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The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (usually identified as National Council of Churches, or NCC) is an ecumenical partnership of 36 Christian faith groups in the United States. Its member communions — variously called denominations, churches, conventions, or archdioceses — include a wide variety of Mainline Protestant, Orthodox, African-American, Evangelical and historic Peace churches. Together, they encompass 100,000 local congregations and 45 million adherents.

The NCC and its predecessor organizations have been a leading force in the Christian ecumenical movement in the United States for more than a century. The present Council was organized in 1950 as a merger of the Federal Council of Churches, formed by the Protestant denominations in 1908, and several other ecumenical organizations including the International Council of Religious Education, formed in 1905, but with origins in the 1830s.

The Council's sister organization, Church World Service, is a humanitarian and relief arm of the NCC's member communions and has work in more than 80 nations.

Theological Foundation

The Council's statement of faith, found in the preamble to its constitution, reads as follows:
"The National Council of Churches is a community of Christian communions, which, in response to the gospel as revealed in the Scriptures, confess Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God, as Savior and Lord. These communions covenant with one another to manifest ever more fully the unity of the Church. Relying upon the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, the communions come together as the Council in common mission, serving in all creation to the glory of God."


This general statement is accepted by all of the NCC's member communions, which as Christian bodies hold these and many other beliefs in common. Each of the member communions also has a unique heritage, including teachings and practices that differ from those of other members.

Governance and Relationships

The NCC's Governing Board, composed of representatives of the 35 member communions, provides ongoing legislative leadership for the Council. A president, several vice presidents, and the chairs of the program commissions make up an Executive Committee of the board.

Approximately 300 delegates from the member denominations meet together each fall in a joint General Assembly with the Council's humanitarian partner organization, Church World Service. CWS is governed by its own board made up of representatives from the NCC member communions. The General Assembly serves as a forum for discussing major issues and, where appropriate, to approve policy statements, resolutions and other official documents that speak to the common concerns of the member churches.

Much of the Council's work is done through its five ecumenical program commissions: Communication; Education and Leadership Ministries; Faith and Order; Interfaith Relations; and Justice and Advocacy. Membership in these commissions extends beyond the NCC's member communions to involve participants from more than 50 U.S. faith groups, including Roman Catholics, Evangelicals, and Pentecostals.

In addition, many of the communions have specific ecumenical officers who assist the Council in building relationships among the member bodies and with other ecumenical and interfaith bodies.

The NCC is related fraternally to hundreds of local and state councils of churches and interfaith organizations, and to the World Council of Churchesmarker. Even though these councils may include many of the same member churches, they have no fiscal or administrative connections to each other.

Similar ecumenical organizations abroad include National Councils of Churches in Australia, Indiamarker, Kenyamarker, Koreamarker, the Philippinesmarker and numerous other countries. In the U.S., the National Council of Churches, with its broad, diverse spectrum of member faith groups, is sometimes contrasted with more narrowly focused, doctrinally-based associations such as the fundamentalist American Council of Christian Churches or the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE).

Leadership

President

The President of the NCC presides over sessions of Governing Board and is a major participant in the annual General Assembly of the NCC and its partner humanitarian ministry, Church World Service. The current President of the Council, who began a two-year term in January 2008, is Archbishop Vicken Aykazian of Washington, D.C., Turkish-born legate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern). Archbishop Aykazian, who is the former Primate of the Armenian Church of Switzerland, holds a Ph.D in history and is working on a second Ph.D in theology at Catholic University in Washington. In addition to his membership on the NCC's Governing Board, he has been active in the World Council of Churches as a member of the Mission and Evangelism Unit, the Orthodox Task Force and the Central Committee. He is fluent in English, Armenian, French and Turkish.

The president-elect, who will succeed Aykazian in January 2010, is Rev. Peg Chemberlin, a Moravian minister who is executive director of the Minnesota Council of Churches, Minneapolis. Her successor, Kathryn M. Lohre, is assistant director of the Pluralism Project at Harvard University and a member of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches. Lohre will become NCC president in January 2012.

Previous NCC presidents were: Rev. Michael Livingston (2006-2007), Bishop Thomas L. Hoyt Jr (2004-2005), Elenie K. Huszagh (2002-2003), Ambassador Andrew Young (2000-2001), Rt. Rev. Craig B. Anderson (1998-1999), Bishop Melvin G. Talbert (1996-1997), Rev. Dr. Gordon L. Sommers (1994-1995),Rev. Dr. Syngman Rhee (1992-1993), Very Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky (1990-1991), Rev. Patricia McClurg (1988-1989), Bishop Philip R. Cousin (1983-1987), Bishop James Armstrong (1982-1983), Rev. M. William Howard (1979-1981), William P. Thompson (1975-1978), Rev. W. Sterling Cary (1972-1975), Cynthia C. Wedel (1969-1972), Arthur S. Flemming (1966-1969), Bishop Reuben H. Mueller (1963-1966), J. Irwin Miller (1960-1963), Rev. Edwin T. Dahlberg of the American Baptist Churches U.S.A. (1957-1960), Rev. Eugene Carson Blake (1954-1957), Bishop William C. Martin (1952-1954), and the founding president, Rt. Rev. Henry Knox Sherrill (1950-1952).

