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Mennonite editor elected chair
of NCC Committee on the Uniform Series

Dirk Willems proves no good deed goes unpunished.New York, April 14, 2008 When representatives from vastly different Christian traditions discuss the content of church school lessons, it is no small miracle that they usually agree.

You don't  need a smidgeon of church history to know it was not always so. Christians were burning each other at the stake so recently you can almost smell the acrid odor in our church yards.

No Christian communion is more familiar with the hot end of that stick than Mennonites, many of whom still place The Martyr's Mirror next to the Bible on their bookshelves. It may be one reason  Mennonites have not rushed to join ecumenical groups like the National Council of Churches (NCC).

So when the Rev. James E. Horsch, a Mennonite editor in Goshen, Ind., was elected chair of the NCC's Committee on the Uniform Series (CUS), possibly the oldest ecumenical committee in existence in the U.S., he had cause to reflect on the irony. The Mennonites are not NCC members and the CUS table is crowded with descendants of churches that chased Horsch's ancestors to the gallows. One Mennonite hero is Dirk Willems who was jailed for heresy by his Dutch Protestant neighbors in 1569. Willems escaped from jail and was hotly pursued by angry Protestants, one of whom fell through thin ice and was about to drown. Willems reached out and pulled the man to safety and was burned at the stake for his trouble.

But Mennonites have always believed in turning the other cheek, and they are too polite to embarrass their friends by reminding them what their zealous foreparents did. And as James Horsch presides over meetings of the Uniform Series committee, he knows the lessons they prepare will bring communions closer together.

"The strength of the Committee on the Uniform Series is that through our conversations with diverse Christian traditions we come to a common mind as to the biblical themes and texts that are important for believers to study," Horsch says. "Then we allow each communion the freedom to develop interpretations and applications of these texts in a way that supports the unique mission to which God has called that church body."

And if Mennonites the most forgiving of families don't join ecumenical bodies, it's not because they hold a 500 year-old grudge. "Except for the multiple North American and world Anabaptist communions, Mennonites have not generally aligned themselves with other ecumenical associations at the communion level," he explains. "However we will relate to entities and programs where our interests and convictions are common. Hence our involvement with the National Council of Churches USA via CUS."

Nor is Horsch the sole Mennonite in NCC leadership. Video and film producer Burton Buller, head of Mennonite Media, Harrisonburg, Va., is treasurer of the NCC Communication Commission.

The Committee on the Uniform Series celebrates its 136th anniversary this year. Throughout that time Protestants of many traditions have worked together to create outlines for church school curriculum based on the "uniform principle," which means every one in church school on the same Sunday will study the same passage of scripture.

This ideal has motivated what is surely the most ecumenically and racially diverse group related to the NCC to work together faithfully on producing the most widely used approach to Bible study in Protestant churches.

Click on the CUS logo for more information.The CUS is part of the NCC's Education and Leadership Ministries Commission of which the senior program director is the Rev. Garland F. Pierce, an African Methodist Episcopal clergyman.

Since 1968 James Horsch has served as editor for Mennonite Publishing Network, with national offices in Scottsdale, Pa., and Waterloo, Ontario. He has edited curriculum for children, elective studies for adults as well as certificates, record keeping and supply items for North American Mennonite congregations.

Currently, he edits Purpose magazine, Mennonite Worship Bulletins, Mennonite Directory, and Adult Bible Study (Uniform Series studies) student, teacher and online resources.

He holds a Master of Elementary Education degree from the University of Pittsburgh (1974) and the Bachelor of Divinity degree from Goshen (Mennonite) Biblical Seminary (1966). His bachelor's degree from Goshen College (1962) is in biblical studies.

Horsch and his wife, Ruth, are the parents of three children and grandparents of four. James and Ruth are members of College Mennonite Church in Goshen.

Horsch values his participation on the CUS because it offers many opportunities to exchange ideas with other traditions. "We have always made it a priority to participate in CUS not only for the outlines for study we receive but also as a way to 'give and receive' counsel to and from other communions," he says.

"We also feel that it is important to allow others to see who we are and how we view the biblical record and the way we apply biblical insights to daily life, that is, peace, development, disaster work, evangelism, mutual aid, maintaining a strong identity as a Christian people and in other arenas."

The ecumenical partnership benefits everyone, he says, because "on a practical level it would not be possible for any one communion to develop these outlines independently due to the required investment of time and personnel plus we would not benefit from the counsel of other communions."

NCC News contact:  Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2228,




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