GENERAL SECRETARY'S ANNUAL REPORT TO THE NCC GENERAL ASSEMBLY
November 14, 2000, Atlanta, Ga.
OUR MISSION -- In faithfulness to Jesus Christ, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA is a community of communions that exists to promote the visible unity of the churches and to provide opportunities for Christian communions to engage together in mission, witness and service. (Draft 11/8/00)
The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (NCCC) has weathered a difficult and protracted storm and is now ready to face the challenges of the future. Over the past eleven months, our dedicated staff and the officers and ecumenical leaders of the Council's Executive Board have worked hard to achieve a sound, balanced financial structure in the NCCC. The Council and Church World Service and Witness have worked collaboratively to build an effective financial alliance with controls guaranteeing fiscal integrity.
As your General Secretary, I have taken an honest and realistic look at our strengths, our weaknesses and our potential and I believe hope abounds. We have been through a painful and contentious period of hammering out a new and more focused mission for the NCCC, preserving the valuable services that we have long provided, and adjusting to financial realities. We have visited the annual and general assemblies of our communions and assessed the mood for rekindling once again our unity in Christ. Like Gideon's Army we are fewer, tougher and more confident.
General Assembly members will rightly want to be updated on our institutional and financial viability and to learn of the progress we have made in the last year in our relationship to Church World Services and Witness and in our present staffing configuration. In this report, I have addressed these matters andin our time together in Atlanta there will be opportunities for even more dialogue.
Yet, even these important institutional considerations should be viewed within the mission context of the NCCC's life and work. During the last year, the NCCC has done much to provide opportunities for Christian education through the production of the Uniform Sunday School Curriculum and Bible utilization efforts and it has established a scholarship fund for racial minority students who undertake Ph.D. studies in the biblical field.
The NCCC has continued to serve congregations through the provision of a multitude of resources - print and video as well as programs like the Micah 6 Project. This project shows great promise of renewal for participating congregations who renew both their worship life and their ministries of social justice. So, too, have we continued to work with congregations and with other ecumenical groups to promote environmental justice concerns.
Our work for social justice has included the well-known and celebrated instances such as the Elian Gonzales Case, as well as the less well-known but worthy instances in which we work together for justice.
In Faith and Order and through the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches we have undertaken studies and published the Yearbook as irreplaceable resources for Christian unity.
Our public witness and advocacy has continued unabated throughout the year focusing on the priorities set by member communions one year ago. The highlight of this year's legislative process was the successful enactment of the Jubilee 2000 Third World Debt Reduction Legislation, recently signed by the President.
Around the world CWSW has brought timely help and hope to places where God's children despair. Through food, water, medical help and development resources our ecumenical witness to the love of God remains strong.
At home and abroad the NCCC, despite our sometime preoccupation with internal institutional concerns, continues to be for others a beacon of hope, a source of renewal and a font of insight. It is this robust mission that provides both the context and the motivation for our striving to strengthen our financial and institutional life.
MISSION AND VISION:
The NCCC is blessed with a significant number of committees, commissions and advisory groups. With the help of the Executive Board, acting on behalf of the General Assembly, we have hammered out a mission statement for adoption by the Executive Board and set specific goals for the work of the Council. Anticipating supportive actions by this year's General Assembly, we plan to move the Council forward, focused on two major board-endorsed, measurable and time-delimited goals:
- A Ten-Year Mobilization to Overcome Poverty for which we are developing measurable goals and around which we are focusing our multiple programs of domestic witness.
- A Major New Initiative to Create a Broader Ecumenical Table that includes Evangelicals, Pentecostals and Roman Catholics. The Executive Board envisions this new expanded table as a base from which Christians in the USA can reach out to all people of faith for both dialogue and specific projects, such as our poverty mobilization.
A PROPHETIC VOICE:
We know in our hearts and are reminded by the fate of the biblical prophets that leadership often demands a willingness to ask hard and unpopular questions and suffer the consequences. The Council will not slacken in its willingness to speak out for the marginalized, for the poor, for the unjustly accused and for the just plain different. We will do so in a voice informed by the prophets and the ministry of Jesus.
Our distinguished President, Ambassador Andrew Young himself sounds like Hosea or Micah when he says,
"Poverty in the 21st Century is the moral equivalent of slavery in the 19th Century."
We have put our financial house in order. At the end of 1999, before applying the debt reduction revenue of $4 million, the Council's audit reflected that the NCCC had received $10.734 million in revenues, but had expended $12.645 million to cover the cost related to the Council. Between 1994 and 1999 the Council's endowment (excluding funds dedicated to CWSW) had shrunk from $15 million to only $3,000,000.