General Secretary

The General Secretary is the Council's chief administrative officer. The Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, a Disciples of Christ minister, theologian, and a long-time leader in ecumenical activities, became the Council's ninth General Secretary on January 1, 2008. He came to the NCC from Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, where he had been the Allen and Dottie Miller Professor of Mission, Peace and Ecumenical Studies since 2000. He was Professor of Theology and Ecumenical Studies at Lexington Theological Seminary in Kentucky from 1988 to 2000 and was Dean of the seminary from 1988 to 1998. He also taught at Christian Theological Seminary, Indianapolis, from 1983 to 1988, and was a visiting professor at United Theological College and South Asian Theological Institute, Bangalore, India, in 1987 and 1997.

Kinnamon was Executive Secretary of the World Council of Churches' Commission on Faith and Order from 1980 to 1983, and was General Secretary of the Consultation on Church Union, which became Churches Uniting in Christ, from 1999 to 2002.

His predecessor at NCC was Rev. Bob Edgar, a United Methodist and a former pastor, seminary president, and six-term member of Congress, who led the NCC from January 2000 until mid-2007. Edgar is now President and CEO of Common Cause, a national public policy advocacy organization founded by the late John W. Gardner and industrialist J. Irwin Miller, who was the first lay president of the NCC (1960-63).

Previous general secretaries were: Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell (1991-1999), James A. Hamilton, Esq. (1989-1991), Rev. Arie R. Brouwer (1985-1989), Claire Randall (1974-1984), R.H. Edwin Espy (1963-1973), Rev. Roy G. Ross (1954-1963), and Rev. Samuel McCrea Cavert (1950-1954).

Facilities

The Council's headquarters are located in The Interchurch Center, a 19-story building at 475 Riverside Drive in New York City, built in the 1950s with a generous contribution from John D. Rockefeller to promote and facilitate cooperation among America's churches. President Dwight D. Eisenhower laid the cornerstone in 1958 before a crowd of 30,000 who had gathered to dedicate the building. Many denominations and ecumenical ministries have offices in the Center. Its location opposite The Riverside Church on Manhattan's Upper West Sidemarker puts it within a few blocks' walk of three theological seminaries, the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divinemarker, and the campus of Columbia University.

The NCC also operates a public-policy office at 110 Maryland Avenue, N.E., opposite the Supreme Court building on Capitol Hill in Washington DCmarker. A dozen other denominational and ecumenical bodies also have offices in the same facility, which is owned by the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society.

Research and publishing contributions

RSV and NRSV Bible translations

The NCC holds the copyright on the Revised Standard Version and the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible. The RSV, completed in 1952, was intended by its translation team to be highly readable and literally accurate. It benefits from previously unavailable manuscripts such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, and from the collaborative insights of Jewish, Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox translators. The NRSV was completed in 1989. These translations, widely used in churches, and the leading Bible translations used in college and seminary classrooms, have been highly praised by Biblical scholars, pastors, and teachers.

Both translations have also been criticized. Scholar R. Laird Harris derisively called the RSV "a monument of higher critical scholarship" when referring to the RSV's translation of Old Testament passages concerning Christian claims of Jesus's foretelling. The NRSV has also come under fire for its tendency toward gender-neutral language. Some Orthodox bodies in the NCC have been hesitant to support either translation as a text to be used in worship services.

Other publications

  • The NCC sponsors the research program on which the Uniform Sunday School Lesson Series is based. The long-running series that began in 1872 under the auspices of the National Sunday School Convention is now produced by 46 volunteer writers, editors and Bible scholars from 18 mainline, historic African American and evangelical denominations, ranging from United Methodist and National Baptist, to Church of God-Anderson and Cumberland Presbyterian. They meet in an annual session to determine curriculum topics and lesson design, followed by individual research and writing on assigned sections of the year's studies.




  • The Council operates Friendship Press, a publishing arm that fosters and distributes books, curriculum and other resources for church constituents.


  • The NCC's magazine, EcuLink, is a semi-annual review of the collaborative work of the member churches. It is issued in both print and digital formats.




