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Our reports about the 219th General Assembly, July 2010

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National Council of Churches

NCC presses ahead despite financial woes

Payroll being cut by one-third to balance the 2002 budget

by Jerry L. Van Marter, Presbyterian News Service

OAKLAND, CA - November 16, 2001 - Never let it be said that the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. (NCC) is afraid to tackle the really big issues:

The persistence of poverty in America. Hurdles in the way of ecumenism. Tensions in interfaith relations. And its own financial disarray.

During the NCC's Nov. 11-16 General Assembly here, 150 delegates from most of its 36 member communions stubbornly persisted in addressing social and ecclesiastical issues that have dogged country and church for the NCC's entire 52-year history.

Deficits persist

On Nov. 13, in a draconian move to eliminate the deficits that pushed the NCC to the verge of bankruptcy last year, the Council's executive board eliminated 16 of the 54 staff positions, effective by the end of this year. Two years ago, the NCC had 102 people on staff. By New Year's Day it will have 39.

The staff cuts came on the heels of a report that the Council finished its most recent fiscal year - which ended on June 30 - with a deficit of $2.1 million. The staff reduction was part of a package that trimmed the 2002 budget from $6.87 million to $5.7 million.

General Secretary Bob Edgar said the first $120,000 in unrestricted giving above budgeted income this year will be held in reserve "to begin rebuilding the long-term financial health of the NCC."

"I feel very confident that we're prepared to restore the health of this organization," he said.

Although the Council's reserves were sufficient to cover its losses -- an improvement over last year, when "infusions" of cash from the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA) saved the NCC from bankruptcy -- "There's not much left to play around with," said the Rev. Phil Young, a Presbyterian who serves as the NCC treasurer. "If we don't balance this year's budget, we're facing a moment of very sober truth."

Even the deep cuts made so far may not be enough, Young added. "The denominations are in trouble also," he told the Presbyterian News Service. "The whole charitable-giving situation has changed since Sept. 11."

The Presbyterians and Methodists, who together account for almost two-thirds of the NCC's "member support," are both undergoing budget cuts of their own. They contributed to last year's bailout on assurances that this year's Council budget would be balanced, and they greeted the news of the $2.1 million deficit by announcing that they will be reassessing their NCC contributions.

Young led the Assembly in prayer for the employees who lost their jobs.

Anti-poverty campaign

Staff member Brenda Girton-Mitchell outlined plans for the NCC's 10-year anti-poverty "mobilization," whose theme is "Joining Hands and Voices to End Poverty in the United States." The effort was authorized by last year's Assembly.

"We launched this program because we're disturbed," Girton-Mitchell said, noting that 31.1 million Americans (one in nine), including 13.5 million children (one in six), live below the federal poverty level.

"Poverty is as abhorrent to us as slavery was," said outgoing NCC President Andrew Young.

The mobilization will focus on six programmatic elements: children, housing, health care, public education, hunger and the environment. It has measurable goals for each, such as:

· Children -- Cut the poverty rate in half by 2010.

· Housing -- Build, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity, 200,000 units of affordable housing.

· Health care -- Increase the number of insured Americans by 17 million, including all of the 9.5 million currently uninsured children.

· Public education -- Implement the goals of the NCC's 1999 policy statement, "The Churches and the Public Schools."

· Hunger -- In partnership with Bread for the World and others, ensure "food security" for all.

· Environment -- Win U.S. government support for the Kyoto Protocols and advocate the cultivation of renewable energy sources.

Edgar unveiled a grass-roots "March March" campaign, in which participating churches and other groups will dedicate the month of March of each year to daily anti-poverty activities. "Lots of our partners are enthusiastic about this," he said, adding that the NCC is developing resources for the campaign.

The Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, the PC(USA) stated clerk, urged that all NCC member churches take steps to endorse the mobilization, "so there will be broad ownership and committed partnership to achieve these goals."

