NCC Reshaping Itself for U.S. Christian Unity, 'So That the World May Believe'

(Photo Credit: New York Theological Seminary)The Interchurch Center in New York City is seen in an undated file photo.

The National Council of Churches, seeking to reshape itself into a more agile organization to better represent Christian unity in the U.S. ecumenical movement, unveiled a plan to reorganize itself on Tuesday that will require "loss and a learning curve," with a focused period of implementation from October through May 2013.

The group expects its work going forward will concentrate issues linked to theology, inter-religious relations and also advocacy and action for justice and peace.

At a meeting at the Interchurch Center in New York on Tuesday, the group said its Governing Board "broadly affirmed" the recommendations of a task force of 17 members who have met in weekly conference calls over the past six months, reached out to stakeholders and held two face to face meetings in the past six months. It last met in August.

"Today the ecumenical vision is alive and well at the local, regional, and national levels, in no small part because of the historic vision and witness of NCC," the task force said in a report. "We see with clear eyes a renewed opportunity to bear witness to our unity in Christ by weaving a national narrative of the movement in all of its expressions and contexts 'so that the world may believe.'"

The task force also considered a possible launch event "for the new NCC" in March 2013 or at the May 2013 Governing Board meeting.

NCC President Kathryn Lohre, who was a co-chair of the task force said the plan "emphasizes the important role of the NCC as a convener and co-convener."

 "We look forward to engaging more fully with partners, including those in local and regional contexts, and to weaving a national narrative that serves to revitalize the ecumenical movement in the US," Lohre said.

Lohre told Ecumenical News that some implementation trajectories will carry on beyond March 2013.

A vision statement written by the task force calls the for the NCC to have a "shared commitment to a transformed and transforming NCC through which churches and other partners seek visible unity in Christ and work for justice and peace."

Under the plan, the NCC will have three areas of concentration: theological study and dialogue, inter-religious relations and dialogue, and joint advocacy and action for justice and peace.

Peg Birk, the Transitional General Secretary, will be in charge of implementing the plan. Birk, who also worked on the task force, was appointed six months ago when the "re-envisioning and restructuring" planning work began.

Birk, an executive management expert who is a member of Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis, Minn., is currently serving an 18-month term as Transitional Secretary.

She said the board's acceptance of the plan signals it is "moving beyond the work of transition and into the work of transformation" for the NCC. She said she expects the work ahead to be "challenging yet rejuvenating."

Corrections: An article published on September 19, 2012 incorrectly stated that a reorganization of the National Council of Churches would be fully implemented by March 2013. A period of focused implementation will take place from October through March 2013, with some implementation trajectories taking place beyond that time. The article has also been corrected to reflect that Peg Birk is not a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. She is a member of Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis, Minn.

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