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Plans for 'Christian Churches Together in the U.S.A.' Move from Vision Toward Reality

See November 2004 Update: NCC's Edgar Hails U.S. Catholic Bishops' Agreement to Join CCTUSA

See earlier story: "Hope, Good Will" Mark Exploration of Broader Christian Unity, Lead to Formation of "Christian Churches Together in the USA," May 14, 2002

January 29, 2003, PASADENA, Calif. -- A vision for the most inclusive Christian organization ever in the United States advanced dramatically when a diverse group of 46 national church leaders agreed Jan. 29, 2003, on a concrete proposal to take back to their church bodies for consideration.

The proposal-for what is provisionally called Christian Churches Together in the U.S.A. (CCT) builds on more than two years of behind-the-scenes work by church leaders. Agreement on the proposal signifies that "we have moved from the phase of visioning to begin implementation," said the Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, who is general secretary of the Reformed Church in America and who currently chairs CCTís steering committee.

Over the next few years, the proposal will be placed before the top decision-making bodies of many denominations (or communions as some bodies are called) and other Christian organizations, as their regularly scheduled assemblies take place. The proposal calls for a fellowship that is committed "to grow closer together in Christ" in order to strengthen its "Christian witness in the world."

Granberg-Michaelson reported that the 46 church leaders, who met on the campus of Fuller Theological Seminary, in Pasadena, Calif., also agreed that implementation "would require at least 25 denominations or communions to say Ďyes,í"   They further agreed that the new organization "would not be inaugurated until the numbers reflect the diversity of the Christian families present at the meeting," Granberg-Michaelson said. "Having a mix is the whole point."

Church leaders who participated in the Jan. 27-29 Pasadena meeting represented five families within Christianity that the proposal describes as "Evangelical/Pentecostal, Historic Protestant, Orthodox, Racial/Ethnic (for example, predominantly African American churches), and Roman Catholic."

Among those present were participants from 18 Protestant and Orthodox churches that also hold membership in the National Council of Churches. The degree to which CCT and the NCC duplicate functions is a question for "discernment" by the NCCís 36 member communions over the next few years, Granberg-Michaelson said.

Given the breadth of the group at Pasadena, which he described as "expanded significantly" from the last meeting, April 2002, in Chicago, Granberg-Michaelson said that any agreement "was an open question going in."

"We were not at all sure we would have something to circulate, and it was an inspirational moment when we decided to do that," he said.

In the next few weeks, members of the steering committee will invite still other denominations and Christian organizations to join the CCT process. The committee hopes to draw an even broader group of participants to the next planning meeting, projected for late 2003 or early 2004.

"CCT is the best chance that we will have in this decade to really change the ecumenical landscape and to create a body that more fully reflects the life of the churches in the United States," Granberg-Michaelson concluded. "It could be a very powerful tool for the mission of the church."

The full text of the CCT proposal and the list of participants in the meeting that drafted the proposal follow.

 Christian Churches Together in the U. S. A.

 I. Preamble

We are challenged as Christians by the prayer of Jesus in John 17 that all who believe in Him might be one with God and with one another so that the world would believe in Him as God and Savior.

We acknowledge that this is not what we experience now and recognize that we have different histories and convictions on some key issues.

We pray for a fresh awareness of the Holy Spiritís work among us that will foster:

Relationships where our differences can be better understood, our commonalities better affirmed, and our brokenness healed by God;

more opportunities to engage in shared witness, vision, and action;

a strong prophetic voice of the Christian community in America.

We believe that we will be led into these new relationships as we commit ourselves to spiritual disciplines such as prayer and study of Scripture to listen for and obey the voice of Christ.

This leads us to establish Christian Churches Together in the U.S.A. to create new levels of relationships and actions that offer a shared witness for Christ to the world.

II. Theological Affirmations

Christian Churches Together in the USA welcomes churches, Christian communities, and national Christian organizations that:

believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior according to the Scriptures;

worship and serve the One God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and

seek ways to work together in order to present a more credible Christian witness in and to the world.

III. Purpose and Activity

The purpose of Christian Churches Together is to enable churches and national Christian organizations to grow closer together in Christ in order to strengthen our Christian witness in the world. Participants in Christian Churches Together accomplish this purpose by:

rejoicing in our faith in the Triune God;

discerning the guidance of the Holy Spirit through prayer and theological dialogue;

providing fellowship and mutual support;

affirming our commonalities and understanding our differences;

fostering Christian evangelism faithful to the proclamation of the gospel;

speaking to society with a common voice whenever possible;

promoting the common good of society.

We cannot act together until we pray and walk together and understand each other better. Therefore in the early period, our primary focus should be on the first four activities. As we do this faithfully, we believe the Holy Spirit will lead us to discern how best to engage in the three remaining activities in our Christian witness to the world.

At least once a year, a General Assembly will gather for two and a half days for fellowship, prayer, theological discussion and discernment of potential areas for common witness.