Amazingly, in the period ending June 30, 2000, the budget of the Council is balanced and will show a small surplus at year-end, and we have used NO endowment principal and borrowed NO money this year to balance the operating budget of the Council.
Also, we have reshaped the Council to live within its revenue sources and to more effectively work on the critical issues adopted by the Executive Board at their May and October meetings. While, staff reductions have been painful, accounting controls and sound business practices, led by our new General Manager, Dr. Barbara Ellen Black, have begun to restore confidence in the Council's ability to manage its finances responsibly. In particular, the remarkable cooperation and spirit modeled by the Financial Transition Task Force has produced a smooth transition in the separation of the financial management of CWSW from the NCCC. I commend both NCCC and CWSW business office staff for this miraculous restructuring achievement, under complicated and difficult circumstances. The bottom line is that we have come a long way in a very short time and are well on the way to restoring the confidence of our stakeholders.
For many years, time, energy, and anguish have swirled around the relationship between the NCCC and Church World Service and Witness (CWS&W). The issue is now settled. CWSW is now a separate 501(c)3 organization, with its own Board of Directors, finances and administrative structure. We share a common policy base, communications services, advocacy and witness services (Washington Office) and the dedicated support of the member communions of the General Assembly. The Council will focus its energies on our domestic witness, organized around our two foci, and the many ecumenical services that we continue to provide all of our partners in ministry, especially those at the regional and local level.
The NCCC remains:
- A center for research on both theological issues and issues of the role of the church in society.
- A place for dialogue, discussion, debate and discernment.
- A place to do those things which are more efficiently done ecumenically than denominationally and which express our understanding of the oneness of the Church in Jesus Christ.
- An operator and disseminator of pilot programs that strengthen the churches and the communities and nations in which they are located.
Organizational structures have changed; the world has changed; we will change. One way we can grow is to form alliances and work through networking, referral and partnering.
An example of a partnership already in progress is the work of Dr. Eileen Lindner, Deputy Secretary of Research and Planning at the NCCC. Dr. Lindner also serves as Acting Director of Religious Affairs for the Children's Defense Fund (CDF). Her work affords the Council a relationship with an organization whose expertise in children's issues we could never hope to match but which we sorely need in our work to overcome the impoverished circumstances of the many poor children in our nation and around the world. Instead of reinventing the wheel, we are sharing it.
The new NCCC, the leaner NCCC will be well served by effectively partnering with organizations that can provide services, programs and advocacy better than we are able to do. Some of our partnerships, e.g. Ministries in Christian Education, are with organizations that long pre-date the Council. We will continue to build and strengthen these cooperative ventures.
Among the groups with whom we see ourselves in cooperative relationships in the future are: the Association of Theological Schools (ATS), the Call to Renewal and the Alban Institute. We have always been at our best when we have been acting as a part of a network, working with organizations with which we share complimentary missions and similar visions.
THE STATE OF THE NATION:
I have found excitement, commitment and interest as I travel around the country to attend denominational meetings, meet with ecumenical leaders or discuss our proposal for a broader table. Local churches, ecumenical bodies and denominations bubble with ideas, programs, and initiatives. A growing national political debate focused around Charitable Choice, vouchers, and the role of faith-based organizations in social change sparks interest and excitement. Social scientists and theologians are talking and debating about a new relationship between church and state. Our staff reports the same kind of enthusiasm and willingness to try new approaches to old challenges.
I am convinced that the National Council of Churches, reinvented, restructured and reinvigorated, can play a critical role as churches follow the lead of other organizations in our society and flatten out their structures, putting more faith, trust and power at the congregational level. We can serve as a key witness for the faithful and general society to debate issues, as we redefine the roles of government, private business, non-profits and faith-based organizations. The ecumenical movement can resume its historic role as a bulwark for those who seek justice and a place to do justice. We can and will cry out that poverty is not just an unfortunate by-product of immutable economic laws, but also a result of human choice. We will preach that poverty is wrong in the eyes of God. We will work with people of all beliefs and faiths to create an economy where life-denying poverty can be overcome.
I have spent eleven months being the bearer of difficult and often painful news. We have cleared the decks, jettisoned a lot of baggage and have bid farewell to dear friends and faithful and skilled employees. We stand ready to reshape and rebuild. With your generous and active support, together we will follow the Holy Spirit's mandate "to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God."