'God Box' Celebrates 50 Years

Dr. Steven C. Rockefeller, professor emeritus of religion at Middlebury College, describes the faith of his grandfather, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who was instrumental in the creation of The Interchurch Center. At left are Rabbi Marcus L Burstein and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. (Photo: NCC/Philip Jenks)

The 50th anniversary of New York's Interchurch Center, known as a prominent hub of interreligious activity, was celebrated this past Monday.

Dozens of prominent faith leaders were in attendance at the ceremony where speakers recounted the vibrant history of the 19-story building, whose cornerstone was personally dedicated by former President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The Rev. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, told how the building had originally been planned to become a "Protestant Vatican on the Hudson," but instead evolved into the "God Box," where scores of Protestant, Orthodox, Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim organizations do their daily business.

"Clearly, the fact that we did not evolve into what our creators expected us to be is part of the eternal promise that God is not through with us yet, not with these bricks and mortar, and not with the human beings who work here," Kinnamon said in his keynote address.

Also speaking at the event was Dr. Steven C Rockeffeller, the grandson of philanthropist and billionaire John Dr. Rockefeller Jr., an American Baptist layman, who was a major figure in the planning and financing of the building in the 1950's.

Rockefeller, who is also a professor emeritus of religion at Middlebury College, recalled the faith of his grandfather saying that, "Philanthropy was his life, as was a daily practice of Bible study and personal devotion."

Other notable participants in the service included Father Robert George Stephanopoulos of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Rabbi Marcus L. Burstein, and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf who offered a joint call to worship.

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church, led a litany of remembrance and rededication, while the Lord's Prayer was led by the Rev. Dr. Kermit J. DeGraffenreidt, Secretary-Editor for the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and a former member of The Interchurch Center board.

Located on Manhattan's Upper West Side, the Interchurch Center houses over 80 faith-based organizations, including the World Council of Churches, the National Council of Churches in the U.S.A., the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, the American Society for Muslim Advancement, and the Interfaith Center of New York.

The center shares the Hudson riverbank with several other religious institutions, including Union Theological Seminary, Jewish Theological Seminary, the Cathedral School of St. John, and the historic Riverside Church.

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