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The Interchurch Center in New York
is rededicated after its first 50 years

New York, May 26, 2010 -- The Interchurch Center in New York's Morningside Heights, once envisioned as a "Protestant Vatican on the Hudson," has evolved over fifty years into an interfaith, multi-ethnic community of non-profit, educational and church agencies.

That may not be what the planners expected, but it turned out "very good," said the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches.

Kinnamon, the staff head of the Council that was once the "raison d'etre" for the creation of The Interchurch Center, was the keynote speaker at a ceremony of rededication for the building May 25.

Kinnamon noted the exultation and expectations of the late Donald Bolles, a National Council of Churches editor, when plans to establish the Center in York City were announced in 1953.

“At long last [Bolles wrote] the National Council of Churches will have a headquarters big enough to house its entire staff and provide adequate facilities for all the activity associated its work as the instrument of 30 communions.”

"The National Council [Bolles continued] will share with a number of its member denominations, their boards and agencies the space in a united church center which is expected to rise within two years on a site on Riverside Drive overlooking the Hudson River. A block-long building between 119th and 120th Streets will be built to accommodate as many as 3000 church workers, at an estimated cost of $14 million."

Despite the vividness of Bolles' dream of a stately Center for Protestants, the modern day reality is different.

Today, Kinnamon said, "The Interchurch Center is a richly diverse community of many faiths – Protestant, Orthodox, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and more," Kinnamon said. "We are theologians, administrators, actuaries, health professionals, food preparers, building management specialists, educators, students, communicators and more. We are a community of many races, ethnicities, languages, nations. The Interchurch Center family today is almost a perfect microcosm of God’s world."The building never became a "Protestant Vatican," Kinnamon said. But, even better, it became "The God Box" on Manhattan's West side."Clearly, the fact that we did not evolve into what our creators expected us to be is part of the eternal promise that God is not through with us yet, not with these bricks and mortar, and not with the human beings who work here," Kinnamon said.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower led the groundbreaking for The Interchurch Center on October 12, 1958, and was dedicated two years later. Among the participants in Tuesday's rededication service was the Rev. Dr. Jon Regier, who attended both events. Regier held high-ranking staff positions at the NCC and was executive of the New York State Council of Churches. Regier offered the prayer of invocation.

Philanthropist and billionaire John D. Rockefeller, Jr., an American Baptist layman, was a major figure in the planning and financing of the Center in the 1950s.

Rockefeller's grandson, Dr. Steven C. Rockefeller, professor emeritus of religion at Middlebury College, came to the rededication service to recall his grandfather's deep Christian faith. "Philanthropy was his life," Professor Rockefeller said, as was a daily practice of Bible study and personal devotion. Steven Rockefeller is the son of the late Vice President Nelson A. Rockefeller.

Benjamin R. Schute, Jr., chairman of The Interchurch Center board of trustees, welcomed worshippers to the rededication service. Many who sat in The Interchurch Center chapel had been among the Center's earliest occupants.

A bagpiper played Amazing Grace as Worshipers proceeded into the chapel. Kensington Brass played a prelude.

An interfaith trio offered the call to worship: Father Robert George Stephanopoulos, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America; Rabbi Marcus L. Burstein; and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. Lois M. Dauway, a member of The Interchurch Center board, led a responsive reading.

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church, led a litany of remembrance and rededication.

The Lord's Prayer was led by the Rev. Dr. Kermit J. DeGraffenreidt, Secretary-Editor for the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and a former member of The Interchurch Center board.

Kinnamon noted that present-day occupants of The Interchurch Center may have forgotten how the National Council of Churches dominated the Center in its early days.

There was a time, I’m told, when the NCC occupied three whole floors of The Interchurch Center," Kinnamon said. "Retired NCC staff still tell the story of Claire Randall, another of my eight predecessors, who was known for her no-nonsense style of administration.

"Each day when she was here, the story goes, she would practice “management by wandering around,” appearing unexpectedly on one of the three floors where her staff worked, occasionally surprising them on too-long coffee breaks. Quickly the staff created a telephone alerting tree for those occasions when Claire left her office, “General Secretary rolling.” If the story is true, Claire rarely found her staff goofing off after that.

"Suffice it to say, Kinnamon said, "that I can wander all the floors of this beautiful building without creating the slightest stress.  (I should add, of course, that no one on the NCC staff goofs off. There’s too much work and too few of us.)"

No one can predict the future of The Interchurch Center, Kinnamon said. "Just state your plans for the next 50 years if you want to hear God laugh."

But regardless of what the future holds, we take heart in the assurance that the future is in God’s hands," said Kinnamon. "And our hearts take us to the same place Harry Emerson Fosdick did so many years ago: God, grant us the wisdom, vision, generosity and devotion, that in our use of the high privilege here given us, we will not fail humankind or God."                   


Since its founding in 1950, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA has been the leading force for ecumenical cooperation among Christians in the United States. The NCC's member faith groups -- from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American and Living Peace churches -- include 45 million persons in more than 100,000 local congregations in communities across the nation.

NCC News contact:  Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2228 (office), 646-853-4212 (cell),  pjenks@ncccusa.org
NCC Photos by Philip E. Jenks

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