Christian Churches Together will sponsor in the name of Christian Churches Together, various Forums on diverse topics (e.g., evangelism, worship, public policy). The Steering Committee will have full authority over the topics and the program (speakers, etc.) for Forums sponsored by Christian Churches Together. National Christian organizations that share Christian Churches Togetherís purpose and theology will be invited to participate in these Forums.

IV. Participation in Christian Churches Together

All who share the theological affirmations and purpose are eligible to participate in Christian Churches Together.

There will be two categories of participants:

Participant churches which include national church bodies and associations of churches which are national in scope

Participant national Christian organizations

No more than approximately 20% of Christian Churches Together will be participant national Christian organizations.

The Christian Churches Together Steering Committee will develop a broad invitation list of national church bodies, associations of churches and national Christian organizations, which will be invited to become participants in Christian Churches Together as it is founded. Participant national Christian organizations will be those that strongly share the theological convictions and purposes of Christian Churches Together, are deeply related to its churches, and which have the strong support of a wide variety of churches that will compose Christian Churches Together.

Once inaugurated, and Phase II has begun, Christian Churches Together will develop a process for issuing additional invitations for participation and for receiving applications from those churches and national Christian organizations wishing to participate. Criteria will be developed to welcome into the fellowship those national church bodies, associations of churches and national Christian organizations, which, based on the discernment of the governing bodies of Christian Churches Together, will uphold its theological affirmations, further its purpose, and promote unity within the fellowship of Christian Churches Together.

All participants in Christian Churches Together will be expected to:

uphold Christian Churches Togetherís theological affirmations;

forward the purpose of Christian Churches Together;

support the organization, both financially and through personal participation;

share in fellowship, prayer and dialogue with other participants in Christian Churches Together;

join others in common ministry as they are led by the Holy Spirit.

Those organizations that meet the criteria for participation, but are not able to do so at this time, will be invited to be observers in the meetings and gatherings of Christian Churches Together.

V. Governing Christian Churches Together

1. General Assembly

The General Assembly (meeting at least once every year for two and a half days) will consist of the heads of communions (or their designated representative) of each participating church plus an additional representative for each five million members (or fraction thereof) in their church or association of churches. Twenty per cent may also be heads of participant national Christian organizations.

For a small part of the annual meeting, the heads of participant churches and participant national Christian organizations will meet to decide upon basic issues-- including at least: the addition of new participants, foundational theological documents, and Christian Churches Togetherís constitution.

2. Steering Committee

The Steering Committee will consist of 18-24 members. Each of Christian Churches Togetherís five families (Evangelical/Pentecostal; Historic Protestant; Historic Racial/Ethnic; Orthodox; Roman Catholic) will have three members each on the Steering Committee. Each of the five families will choose their three representatives according to their own procedures. The Steering Committee will have at least three additional at-large members. These at-large members may be representatives of participant national Christian organizations (selected according to criteria to be developed by the Steering Committee).

Upon joining Christian Churches Together, each communion or association of churches will choose which of the five families they wish to join for purposes of selecting the members of the Steering Committee.

The Steering Committee will elect its officers, develop bylaws (including length of term on the Steering Committee), and attend to the business of Christian Churches Together between meetings of the General Assembly.

3. Topical Forums

Any action (declarations, policy proposals, etc.) that develop out of the Forums sponsored by Christian Churches Together will be done, not in the name of Christian Churches Together, but in the name of whatever churches, national Christian organizations and individuals choose to sign on to that specific item. Common action in the name of Christian Churches Together can only be done by consensus of the General Assembly or Steering Committee.

4. Consensus Decision Making

Decisions in every setting of Christian Churches Togetherís life will be by consensus. Only when all members present either say "Yes" or agree to "stand aside" will the body move ahead on any action. For every decision, representatives from each of the five families must be present.

A consensus decision-making process emphasizes the process of listening and discussion and is not merely a matter of saying yes or no. Several responses to any proposal are possible in consensus decision-making:

1.) Yes - that means one is supportive of the proposal and will do nothing to undermine it.

2.) No - one cannot in good conscience allow the proposal to go forward.

3.) Stand Aside - one has reservations, but not enough to keep the group from accepting the proposal and one will do nothing to undermine the decision.

4.) The group by consensus can decide to make a particular decision by majority vote.

NOTE: In any of the above situations, but especially in 3) and 4), the group may decide by consensus to present majority and minority opinions on any given topic.

VI. Finances and Budget

1. During phase I

All meeting costs, including professional fees, will be covered by registration fees.

Each year, $20,000 should be raised to cover the costs of the Steering Committee. Churches and organizations exploring participation should contribute at least $100 annually and where possible $1,000 or more.

2. During phase II

We anticipate a budget of at least $250,000 which will cover one professional, one support staff member and other costs.

