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Washington Association of Churches seeks future in different 'religious landscape'

Now in its 32nd year and living in a different “religious landscape” than at its founding in 1975, the Washington Association of Churches (WAC) faces a “kairos decision” about its future, said its interim executive director Darel Grothaus, and its Board of Directors in a letter to members and judicatory heads.

In a Sept. 14 letter to constituents, Darel said the immediate financial crisis has developed from the “longer-term changes in the religious, and the peace-and-justice landscape.”

On Nov. 1, leaders of the 11 Protestant denominations that are the WAC’s members will make a decision about its future.

They will decide between closing at the end of November or endorsing the board’s preferred option to operate through April 2008 as a transitional ecumenical ministry, providing leadership for the Religious Coalition for the Common Good (RCCG) in the 2008 legislative session while engaging its supporters in a dialogue on the WAC’s future.

On Sept. 24, the WAC received an incentive gift to go forward: an anonymous, long-time supporter contributed $25,000 with an offer to fund a proposal for $50,000 if after six months there is a decision to continue the WAC.

Darel summarized changes in the religious landscape in a report, “The Path Forward,” at www.thewac.org.

It reviews the WAC’s history and the following changes:

1) declining membership in the WAC’s member denominations—mainline Protestant—leading to their diminishing financial support and constituent participation;

2) the Roman Catholic withdrawal from WAC membership;

3) the proliferation of peace, justice and environmental groups, each competing for volunteers and financial support from the same group of supporters.

Darel said the WAC’s public policy initiative through the Religious Coalition for the Common Good—eight Protestant, Catholic and Jewish organizations—provided “effective advocacy in the 2007 legislature for low-income people, prisoners, public safety and the environment.”

His report proposes strategies for transforming the WAC by assisting mainline denominations in renewing their congregations, partnering with Roman Catholics in advocating for the poor through the RCCG, sponsoring theological dialogue and creating ministries of compassion such as training clergy and laity to serve veterans from the wars in the Middle East and their families.

About 40 attended a WAC forum on its future Sept. 25 at University Temple United Methodist Church in Seattle, where its offices are now located.

They expressed their support for exploring models for continuation.

The WAC is also receiving pledges for 2007 and 2008 from individuals and member denominations. It asks members of denominations to urge support of the WAC’s continued ministry.

For information, call 206-625-9790.