2004 NCC/CWS General Assembly Concludes; Highlights Included Worship, 'Church and Children' Policy, Awards, New Study Guide on Human Biotechnology and More

Nov. 11, 2004, St. Louis, Mo. -- A "Peace Banquet" featuring singers Peter Yarrow and the Syrian group Kulna Sawa capped off a rich and full agenda at the National Council of Churches and Church World Service annual General Assembly, meeting in St. Louis Nov. 9-11. Pre-assembly events included a forum on the faith community's support for public education and a Young Adult Event.  Twelve Young Adult Stewards assisted with Assembly logistics as they observed up close the deliberative work of ecumenism and interacted with national church leaders.

The Assembly:

* adopted a comprehensive policy statement on children, its first about children that was not focused on a particular issue. "The Church and Children: Visions and Goals for the 21st Century"  passed unanimously and represents a holistic view of childhood and the diversity of children's gifts and needs. "This is the first policy statement specifically about 'children.' In the past most of our work on behalf of children has been around specific issues like childcare, health care or public schools," said Anne Tuohy, Chair of the Committee for Justice for Children and Their Families.

* approved an "Action on Dialogue Among U.S. Christians on Christian Values" and a related "Open Letter." In the action, written "in the wake of divisive national elections in which matters of faith played a highly visible role, and during which the discussion of moral values resulted in the widely held perception of opposing Christian camps in the United States," the Assembly asked for "a process that attempts to engage the spectrum of Christian churches in our communities in dialogues about Christian values."

"We believe that what Christians hold in common outweighs their differences, and that all Christians have something to learn from those Christians with whom they disagree, and because we deplore the pitting of Christians against each other," the Assembly said.  The statement said "this General Assembly boldly affirms and gives public voice to the belief that Christian values include the work of eliminating poverty, preserving the environment, and promoting peace."  The Assembly claimed the "Christian Principles in an Election Year" developed by the NCC "in order to begin the urgently needed public conversation." 

In the "open letter" to all U.S. Christians, including the NCC's own membership, the Assembly went on to bemoan "the painful spectacle of Christians demonizing one another. We do not view the Christian community in our country as being divided into red and blue. Our view is that we are a mosaic of God's grace and presence. We need to give up caricatures of one another's positions and avoid treating others as though they were less than faithful.

"We must abandon behavior that is a scandal in the New Testament sense of being a stumbling block to faith....While we each have deeply held values that reflect Christian moral and ethical perspectives about the world, we serve one Lord and one God.  All 36 member churches of the NCC, with a combined membership of approximately 50 million, recognize the Lordship of Jesus Christ....We believe we need to reach out to one another for the sake of the gospel."

* marked the death of Yasir Arafat with prayers “for his people, colleagues and families,” a call “for restraint on the part of all parties and respect for the dignity of all peoples and sacred places." The Assembly said, "Our experience of the last 30 years alerts us to the potential political peril that lies ahead. As we continue our concern for peace between Palestinians and Israelis, we express our grief for all children -- Christian, Muslim and Jewish -- who prematurely die daily in the context of continuing strife."

The Assembly endorsed a letter that NCC General Secretary Bob Edgar sent to President George W. Bush on Nov. 5 and its pledge to "work to bring Jews and Muslims together with Christians to provide support to a vigorous and genuine initiative toward peace in the Middle East. We reaffirm our support for a two-state solution to the conflict, a proposal which (President Bush) has also endorsed."

"The letter states that 'the hopes and dreams of generations of Israelis, Palestinians, Americans and indeed citizens around the globe depend upon the achievement of peace in the Holy Land.'  We offer support to initiatives that lead to the achievement of this goal ...."

* reaffirmed the NCC Executive Board's action, in May 2004, calling for urgent intervention to stop the killing in Sudan.

