Over the past few months I’ve had the privilege of being part of two task forces charged with thinking about the future of the National Council of Churches in the USA in light of so many changes in the cultural, religious and ecumenical landscape in the United States. Easy peasy.
Founded in 1950, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC) is a council of 37 Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American and Living Peace churches. The NCC provides a forum for the churches to study together the issues that divide them, and to participate in many joint programs of education, advocacy, and service that witness to their unity in Jesus Christ.
I suspect that for many reading this post you have had one of the following reactions to the mention of the NCC:
- NCC – “Never heard of it.”
- NCC – “What a great organization.”
- NCC – “That’s the Church World Service and NRSV group, right?”
- NCC – “Trouble-makers, harumph!”
- NCC – “Are they still around?”
When I was asked to be part of an initial task force, I came to it with some deep reservations about the organization. I had been part of the NCC General Assembly some years ago and did not have a great experience. Like many organizations born out of the mainline institutional boom of the 1950’s, the NCC seemed out of touch with the church, bound by institutional norms and operated with an assumption of a much larger influence and impact than it probably had. So imagine my surprise that I am here now, a few months down the road of reconnecting with the NCC and part of a second task force that is trying to take seriously the future of the NCC.
As I have interacted with folks about the NCC on facebook and other means, there have been some interesting reactions. The most challenging sentiment that was echoed numerous times is that . . . ” the NCC is just another irrelevant boomer institution that doesn’t even know that it’s dead. Hold the memorial already.” This might be a little harsh considering some of the important work that is still being done by the NCC – check out www.ncccusa.org – but there is also much wisdom in taking seriously the idea that one season of life of the NCC is coming – or has come– to a close.
The NCC, like many mainline denominations, is facing a serious crisis of identity and existence. While this could be reason to hit the self-preservation panic button, in many ways this moment has given those in leadership a chance to rethink the entire scope of the NCC. It would not be surprising if this transition were to be approached with fear, denial and/or belligerence, but from my experience thus far, there is a genuine lens of honesty and faithfulness through which the conversations are happening. So this is where you come in. This transition task force that I am part of is trying to take into consideration the voices of various NCC Task Forces, conversations with new folks and input from committed constituencies to present some perspective and plans to the NCC board over the next few months.
The NCC is undertaking a serious process of Re-envisioning and restructuring. The task force formed to work on this has been given the mandate to meet intensively between March and the September Governing Board meeting with a mandate to develop detailed proposals for the re-envisioning and restructuring of the NCC. It will serve as an advisory body to the Executive Committee (EC) and the Interim and Transitional General Secretaries; the EC will bring final recommendations in its reports to the Board.
If you could take a few moments to fill out this ONE PAGE SURVEY with your thoughts about the NCC it would be much appreciated. The questions are wide in scope, but the more narrative we have, the better.
Lastly, for those of you who are even wondering, “Why do you bother?” I get that. It will come as no surprise to many that I believe that emerging church movements will only take root and have a meaningful impact on the world if helpful aspects of our historic church traditions and resources are leveraged in ways that inspire and support them. This is true for denominations who are facing identity and ministry crises as well as various ecumenical organizations who are often the first to be forgotten by the denominations who founded them. With this in mind, for an ecumenical organization like the NCC to thrive it must give up the idea that it, or any one body, can or should be “the leader” of any new movement. Instead, a thriving future could become a reality if the NCC could come along side of new ecumenical expressions in shared ministry, better leverage its historic influence in the public square and bring together particular voices in the American church than few others have the opportunity or willingness to do. My two cents.
So what do you think . . . about the NCC and/or the future of ecumenism in the United States?