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NCC, Habitat for Humanity's New Partnership Aims to End Poverty Housing
Growing Network of Partnerships Key to NCC’s 10-Year Poverty Mobilization

Ecumenical Prayer Service Celebrates Armenians' 1700 Years of Faith

June 1, 2001, WASHINGTON, D.C. – Habitat for Humanity President Millard Fuller, addressing the National Council of Churches’ Executive Board at its May 30-31 meeting here, hailed the two organizations’ brand-new partnership as an important step toward ending poverty housing in the United States and around the world.

The partnership is one in an emerging network of collaborative work to end poverty in the United States. Through its Poverty Mobilization, launched in November 2000, the NCC is focused on making a measurable difference against poverty over the coming decade in such areas as housing, child poverty, health care, public education, environment and public policy, including welfare and budget priorities.

The NCC’s second major focus is its exploration of a broader Christian unity in the United States. Toward that end, plans are being laid for an exploratory conversation among representatives of major Christian traditions – tentatively, at a 48-hour "retreat" in September.

In relation to that exploration, the Board welcomed Father John ("Jack") Hotchkin, Director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB), who affirmed the NCCB’s "interest in meeting together to think together and share what we might be called on as church communities to do in the future."

In addition to the NCC’s own member communions, the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs has confirmed its participation, as has the Salvation Army. Dr. Edgar reported interest from several other denominations, including several Evangelical and Pentecostal bodies.

And, onn May 30, the NCC, NCCB and Diocese of the Armenian Church of America co-hosted an ecumenical prayer service celebrating the 1700th anniversary of Armenia’s conversion to Christianity, welcoming as honored guest His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians. The service, and tandem lecture and reception, were held at the Roman Catholic Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

The NCC and Habitat for Humanity in March signed a "Memorandum of Understanding" that lays the groundwork for a growing list of joint endeavors. As a first step, the NCC’s General Secretary, Dr. Bob Edgar, will join Mr. Fuller and Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter in Korea in August to help build 100 houses.

The NCC’s Justice for Women Working Group is exploring the possibility of co-sponsoring a "women’s build" with Habitat for Humanity, and the NCC’s Church World Service and Witness Ministry is exploring international collaborations. Dr. Edgar will participate in Habitat for Humanity’s 25th anniversary celebrations in September in Indianapolis, and is considering taking the NCC Executive Board’s spring 2002 meeting to Americus, Ga., where Habitat for Humanity has its headquarters.

"For 25 years, I’ve desired a relationship with the National Council," Mr. Fuller told the Board. "I’m just thrilled to be here….We need each other."

He continued, "We’re seeing the manifestations of a new movement, like that to end slavery. I want to see the church of Jesus Christ in the forefront saying that poverty housing, substandard housing, homelessness are a disgrace before God," and that it is "an abomination, a shame and a disgrace to have people living in miserable, substandard, subhuman conditions."

Among a growing list of other partnerships, the NCC’s Poverty Mobilization also includes:

* a closer working relationship with the Children’s Defense Fund, with which the NCC has related in a variety of ways throughout CDF’s 27-year history.

The NCC is among supporters of the CDF-initiated Act to Leave No Child Behind, unveiled May 23. This new, comprehensive bill seeks to deliver children from poverty, violence, abuse, neglect and poor education.

Dr. Edgar and United Methodist Bishop Melvin G. Talbert of Nashville, Tenn., an NCC Executive Board member and former president, serve on the steering committee of the CDF’s Mobilization to Leave No Child Behind.

The NCC’s Deputy General Secretary for Research and Planning, the Rev. Dr. Eileen W. Lindner, last July (2000) became shared staff with the CDF, where she is Acting Director of Religious Affairs. "This enables the two organizations to work more effectively in areas of mutual concern," Dr. Lindner said. "For example, CDF wants to get its Campaign to Leave No Child Behind out to the churches and help churches find their role within that campaign."

The Rev. Rebecca Davis, NCC Ministries in Christian Education contract staff for Justice for Children and Their Families, also serves as the CDF’s Director of Religious Networks and thus a further bridge between the two organizations.

* Many other groups, including the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, Call to Renewal, Good Schools Pennsylvania, Micah 6, state and local ecumenical councils across the United States and the NCC’s own 36 Protestant and Orthodox member communions.

In addition to Mr. Fuller from Habitat for Humanity, the Executive Board heard several other presentations related to work against poverty, including one by Hannah Rosenthal, Executive Vice President of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

She addressed the Executive Board May 30 on her vision for ending poverty in the United States, including welfare reform that measures success not by how many people are dropped from welfare rolls but by how many people are lifted out of poverty.

Ms. Rosenthal urged local churches to go door to door to assess needs and deliver services. She noted that community members might not know where the nearest parenting center is "but they know where their churches are."

Following Ms. Rosenthal’s presentation, NCC President Elect Elenie K. Huszagh of Nehalem, Ore., presiding, spontaneously asked the Board to "affirm our cooperation with the Jewish Council for Public Affairs as we work together on poverty in America." The Board approved, unanimously.

The Executive Board also heard from Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religion Action Center of Reform Judaism. He affirmed the importance of the religious community’s work to affect public policy. "The budget is the great moral document of America," he said. "It conveys our values, defines who we are and affects real people in every congregation."

Every NCC Executive Board meeting includes review of the Council’s financial and administrative life. Steady progress was reported on work to strengthen the NCC’s finances over the past 18 months.

The Executive Board approved a balanced NCC FY2001-2002 budget that, given today’s economy, is 2 percent lower than the current budget, putting next year’s projected revenues at $6,850,970 and holding projected expenses at $6,840,037

"We’ve been able to work through an enormous array of difficult financial and administrative issues," said Dr. Edgar, who took office in January 2000. "We haven’t gotten there yet, but we’ve come a long way."

In other business, the NCC Executive Board honored two departing staff members—Dr. Barbara Ellen Black, the NCC’s Interim General Manager, and the Rev. Dr. William Rusch, NCC Director of Faith and Order.


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