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General Assembly adjourns after adding a new member church;
sends messages on Fort Hood tragedy and nuclear disarmament

Minneapolis, November 16, 2009 -- The General Assembly of the National Council of Churches and Church World Service, celebrating the biblical call to rejoice, pray and give thanks, also called upon churches and governments to take additional steps toward worldwide justice and peace.

The General Assembly adjourned Thursday night following the installation of National Council of Churches President Peg Chemberlin and President Elect Kathryn Lohre in St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral here.

In its three-day meeting here, the General Assembly voted the Apostolic Catholic Church into membership, adopted  a resolution calling for  nuclear disarmament, and issued messages regarding the tragedy at Ford Hood, citing the urgency of health care reform, and urging that money saved by international reductions in military spending be used to reduce infant mortality and extreme poverty.

The General Assembly also issued a message of appreciation regarding the recent visit of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to the U.S.

The General Assembly agenda also included a challenging keynote address by the Rev. Dr. Margaret Aymer, Associate Professor of New Testament and Chair of Biblical Studies at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, who also addressed the Clare Randall Women's Luncheon. Bible Study, on I Thessalonians 5:16-18, "Rejoice Always, Pray without ceasing, Give thanks in all circumstances," the Assembly's theme, was led by the Rev. Dr. Charles Amjad-Ali, Martin Luther King Jr. Professor for Justice and Christian Community and Director of Islamic Studies at Luther Seminary in Minneapolis.

Worship services were conducted in the traditions of the Assembly's Methodist and Orthodox members, and by the young adult participants in the pre-Assembly New Fire event.

Presiding over sessions of the General Assembly were Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, who is finishing his two-year term as NCC President, and Bishop Johncy Itty, chair of the CWS board of directors. The Assembly program was designed by a committee chaired by he Rev. Dr. Raymon Hunt of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.

Individuals and agencies that have given outstanding service to the ecumenical movement in the United States and around the world were honored Wednesday in a special Assembly awards  program.

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, greeted the Assembly on its second day of business and offered his best wishes to The Rev. Peg Chemberlin, executive director of the Minnesota Council of Churches, who was installed as NCC president Thursday night.

"We’ll be cheering you on as you take over the reigns of this organization," Pawlenty told Chemberlin. "We know you’ll lead it as you always do, with diligence, and we’re proud of you."

The installation Thursday night of the President and President Elect of the National Council of Churches featured welcoming statements by the Very Rev. James L. Jelinek, Episcopal Bishop of Minnesota, the Very Rev. Spenser D. Simrill, Dean of St. Mark's Cathedral, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, and U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, both Democrats.

The Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr., former pastor of The Riverside Church in New York and President of the Healing Nations Foundation, delivered the installation sermon.

Fort Hood

The General Assembly gathered a week following the violence at Fort Hood, Texas, in which 13 people were killed and 42 injured by gunfire, allegedly by an Army psychiatrist.

"During extreme crises, we rightly seek both reasons for their occurrence and justice for the alleviation of their pain," the message said.

"Religious communities of good will in this country are endeavoring together to comprehensively engage these crises, and are therefore singularly and deeply pained by the deaths at Fort Hood."

The message encouraged "all Christians and religious communities of good will to reach out to one another through personal dialogue, local awareness building, national advocacy advancements, and other means of fostering relationships of trust and mutuality. These are the uncommon responses in the present that will help to shape our collective tomorrow."

The General Assembly also acted to ask the NCC General Secretary and CWS Executive Director and CEO to draft a letter of appreciation to Chaplain (Colonel) Michael T. Lembke, the Evangelical Lutheran chaplain who led the pastoral response to the tragedy.

Global Securities Act

The General Assembly sent a message to Congress and member communions urging support of the Global Security Priorities bill and commending the legislation's sponsors, Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.) and Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.)

The Global Priorities Campaign is seeking ways to use money saved in reducing military spending to meet human needs. The Global Securities bill, House Resolution 278, calls for deep reductions in U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals, saving at least $13 billion annually,  The money saved would be used to reduce child morality and eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.