We will need to create an equitable formula which should include one or more of the following factors:

number of members as defined by the communion

number of congregations/parishes

annual budget of the communion or national Christian organization

annual budget of communionís judicatories/sections

maximum-minimum

number of persons that communions have in the General Assembly of Christian Churches Together

VII. TIME LINE

1. During Phase I

This period started at the January 27-29, 2003 meeting when it was decided to invite churches and national Christian organizations formally to decide (in ways appropriate to their particular church polity) to join Christian Churches Together.

2. During Phase II

This period will start when at least twenty-five churches from an adequately representative group of the five families-Evangelical/Pentecostal, Historic Protestant, Historic Racial/Ethnic, Orthodox and Roman Catholic--have formally decided in ways appropriate to each churchís internal polity, to join Christian Churches Together in the U.S.A.

NOTE: This document was approved by consensus by the participants at the January 27-29, 2003 meeting at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California.

Participants in the January 27-29, 2003 Meeting of Christian Churches Together

Bishop Vicken Aykazian Diocese of the Armenian Church of America Participant
Commissioner W. Todd Bassett The Salvation Army Participant
Mr. John Briscoe NCCC USA Participant
Bishop Tod Brown Diocese of Orange of California Participant
Ms. Sharon Browning Sharon Browning and Associates Participant
Rev. David Caudle Church of the Nazarene Participant
Rev. Rothangliani Chhangte American Baptist Churches, USA Participant
Rev. Dr. Seung Koo Choi Korean Presbyterian Church in America Participant
Mr. Bonn Clayton Nat'l Assoc. of Congregational Christ. Churches Participant
Right Rev. Dimitrios Couchell Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America Participant
Sister Joan Delaney Roman Catholic Church Participant
Dr. Barrett Duke Southern Baptist Convention Observer
Rev. Dr. Robert Edgar NCCC USA Participant
Bishop Perry Engle Brethren in Christ Church Participant
Rev. Dr. David Engelhard Christian Reformed Church Participant
Rev. Jon S. Enslin Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Participant
Dr. Thomas Ferguson Episcopal Church Center Participant
Dr. Michael Gillis Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese Participant
Rev. Wesley Granberg- Michaelson Reformed Church in America Participant
Bishop Sang-Ehil Han Church of God (Cleveland Tennessee) Participant
Bishop Roger Haskins Bd. Of Bishops - Free Methodist Church Participant
Rev. Dr. Roberta Hestenes World Vision Participant
Ms. Elenie Huszagh NCCC USA Participant
Friend Thomas Jeavons Religious Society of Friends Participant
Archbishop Cyril Aphrem Karim Syrian Orthodox Church Participant
Cardinal William H. Keeler Archdiocese of Baltimore Participant
Rev. Arthur Kennedy United States Conference Of Catholic Bishops Participant
Rev. Dr. Clifton Kirkpatrick Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) Participant
Very Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky Orthodox Church in America Participant
Bishop James Leggett Int'l Pentecostal Holiness Church Participant
Rev. Michael E. Livingston Int'l Council of Community Churches Participant
Dr. Howard Loewen Fuller Theological Seminary Participant
Rev. Rafael Luevano Marywood Center Participant
Dr. Kevin Mannoia Dean of Haggard School of Theology Observer
Scott E. McBride Int'l. Church of the Foursquare Gospel Participant
Ms. Retha McCutchen Friends United Meeting Participant
Rev. Thomas McGowan Diocese of Oakland Participant
Sister Joan McGuire Archdiocese of Chicago Participant
Bishop George McKinney St. Stephen's Church of God in Christ Ministries Participant
Very Rev. Dr. Michel Najim Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese Participant
Commissioner Philip Needham The Salvation Army Participant
Rev. Rodney Parrott Disciples Seminary Foundation Participant
President Glenn K. Palmberg The Evangelical Covenant Church Participant
Rev. Judy Mills Reimer Church of Brethren Participant
Mr. Claude Rhea, III North American Mission Board Observer
Dr. Ann K. Riggs Faith and Order Commission, Nat'l Council of Churches of Christ in the USA Participant
Rev. Ronald Roberson United States Conference Of Catholic Bishops Participant
Rev. Dr. William G. Rusch Foundation for a Conference on Faith & Order Observer
Rev. Gabriel A. Salguero Missionary Pentecostal Churches of God, Inc. Observer
Rev. Dr. Robert Sawyer Moravian Church in America Participant
Rev. James Schrag Mennonite Church USA Participant
Rev. Ronald J. Sider Evangelicals for Social Action Participant
Bishop Melvin G. Talbert United Methodist Church Participant
Dr. Joseph Tkach Worldwide Church of God Participant
Rev. Lydia Veliko United Church of Christ Participant
Mr. David Wagschal Orthodox Church in America Participant
Rev. Jim Wallis Sojourners/Call to Renewal Participant
Rev. Robina Winbush Presbyterian Church USA Participant

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