABC focused on last year with Michelle Alexander’s presentation on “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.” It was encouraging to see the work and connections ABC has on this issue through the Rev. Fela Barrueto of ABHMS and the work of American Baptists such as Rev. Don Anderson who heads the Rhode Island Council of Churches.”
Medley led a bible study on Monday morning, where gatherers read passages from Isaiah that call for justice for the poor and imprisoned. (Isaiah 58:1-8, 10)
With that biblical background, a panel of experts called attention to the depth of the crisis in mass incarceration and called upon the churches to take action.
In addition to Wallis, the panelists were Dr. Iva E. Carruthers, general secretary of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference; Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund; Janet Wolf, a prison reform activist; and Dr. Harold Dean Trulear, director of Healing Communities Prison Ministry and Prisoner Reentry Project of Philadelphia.
Carruthers said the prison system was “the most virulent crisis at the heart of America’s moral center” and “a new caste system affecting millions of African American and Hispanic families.”
A highlight of the Christian Unity Gathering Monday was a celebration service that included music led by Mark Miller, assistant professor of church music at Drew Theological School, and a colorful procession of heads of NCC member communions and interfaith partners.
The celebration featured an inaugural address by Jim Winkler, who has served as President and General Secretary of the NCC since January.
Acknowledging the Council’s long history as a moral force in U.S. history, Winkler declared, “We will find our true calling and our renewal when we stand with those at the margins and the oppressed.”
The Christian Unity Gathering marked the reemergence of the National Council of Churches after a two-year period of transition and reorganization to deal with reductions in income following the “great recession” of 2008.
The Council’s top-heavy organization of commissions, committees, and task groups was honed into four “convening tables” that held their first meetings at the gathering.
The tables are Theological Dialogue and Matters of Faith and Order; Interreligious Relations and Collaboration on Matters of Mutual Concern; Christian Education, Ecumenical Faith Formation and Leadership Development; and Joint Action and Advocacy for Justice and Peace.
Since its founding in 1950, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA has been the leading force for shared ecumenical witness among Christians in the United States. The NCC’s 37 member communions — from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American and Living Peace churches — include 45 million persons in more than 100,000 local congregations in communities across the nation.
American Baptist Churches is one of the most diverse Christian denominations today, with over 5,200 local congregations comprised of 1.3 million members, across the United States and Puerto Rico, all engaged in God’s mission around the world.