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National Council of Churches 2003 General Assembly Wrap-Up
NCC Installs CME Bishop Thomas Hoyt, Jr., as President for 2004-5,
Endorses Boycotts of Taco Bell, Mt. Olive Pickle Companies

JACKSON, Miss. - "We have great opportunities to do wonderful things for the people of God," declared the Rev. Dr. Thomas L. Hoyt, Jr., Nov. 6 at his installation as the National Council of Churches’ new President for 2004-2005.

Dr. Hoyt, 62, of Shreveport, La., is Bishop of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church’s Fourth Episcopal District, comprising Mississippi and Louisiana. He is the first member of the historic African American C.M.E. to serve as NCC President since the Council was founded in 1950.

He was installed along with other NCC officers during services at Anderson United Methodist Church in Jackson, Miss., as the NCC’s annual General Assembly, held in Jackson Nov. 4-6, came to a close. The meeting marked the end of one four-year program planning cycle (the 2000-2003 quadrennium) and the beginning of the next.

Addressing those gathered, Dr. Hoyt pledged to "speak truth and righteousness in this land," to do so "with love and understanding" and to "continue to do all I can to make this organization all it can be."

"I am grateful for this position," he said at the "Recognition Banquet" immediately preceding the installation service. "It’s not for me, it’s for the Kingdom of God."

Then he told a story:

"As a child, when I’d ask my mother for bread, she’d say, ‘Wait, I’ll put some butter on it.’ I didn’t ask for this position. I already have a full plate. But sometimes God gives you a little extra. God has buttered my bread."

For a profile of Bishop Hoyt, see: www.ncccusa.org/news/03hoytprofile.html

Other NCC officers installed Nov. 6 were:

General Secretary: The Rev. Dr. Robert W. Edgar, a United Methodist, re-elected to a second, four-year term as NCC General Secretary, with headquarters in New York City.

President Elect: The Rev. Michael E. Livingston, of Trenton, N.J., Executive Director, International Council of Community Churches, as NCC President Elect for 2004-2005. He will serve as the Council’s President in 2006-2007.

Vice President: Ms Clare J. Chapman, Executive Director of Finance and Administration, General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, United Methodist Church, New York City, and Chair of the NCC’s Administration and Finance Committee.

Vice President: Ms Betty Voskuil, Coordinator for Diaconal Ministries, Hunger Education and Reformed Church World Service, Reformed Church in America, Grand Rapids, Mich., Chair of the Church World Service Board of Directors.

Vice President At Large: The Rev. Dr. Randall R. Lee, Assistant to the Bishop and Director, Department for Ecumenical Affairs, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Chicago, Ill.

Vice President at Large: The Rev. Dr. Thelma Chambers-Young, Director of Christian Education, Holy Temple Baptist Church, Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc., Oklahoma City, Okla; Immediate Past President of the PNBC Women’s Department.

Secretary: Bishop Vicken Aykazian, Diocesan Legate and Ecumenical Officer, Diocese of the Armenian Orthodox Church of America, Washington, D.C.

Immediate Past President: Elenie K. Huszagh, Esq., a Greek Orthodox laywoman from Nehalem, Ore., concluding her 2002-2003 term as the NCC's President, continues in 2004-2005 in the office of NCC Immediate Past President.

Mrs. Huszagh was honored on Tuesday with creation of a new Millennium Fund. The funds will be used to support the full participation of the NCC’s 15 Orthodox member churches and to advance Mrs. Huszagh’s concerns for peace and alternative means for settling international disputes. (For more on the NCC’s outgoing president, see www.ncccusa.org/news/03millenniumfund.html)

BOYCOTTS OF TACO BELL, MT. OLIVE PICKLE COMPANIES

The NCC Assembly also endorsed consumer boycotts of Taco Bell and Mt. Olive Pickle products, both effective immediately, to put pressure for improvement of wages and working conditions of their suppliers’ farm workers. It is the largest and broadest U.S. religious body to endorse the boycotts.

Given the NCC’s insistence that boycotts are a measure of last resort, the affirmative votes on the two boycotts are especially significant. It has been more than 15 years since the NCC endorsed a boycott (May 1988, related to Royal Dutch/Shell’s connections at that time to apartheid South Africa.).

Urging support for the boycott of Taco Bell, Gerardo Reyes Chavez, a Florida farm worker and member of the Steering Committee of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, described farm workers’ low wages and lack of any benefits such as health insurance or overtime pay.

According to U.S. Department of Labor data, the average piece rate paid to tomato harvesters in 1980 was 40 cents per 32-pound bucket. Today, harvesters are paid the same average piece rate, earning less than one-half of what they did 20 years ago in inflation-adjusted dollars. At the 40-cent piece rate, workers must pick and haul two tons of tomatoes to make $50.

"And in the most extreme circumstances we find modern day slavery," said Chavez, speaking in Spanish through an interpreter. "By modern day slavery I mean people forced to work at gunpoint.

"We are not saying Taco Bell is guilty of slavery," Chavez said, "but when we ask Taco Bell, ‘can you guarantee to us those tomatoes weren’t picked by slave labor,’ the answer is ‘no.’ That’s precisely because they have never paid attention to the workers who make their profits possible. That’s why I am here today."

For more information, see: www.ncccusa.org/news/03boycottfinal.html

OTHER NCC GENERAL ASSEMBLY ACTIONS

The Assembly on Wednesday (Nov. 5) approved establishment of an ecumenical "Human Genetics Policy Development Committee." The body's mission over the next two to three years will be to educate church members about human genetic technologies and to develop a policy that addresses issues raised by significant changes in science and society since the NCC last addressed issues related to human genetic technologies in 1986 policy.

Delegates were urged by Richard Hayes of the Center for Genetics and Society not to throw up their hands at the complexity of human genetic technologies. Theologically grounded reflection by people of faith is of critical importance on these rapidly evolving technologies -- some of which hold great promise and others, great peril, he said.

The "Human Genetics Policy Development Committee," to be named by the NCC’s President and General Secretary, was recommended by an Exploratory Committee on Human Genetic Technologies. Over the past year, the exploratory committee reviewed NCC and member communion statements, studies and other materials concerning bio-technology along with their existing education, outreach and advocacy work related to bio-technology and public policy.  The Committee's report is available at www.ncccusa.org/pdfs/adoptedgeneticsreport.pdf -- be aware before downloading that it's a huge file (2MB+) (you will want to use a high-speed connection).

The General Assembly also approved resolutions on:

"The Churches and Public School," urging member communions and their congregations to redouble their efforts in support of public education:  www.ncccusa.org/news/03publiceducation.html

"Preserving U.S. Pharmaceutical Sales to Canada," urging the President, the Food and Drug Administration and Congress to enact legislation enabling U.S. consumers to purchase prescription drugs at costs comparable to those charged by U.S. companies to other countries and opposing legislative attempts to make it illegal for U.S. consumers to purchase prescription drugs from Canada: www.ncccusa.org/news/03prescriptiondrugs.html

"The Conflict in the Middle East," urging in particular the dismantling of the "Separation Wall" being constructed between Israel and the West Bank: www.ncccusa.org/news/03separationwall.html

And the Assembly, reissuing its 2002 "Resolution Recognizing the Patriarch of Jerusalem" -  www.ncccusa.org/news/03patriarchate.html -  renewed its call to the State of Israel to recognize the 2001 canonical election of His Beatitude Irenaios as Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, enabling the Patriarchate to function as a legal entity in Israel.

Among special guests bringing greetings to the 2003 NCC General Assembly were the Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia, newly elected General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, Geneva, Switzerland.

-end-


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