The National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA remains the premier ecumenical entity in this country, made up as it is of Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican, African American, and historic peace churches…among others. The NCC has struggled for years, however, financially, as member communions deal with their own tight budgets and much of the remaining “ecumenical energy” goes into dialogues, full communion relationships, and even interfaith encounters.
The previous General Secretary came to office with a mandate to turn the institution around financially and, in large part, he did so. The problem was it was done by securing grants for specific programs and not for core support of the Council. So, while fully supported grant programs continue unabated, the Governing Board had to slash the staff last week to about 19 in order to avoid busting the budget for this quadrennium…and the next!
In my opinion, the NCC needs to reclaim its vision as a “council of churches” and the denominations need to recommit to their “ownership” of the Council. That may well mean it will be a leaner organization (because we are limited, as communions, as to how much money we can afford) and we may need to do less, but do it better. Primarily, we must re-focus on the goal of church unity and not continue to function primarily as a social action agency, an NGO with ecclesiastical overtones, or a political action committee!
The NCC has a prophetic role to play in society and, historically, it has been on the “side of the angels” with respect to many pressing social problems. But primarily we are to be a visible expression of our yearning for the unity of the Church, working together from a theological and spiritual base. We do not need to have an opinion on everything, but we can and must speak out when we have broad consensus grounded in our common faith.
So, the bad news is the NCC is in trouble. The better news is that it may be a wake-up call to return to our roots, reclaim our original vision, and focus on what we can do well together.
The selection of a new General Secretary — about whom the Search Committee came to consensus last night — should help in this process.
Stay tuned for the announcement…!