Nuclear Disarmament

Both the Governing Board of the National Council of Churches and the Board of Directors of Church World service earlier this fall passed identical resolutions calling for nuclear disarmament. (See NCC story here.)

The General Assembly unanimously adopted the resolution with the following new conclusion:

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the member communions of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. (NCCC) and Church World Service (CWS), speaking together through their respective governing boards, hereby reaffirm the goal of the total disarmament of nuclear weapons and commit themselves:

1.      to ask for commitments toward this end from national, state, and local governmental and ecumenical representatives and agencies.

2.      to engage in international anti-violence advocacy efforts including the programs and events of the World Council of Churches such as the Decade for Overcoming Violence.

3.      to encourage  appropriate working groups/committees to designate nuclear disarmament as a central theme for the 2011 Ecumenical Advocacy Days.

4.      to develop measurable outcomes that inform faith-based educational materials. 

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the President and the General Secretary of the NCCC and the Chairperson and Executive Director/CEO of the CWS communicate this commitment to the President of the United States and congressional leaders. 

AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the President and the General Secretary of the NCCC and the Chairperson and Executive Director/CEO of the CWS report regularly to the General Assembly regarding their actions toward the end of nuclear disarmament.

The full text of the General Assembly resolution is here.

Fire Arms Control

Concerns about fire arms control were expressed by a panel led by the Rev. Michael Livingston, former president of the National Council of Churches and executive director of the International Council of Community Churches. Panelists included Sylvia Graves, General Secretary of Friends United Meeting; Mor Cyril Aphrem Karim, Archbishop for Eastern U.S., Syrian (Syriac) Orthodox Church of Antioch, and the Rev. NaKeisha Sylver Blount of the NCC and United Church of Christ staff.

Recalling the Fort Hood tragedy, Livingston said, "It is not simply that this is tragic; the awful truth, the stark reality is that mass killing is America is commonplace, it is normal.  One editorial (in the NY Times) called the shooting, the “latest appalling outrage.”  The day after, a disaffected perhaps mentally ill man who had been laid off from his job went back to his former workplace and killed a co-worker and wounded several others.  The grotesque is ordinary.  Shame on a nation such as this."

The full text of Livingston's remarks can be found here.

Mountain Top Removal

The General Assembly affirmed a statement by the West Virginia Council of Churches condemning the removal of mountain tops as a mining practice. The Assembly referred the statement to the NCC Justice and Advocacy Commission for consideration.

Next year in New Orleans

The 2010 General Assembly -- the first of the General Assembly biennial meetings -- will meet November 9-11, 2010 in New Orleans. The meeting marks 100 years since the meeting of church agencies and mission societies in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1910, the gathering church historians describe as the birth of the modern ecumenical movement. The theme of the meeting will be "Witnesses of these things: Ecumenical engagement in a new era."

Kinnamon and McCullough cite worldwide challenges
and call for a recommitment to the unity of the church

Minneapolis, November 11, 2009 -- The annual General Assembly of the National Council of Churches USA  and Church World Service commenced Tuesday amid sober assessments of national and world conditions and calls for renewal of the the churches' historic commitment to unity.

As of noon Tuesday, 28 of the General Assembly's 35 member communions had registered delegations, said NCC President Elect Peg Chemberlin as she called the roll.

Chemberlin will be installed Thursday as President of the National Council of Churches for a two-year term.

The 2009 General Assembly, which meets here November 10-12, will be presided over by NCC President Archbishop Vicken Aykazian and by Bishop Johncy Itty, chair of the CWS Board of Directors.

Delegates responded to the keynote address, delivered by the Rev. Dr. Margaret Aymer, Associate Professor of New Testament and Chair of Biblical Studies at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, with a standing ovation. (Story follows).

Aymer and other speakers cited the theme of the Assembly, which at first glance seemed inappropriately optimistic in the face of world conditions: "Rejoice Always, Pray without ceasing, Give thanks in all circumstances (I Thessalonians 5:16-18, NRSV.)"

