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NCC sets Middle East peace as a top priority

By Linda Bloom*
Feb. 27, 2008 | NEW YORK (UMNS)

A focus on the Middle East will be among the social priorities for the National Council of Churches over the next few years.

But the council also will look at strengthening the relationships among its 35 member communions, including The United Methodist Church, and re-energizing the ecumenical movement as a whole.

Those were among the topics discussed as the NCC Governing Board organized itself for the 2008-2011 quadrennium during its Feb. 25-26 meeting in New York.

Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, installed in November as the council’s new president, spoke about the possibility of an official visit to Middle Eastern countries to meet with civic and religious leaders “as well as to show our solidarity with the Christian minorities.”

Bishop E. Earl McCloud Jr., ecumenical officer for the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, suggested that the council’s efforts on Middle East peace might be better spent working with U.S. officials in Washington.

It was agreed that both types of advocacy are needed as well as coordination with other faith-based groups to foster peace between Israelis and Palestinians. The governing board affirmed the Middle East crisis as a focus during Aykazian’s tenure over the next two years and authorized the executive committee to explore options for action.

Leaner organization

The NCC’s reduced program staff – the result of last fall’s reorganization plan and prompted by financial reasons – was addressed by both Aykazian, who leads the Washington Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern), and the Rev. Michael Kinnamon, the council’s new chief executive.

The Rev. Michael Kinnamon

It was announced last September that 14 program staff positions would be eliminated, but some of the current staff members applied and were hired for the seven new positions created under the reorganization.

In the council’s new configuration, the efforts of the chief executive and staff alone will not be enough to accomplish goals outlined in its strategic plan. “We, the board, have to contribute our time and our talent to this work,” Aykazian said.

Kinnamon pointed to a tension that exists within the ecumenical movement as to whether it is a forum where conflicting viewpoints meet in dialogue or a renewal movement. He believes both descriptions are true. “A crucial part of this (NCC) community is the convictions we hold together … and the witness that we make together,” he said.

Commitments outlined in the NCC’s strategic plan, he added, include strengthening relationships among member communions, integrating programmatic work, giving energy to U.S. ecumenical life, sharing resources, nurturing young adults for ecumenical leadership and being “truly prophetic in our social witness.”

Bishop William B. Oden, ecumenical officer for the United Methodist Council of Bishops, pointed to the need for support by all of the NCC member communions. “If we’re to give legs and heart to the goals that have been stated, there is going to have to be a re-energizing of all our commitments,” he said.

Oden told United Methodist News Service that he was optimistic about what he considers to be a “fresh start” for the NCC.

Bishop William B. Oden

“The reorganization was very painful, but we’ve become a leaner organization. As such, we’ll depend more on board members and less on staff, and that’s healthy,” he said.

The council’s stable financial situation “will raise the confidence level among the member communions,” Oden added.

Renovation plans

The NCC hopes to begin a physical transformation of its New York headquarters as well. Clare Chapman, a United Methodist and the council’s chief operating officer, noted that the NCC was the largest tenant of the Interfaith Center, located at Riverside Drive and West 120th Street, when it was built in the 1950s. Although the NCC’s space has been much reduced since then, the remaining offices never have been renovated.

In order to keep its lease, a renovation is necessary, according to Chapman. The previous governing board had approved a capital campaign for the renovations, now estimated at $800,000, and the funding raised is near the 50 percent level required to start.

“The reorganization was very painful, but we’ve become a leaner organization. As such, we’ll depend more on board members and less on staff, and that’s healthy.”
– Bishop William B. Oden
United Methodists pledged $125,000 for the renovation, paid over a four-year period, and total payment should be finished this year, she said.

Besides Oden, the ecumenical officer, United Methodists on the 2008-2011 NCC Governing Board are Bishop Albert “Fritz” Mutti, interim chief executive, United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns; Diana Eck, Harvard University; Raul Alegria, Southeastern Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church; and Deborah Bass, United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

 *Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org


The Rev. Michael Kinnamon: “Four years from now...”

Archbishop Vicken Aykazian: “We have to contribute our time, our talent.”

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