Ecumenical relations

The key to successfully addressing issues such as poverty, several speakers said, is a unified approach by churches and humanitarian groups. Others noted that the ecumenical movement in the United States continues to be very diffuse.

Edgar reported on Sept. 7-8 conversations between the NCC, which represents primarily mainline Protestant denominations, and the Catholic church, the Salvation Army, evangelicals and Pentecostals. Little progress was reported beyond an agreement to meet again next April, but Edgar said he is upbeat about his efforts to help create what he called "a new ecumenical something."

Edgar said the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Salvation Army have given the go-ahead for continued talks.

However, the largest group of U.S. evangelicals did not attend the recent get-together.

"It is our policy not to engage in those conversations," Richard Cizik, the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, told a writer from the San Francisco Chronicle. Cizik succeeded Don Argue as president of the NAE -- which says it has 42,000 congregations and 10 million members -- after Argue quit in frustration over the NAE's resistance to closer ties to the NCC.

The seeming inability of mainline Christians and evangelicals to come together is not a matter of political or theological disagreements, Tony Campolo, a leading evangelical, said in his Nov. 14 keynote address.

"The first thing that needs to be affirmed is that we have the same social vision: the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven," said Campolo, an American Baptist minister. "We have problems with the NCC, but vision -- a society without racism, without sexism, without ageism, without classism -- isn't one of them."

"Here's the problem," he continued. "NCC statements are frequently not cast in Biblical language. We need to know and speak what the Biblical imperative is; you are Biblically-based, but you seem to avoid Biblical language."

Campolo said Evangelicals want to know, "If your positions are Biblically based, why don't you say so? We're losing our people because we are not using their language. Language is dividing us, not the issues -- and it's a big problem."

Kirkpatrick said we are at a point in history where "we're being called to far more creative efforts to find a fresh institutional expression of Christian unity than we have found previously."

Other business

In other actions, the Assembly, delegates:

· Approved two resolutions on the terrorism crisis: A call for the protection of human rights and a rebuilding of Afghanistan through long-term humanitarian assistance; and a call for American Christians to adopt spiritual disciplines and make available material assistance to help meet the needs of the world's poor people.

· Elected Elenie Huszagh, of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, as the NCC's 21st president.

· Passed a resolution calling for a peaceful settlement of the decades-long civil war in Sudan.

· Approved a resolution calling for increased funding for food stamps and aid to needy families in welfare-reform legislation to be considered by the U.S. Congress next year.


NCC proposes "a new ecumenical body" including Catholics, evangelicals and Pentecostals

Deficit projection for '99 jumps from $4 million to $6.4 million

by Jerry L. Van Marter

WASHINGTON -- 24-May-2000 -- The Rev. Robert Edgar, the newly elected general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. (NCC) -- undaunted by the organization's staggering financial problems, outlined an ambitious plan to transform the venerable ecumenical organization during a meeting of its executive board here May 22-23.

The board adopted a resolution to develop "a new ecumenical body" that it hopes will include Roman Catholics, evangelicals and Pentecostals, by the year 2003. A committee of eight board members was appointed to flesh out the fledgling idea.

During a May 22 press briefing, Edgar said he doesn't know "what the shape of this new vehicle will be," and added: "It may or may not mean the death of the NCC as an organization, but what I do know is that there's a lot of energy among our churches ... to sit around the same table with Roman Catholics, evangelicals and Pentecostals, to dream a new ecumenical future together."

The notion of a much broader ecumenical movement in the United States is similar to a concept adopted by the World Council of Churches 18 months ago to create a "forum" that would greatly expand the global ecumenical community beyond the WCC's current 340 member churches.

Those appointed to the "Vision Committee" to further develop the proposal include Edgar; Elenie Huszagh, the NCC president-elect, from the Greek Orthodox Church; the Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson of the Reformed Church in America; the Rev. Michael Kinnamon of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick of the PC(USA); the Rev. McKinley Young of the African Methodist Episcopal Church; and the Rev. Bertrice Wood of the United Church of Christ.