Theological and educational dialogue

  • The NCC Faith and Order Commission is an ongoing, scholarly, ecumenical dialogue among North American Christian theologians and church historians. Its participants represent more than 50 faith groups, including Evangelical, Pentecostal, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, mainline Protestant, and African-American churches. In 2007, the Commission celebrated its fiftieth anniversary with a major convocation at Oberlin, Ohio.


  • The NCC Interfaith Relations Commission conducts dialogues and provides resources for Christians to explore the challenges and opportunities of living among people of other faiths in an increasingly pluralistic and multi-ethnic nation. The Commission produces study guides, newsletters and conferences. It also consults with congregations, denominational bodies, and community organizations about their interfaith relations concerns.


  • The NCC Education and Leadership Ministries Commission is an umbrella organization for fifteen ecumenical program committees and two project teams made up of participants from dozens of denominations, working together to develop lesson materials, research, guidelines and demonstration projects that support local congregations in educational ministry.


Web and television production

  • The NCC Communication Commission created and administers Worldwide Faith News, a major news distribution website in the field of religion. WFN holds more than 40,000 archived news stories and receives more than 10 million visits per month, with a record high of 18 million in June 2007. WFN grants reporters and editors full permission to reproduce, copy, or quote all documents submitted by participating faith groups.


  • The NCC is one of the founding members of the Interfaith Broadcasting Commission, a partnership fostering the production of a dozen documentaries and four to six seasonal liturgical programs each year for the television affiliates of ABC, NBC and CBS. The current IBC members include the NCC, the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the New York Board of Rabbis, the Union for Reform Judaism, and the Islamic Society of North America. NCC's productions for IBC are managed by a working group of the Communication Commission.


  • The NCC is also a founding member of the National Interfaith Cable Coalition (NICC), now operating as Odyssey Networks. This consortium of about 70 Christian, Jewish, and Muslim groups, formerly known as Faith and Values Media, produces and distributes programming through a variety of media. NICC's earlier initiatives included the VISN satellite network, which later became the Odyssey cable channel, and finally the Hallmark Channel, where NICC retained a small amount of air time to present its members' programs until 2008. Currently more than a dozen members of the NCC Communication Commission participate in the cable coalition.


Social and political advocacy

The ecumenical churches have been engaged on issues of public policy and moral values for more than 100 years, adopting the "Social Creed of the Churches" in 1908, a document which was updated for the 21st Century by the NCC General Assembly in 2007.

The NCC office in Washington DC addresses the moral and ethical dimensions of public policy issues, working from a policy base developed and approved by the member communions over many decades. Its activities are carried out under the guidance of the Council's Justice and Advocacy Commission and several working groups composed of justice specialists on the staffs of NCC member communions. From its founding in 1950, the Council has sought to keep church constituencies informed about developments of interest in the realm of public policy, and has made the views of the ecumenical community known to government leaders and others in places of public leadership. Where its member communions have not reached a policy consensus on an issue, the NCC does not speak.

  • The Council has long voiced support for minimum wage laws, environmentalist policies, and affirmative action, and played an important role in the civil rights movement in the 1960s. A thriving program of women's ministry is also part of the Council's current justice work.
  • NCC partners with other faith-inspired groups, such as Bread for the World, Habitat for Humanity, and Children's Defense Fund, to press for broad policy initiatives that address poverty issues. The Council helped launch the Let Justice Roll grassroots anti-poverty campaign that has been successful in raising the minimum wage in more than 20 states since 2005.
  • The Council's Eco-Justice Program, supervised by a working group of NCC communions, is one of the most successful faith-based advocacy programs on Capitol Hill, receiving wide acclaim for its work on global warming, energy conservation, environmental health, food and farming, and wilderness lands.
  • The NCC Communication Commission is one of the founders of 'So We Might See', an interfaith coalition that promotes media access and representation by all faith traditions, ethnic and economic groups. Other coalition members are the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Islamic Society of North America, Presbyterian News Service, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, United Methodist Communications, and the project's managing partner, United Church of Christ.


The NCC's communions sometimes face opposition to their ecumenical efforts to address justice issues. In July 2005, the Antiochian Orthodox Church withdrew from the NCC. Father George Kevorkian, an assistant to the denomination's senior cleric, said that the Church left because "the NCC...seems to have taken a turn toward political positioning."

Figures in the conservative movement accuse the NCC of holding a biased policy towards Cuba, and criticize relative silence by the NCC towards political and religious prisoners in countries with left-leaning and totalitarian leadership.

In spring 2007, Iranianmarker president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met in Tehranmarker with a visiting delegation of Christian leaders from a number of U.S. faith groups, including some from the National Council of Churches. During the candid conversation, the group challenged Ahmadinejad's statements about the Holocaust and his alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons. Abraham H. Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, was among those who criticized the visit.

Member denominations



See also



References

External links




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