But speakers noted that the theme reflects the church's faith that God has called them together to proclaim the gospel and restore justice to the world.

The staff leaders of the two organizations -- the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, and the Rev. John L. McCullough, executive director and CEO of Church World Service -- each described alarming conditions in which millions live in the nation and around the world, and called upon the member communions to recommit themselves to proclaiming this gospel of hope and justice.

"In the U.S. we have entangled ourselves in an almost senseless discussion about healthcare," McCullough said. "It’s a fascinating discussion, given that the United States has the widest gap of personal wealth between rich and poor of any industrialized nation. I venture that there are none amongst us who would not spend even their last penny to save an ailing child, or a dying spouse. Yet, we tolerate a world where an estimated forty million people are living with HIV/AIDS; where every year out of the 350–500 million cases of malaria, there are one million fatalities; one million, eight hundred thousand (1.8) million children die each year as a result of diarrhea, and another 2.2 million children die because they are not immunized. It seems odd hearing us argue that we cannot afford universal healthcare? Sure, I agree, the poor cannot afford to underwrite the cost, and neither can the middle class, but the rich certainly can."

McCullough issued a challenge to the delegates. "At Church World Service we pray that the churches will always choose hope over hunger, because like the poor who are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed,  we too have hope," he said. "Like the poor, we have learned to Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstance, because we too want or expect something that to us seems possible or likely: We believe there is enough food that no one should go hungry, enough water that no one should thirst, and enough love that all children should reach their potential. We believe in the right to peace with justice and a place people can call home. We need your help."

Kinnamon said it was appropriate for Christians to be openly outraged about the state of the world, and he cited some examples:

"Forty-six million Americans, 9 million of them children, have no health insurance," Kinnamon said.  "Be outraged!"

Furthermore, he said, "Before the end of today, 276 people – 57 of them children and teens – will be shot by a gun.  Be outraged! There are about 3,000 homeless people in Hennepin County, the site of this assembly, and more than 9,200 in Minnesota, a third of them children.  Be outraged! Approximately 11 million people living in the  United States are undocumented immigrants with uncertain futures, as the debate on immigration policy reform continues unabated.  Be outraged! The people of Cuba suffer under a 50-year economic embargo by the United States, which nevertheless engages in full economic relations with countries like China that have a record of human rights abuses exceeding Cuba’s.  Be outraged! While Americans debate the reality of global warming, the rise in sea level due to melting glaciers and thermal expansion of the ocean has forced the 11,000 inhabitants of Tuvalu – a tiny Pacific island between Hawaii and Australia – to abandon their homeland.  Be outraged!"

Kinnamon said the Assembly theme "is a wonderful text for stimulating such reflections.  On first reading, this passage from I Thessalonians can sound human centered, as if the most important thing about our faith is what we do:  'We urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them…Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.'" 

CWS and NCC honor ecumenical leaders at General Assembly

By Lesley Crosson

MINNEAPOLIS, Nov. 11, 2009--Individuals and agencies that have given outstanding service to the ecumenical movement in the United States and around the world were honored tonight at the 2009 General Assembly of the National Council of Churches and Church World Service.

The annual J. Irwin Miller Award was bestowed upon Lois Dauway, interim deputy general secretary for mission and evangelism of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.  Dauway, who has demonstrated a life-long commitment to racial and gender inclusiveness in the church and larger society, serves the ecumenical community in many capacities,
including as a member of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches. 

Saying the ecumenical movement made her “nimble”, Dauway recounted her experience  “dodging rocks”  while working in the Boston school system and then dodging the "barbs and iniquities" directed at social movements.  The best part of her work, Dauway said, was the "folks, and the relationships I will cherish," and walking behind, next to, and in front of  people over a career distinguished by a deep engagement in domestic and international justice issues.

The award is in tribute to the memory of J. Irwin Miller, the first layman to serve as president of the NCC.

NCC and CWS celebrated recipients of the honors at a dinner ceremony during their joint General Assembly in Minneapolis.

