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Ecumenist finds now exciting time for church unity

Despite the downsizing and transition in local, national and global ecumenical organizations, Robert Welsh, general secretary of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), finds these times of challenges and difficulties one of the most creative, exciting periods he has experienced in more than 30 years of involvement in the ecumenical movement.

Robert is an ecumenical colleague of Fig Tree editor Mary Stamp.  He studied with her at the Ecumenical Institute of the World Council of Churches in 1969 and 1970, and worked with her again when she edited the Friends of Bossey newsletter.

Three of his reasons for optimism are the Churches Uniting in Christ (CUIC) commitment to racial justice and reconciliation, the election of the Rev. Michael Kinnamon as general secretary of the National Council of churches and the Global Christian Forum he attended in early November in Limuru near Nairobi, Kenya.

Robert expects that when the CUIC holds its second Plenary meeting in Jan. 11 to 14 in St. Louis, the 10 member communions will re-affirm their commitment to become “God’s Beloved Community” with the mandate to pursue racial justice and reconciliation.

At its meeting in October in Baltimore, the Coordinating Council for the CUIC, Ron Cunningham, bishop in the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and vice president of CUIC, said:  “We now must embrace this calling to live out ways and means of eradicating racism and making racial reconciliation CUIC’s fundamental approach to prophetic witness.”

Convener of CUIC’s Racial Justice Task Force Bentley De Bardeleben, who is minister of Racial Reconciliation for the United Church of Christ, said that “a new trust among representatives of historically black churches and the mainline churches, sorely lacking at times in the past, is a hallmark of the renewed ties binding these churches together in a stronger relationship.”

On the election of the new NCCC general secretary, Robert believes the NCCC will reshape its life “in closer contact with and responsiveness to, its 36 member communions. Michael was elected at the General Assembly meeting in November to succeed the Rev. Bob Edgar. 

In a NCCC press release, Michael stressed that the council of churches is more than an agency in New York or Washington: “It's a community of the churches themselves. Getting to know one another builds that trust. This is how we deal with ongoing conflicts, not as a political caucus, but as sisters and brothers.”

Robert participated in the Global Christian Forum, describing it as an unprecedented gathering of 240 Christian leaders from 72 nations on five continents, “representing the most widely diverse range of churches, confessions and organizations ever.” 

African Instituted churches, Anglicans, Catholic (Roman and Old), Baptists, Orthodox, Evangelicals, Disciples, Friends, Holiness Lutherans, Mennonites, Methodists, Moravians, Orthodox (Eastern and Oriental), Pentecostals, Reformed, Salvation Army, Seventh-Day Adventists, United and Uniting churches, “the sweep of the global Christian community, came together to explore the gift of our unity in Christ,” Robert said. “One statistician observed that 95 percent of the world’s Christian population was represented in this event, coming together to share witness to the theme, ‘Our Journeys with Jesus Christ, the Reconciler.”

In addition to these Christian traditions or “families,” a number of Christian organizations were also represented: regional ecumenical organizations, youth and student international movements, YMCA and YWCA, United Bible Societies, World Vision International, the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, the World Evangelical Alliance, the World Council of Churches and a number of forum-type organizations.

Participants began by sharing personal testimonies of their encounters with Christ, expressing their faith out of their confessional traditions and reflecting on what it might mean to walk together in obedience to Christ, despite differing views on substantive issues such as ecclesiology.