Financial crisis deepens

In what he called "a very tortured moment in our history," the NCC treasurer, the Rev. Phil Young -- a Presbyterian -- told the executive committee that the organization's 1999 deficit is now estimated at $6.4 million, far higher than was reported to the NCC's general assembly last November.

At that time, member churches were asked to contribute to a "debt-reduction fund" to help wipe out what was announced as a $4 million shortfall. Nearly that much has been raised û assuming that conditional pledges of $700,000 by the United Methodists and $500,000 by the PC(USA) are approved -- but Edgar acknowledged that "hemorrhaging" of money in recent years has depleted NCC reserves from $24 million in 1990 to about $4 million today.


Young praised the new financial controls and procedures that have been put in place since Edgar succeeded the Rev. Joan Brown Campbell as general secretary in November. The 2000 budget is balanced, staffing has been reduced, and strict controls on expenditures have been put in place. The 2000 budget includes a 10-percent "set-aside" to begin rebuilding the NCC's reserves, and Young said "new patterns of cooperation are emerging that bode well for the future."

Edgar said he believes the conditions of the Methodist and Presbyterian contributions have been met, and he hopes to get the Presbyterian money "before Long Beach" -- when the PC(USA)'s General Assembly meets and considers, among other issues, long-term funding for the NCC.


NCC and Church World Service go their separate financial ways

In a carefully worked out arrangement that has taken several months to negotiate, the NCC executive board approved a plan to separate the organization's financial management from that of its dominant program, Church World Service and Witness (CWS).

CWS -- which accounts for more than 85 percent of the NCC's spending -- has long chafed under NCC financial management and sought greater autonomy in managing its own financial affairs. The new agreement gives CWS exactly what it wants.

Effective July 1, CWS will assume complete control of its own books for accounting, receipts and payments, budgets, financial reports, assets, investments, audits, payroll, outside contracts and bank accounts. The CWS board of directors will be the sole legal and fiduciary agent for CWS.


While Edgar will serve ex-officio on the CWS board of directors, the CWS executive director will report to the CWS board, and is charged to work "collaboratively" with the NCC general secretary.

CWS contributions to the NCC's overhead costs ("common services") will be negotiated, rather than assessed by the NCC.

The Rev. Rodney Page, the outgoing CWS director, said he was pleased with the agreement. "Years of friction should melt away," he said, "and we can devote all of our energy to the work of Christ in the world."



GA actions ratified (or not) by  the presbyteries   

A number of the most important actions of the 219th General Assembly are now being sent to the presbyteries for their action, to confirm or reject them as amendments to the PC(USA) Book of Order.

We're providing resources to help inform the reflection and debate, along with updates on the voting.

Our three areas of primary interest are:

bullet Amendment 10-A, which would remove the current ban on lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender persons being considered as possible candidates for ordination as elder or ministers.

bullet Amendment 10-2, which would add the Belhar Confession to our Book of Confessions.

bullet Amendment 10-1, which would adopt the new Form of Government that was approved by the Assembly.

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Some blogs worth visiting

PVJ's Facebook page

Mitch Trigger, PVJ's Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!

You can post your own news and views, or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.


Voices of Sophia blog

Heather Reichgott, who has created this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:

After fifteen years of scholarship and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy, students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and thoughtful community.


John Harris’ Summit to Shore blogspot

Theological and philosophical reflections on everything between summit to shore, including kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology, politics, culture, travel, The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New York City and the Queens neighborhood of Ridgewood by a progressive New York City Presbyterian Pastor. John is a former member of the Witherspoon board, and is designated pastor of North Presbyterian Church in Flushing, NY.


John Shuck’s Shuck and Jive

A Presbyterian minister, currently serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton, Tenn., blogs about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and lightening up.


Got more blogs to recommend?

Please send a note, and we'll see what we can do!


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