Rev. Dr. Lewis S. Mudge, who died in September 2009 at the age of 80, was honored posthumously with the Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Award, given to a clergy person whose life and work have significantly advanced the cause of unity among churches in the United States and internationally.

Accepting the honor for her late husband, Mrs. Jean Mudge told the audience that Dr. Mudge would have been "pleased and humbled” by the recognition of his work during "the last century's steady progress of Christian communions" and by having been able to "play a part in that

Dr. Mudge, a scholar and theologian whose breadth of interests and expertise enriched virtually every corner of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the global ecumenical movement, served as a leader and writer for virtually every organization, including the World Council of Churches, National Council of Churches in the USA, the World Alliance of
Reformed Churches, and the Consultation on Church Union.

Mrs. Mudge said that at the time of his death, her husband-who she recalled actually worked with Cardinal Bernadin, for whom the award is named--was preparing a Christian approach to the current economic crisis.

 Dr. Mudge edited or authored 12 books, including One Church: Catholic and Reformed (1963), The Crumbling Walls (1970), The Sense of a People (1992), The Church as Moral Community (1998), Rethinking the Beloved Community (2001), and The Gift of Responsibility (2008). 

The Eugene Carson Blake Award, given this year for the first time on the centennial of Dr. Blake's birth, commemorates this former president of the National Council of Churches (1954), founder of the Consultation of Church Union (1960) and former general secretary of the World Council of Churches, who exemplified modern ecumenism. 

Honoree David A. Leslie has effectively led Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon (EMO), a statewide association of more than 100 denominations, congregations and faith-based community ministries, for more than a decade.

Leslie said it was an "honor to be able to serve" the ecumenical movement as a layperson and that the movement leads to "places where we discover our passion and gifts we didn’t know we had.”

Under his leadership EMO has established  itself as a respected source for theological dialogue, a reliable provider of community-based services, and a vigorous advocate for those in need.

Leslie, said his father, a Presbyterian minister, heard Eugene Carson Blake, whom the award is named for, when he was a young man, and that Blake’s words “inspired him to action.”

There were four honorees for the Assembly's 2009 Award of Excellence, which recognizes individuals whose life and work demonstrate extraordinary achievement in furthering the ecumenical movement, meeting human needs, advocating for peace and justice, and/or providing a strong prophetic voice in the Christian community. 

The first honoree, Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches, has battled poverty in Minnesota for more than five decades.  GMCC operates a successful family of social service programs and recruits support across denominational lines to help struggling Minnesota families remain self-reliant. It is the largest council of churches in the nation and the largest direct-service volunteer organization in the state.

Also receiving the Award of Excellence was Deacon James Kalustian, president of the Armenian Heritage Foundation, which brings together various church communities.  Kalustian is actively involved in the spiritual, cultural, and philanthropic life of the Armenian Church in America, which he has represented at regional, national and international ecumenical meetings.  Kalustian presently serves on the Supreme Religious Council, the highest governing body of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Award of Excellence recipient Joan Leof, a long-time Church World Service CROP Hunger Walk supporter, has made a concerted effort to engage both the Jewish and Muslim communities of Rochester in the planning and leadership for the Walk.  With a tireless commitment to promoting peace and justice locally and globally, Leof, a member of Peace United Church of Christ, serves as a lead coordinator in the congregation's Sacred Conversation on Race, an anti-racism project of the United Church of Christ.

Rev. Katherine Austin Mahle, a leader in Minnesota's ecumenical community for more than two decades, also was honored with the Award of Excellence.  Mahle, who has been involved with both the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches and the Minnesota Council of Churches (MCC), now serves on the Minnesota Church Foundation.  Incoming NCC President, Rev. Peg Chemberlin says of Mahle, “In the hardest times Kathi has carried forward a hopeful spirit, a spirit that believes ecumenism is one of God’s most important agendas for the Church and her witness has strengthened me more often than she will ever know.”

Minutes of the 2009 General Assembly



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New Fire Pre-Assembly Event for Young Adults.






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