* presented excellence awards to civil rights pioneer Dr. Dorothy Height (J. Irwin Miller Award), "Music with a Mission" composer and performer Tim Janis (Hope Award) for support to individuals and institutions battling AIDS, the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, Professor at Eden Theological Seminary (Unity Award) and to Baldemar Velasquez, Farm Labor Organizing Committee, and William Bryan, Mt. Olive Pickle Company, (Peace and Justice Award). They recently concluded a labor agreement ending a 5-1/2 year consumer boycott.

* received a new study guide on human biotechnologies and gave feedback for the NCC's development of a new policy on human biotechnologies, to come before the 2005 General Assembly for the first of two readings.

* approved a letter assuring chaplains in the U.S. Armed Forces of their prayers.

* approved a letter of greeting to the four historic African American Baptist Conventions that soon will be holding their first joint board meeting since 1895.

* worshiped at Christ Church Cathedral, where the General Assembly's President, C.M.E. Bishop Thomas L. Hoyt, Jr., preached to a standing-room-only crowd of more than 500.  In the message, which he entitled, “Speaking the Truth in Love,” Bishop Hoyt noted that the prophets in the Old Testament always pronounced judgment with love, and said, “This is our time to witness for truth.”

“While we must speak truth based on a world that sets the context of our witness, we must confront a world which operates on values different from ‘kingdom’ or ‘reign of God’ values,” said Bishop Hoyt.  “Calvary displays the extent to which God would go for pruning us so that branches could grow in unity.  Yet when we see the divisions and protection of our turf for the sake of our own positions, God must certainly grieve.”

* presented "Blessed are the Peacemaker Awards" at the Assembly's closing dinner, in observation of the World Council of Churches Decade to Overcome Violence, which has been focusing on the United States this year.  Recipients are  Joan Chapin, Director of the Women's Division of the United Methodist Church from 1992-2000, for her persistent witness against militarism and hate; United Methodist Women's Florida Conference, for its work to document hate crimes in eight states; the St. Louis Interfaith Partnership, for its work to build respect and understanding among people of all faiths.  Said Beth Damsgaard-Rodriguez in accepting the award, "The first step to peace is a better understanding of those who are different from us."

Also, Faith Beyond Walls, that since it was founded in 2001 by a Christian, Muslim and Jew has organized more than 1,000 volunteers to build playgrounds, plant gardens and deliver meals to the elderly and sick; Lydia's House, a place of healing and hope for women and children affected by domestic violence, and Eden Theological Seminary along with four of its students -- Chuck Currie, Timothy Murphy, Joshua Longbottom and Lori Tisher -- for their commitment to peace, renewal of the Church, strengthening mission and the ecumenical movement.

Said the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, the seminary's Allen and Dottie Miller Professor of Mission, Peace and Ecumenical Studies, "The ecumenical movement doesn't celebrate peacemaking.  The ecumenical movement is peacemaking and the next generation of that movement depends on these students and others like them."

At the Young Adult Pre-Event, Colleen Carroll Campbell described how growing numbers of America's young adults are seeking out a demanding, life-changing faith that includes mystery, a traditional morality and service. She is author of "The New Faithful: Why Young Adults are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy."

And at a forum on faith groups' support for public education, participants explored ways to join in support of a common priority: children. After-school tutoring programs, drives to collect school supplies and sharing of parking lots are among ways houses of worship can support public schools without violating separation of church and state. The goal of their collaboration is not to proselytize, but rather "to do the best we can for our children," said Dave Brown, who staffs the National Council of Churches' Public Education work.

U.S. Rep. William Clay of St. Louis described work at the national level to increase support for public education, including the planned reintroduction of the Student Bill of Rights in the next session of Congress, a bill that calls for full funding of "Leave No Child Behind." Then several of the some 60 St. Louis public school officials and faith leaders present offered examples of local collaborations to support public school children.

-end-

CLICK HERE to view and download a variety of photos from the General Assembly.

Media Contacts:
Ann Walle, Church World Service, 212-870-2654, awalle@churchworldservice.org
Carol Fouke, National Council of Churches, 646-258-8896; cfouke@ncccusa.org

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