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NCC President Andrew Young Welcomes Assembly to Atlanta
Michael Kinnamon Offers Base for Work on a "Broader Ecumenical Vision"

November 14, 2000, ATLANTA, Ga. – Against the backdrop of one of the most hotly contested presidential elections and politically polarized moments in U.S. national life, the messages of hope and unity that opened the National Council of Churches’ annual General Assembly here today seemed all the more striking.

Following opening worship, the NCC’s President, Andrew Young, welcomed the Assembly to his hometown, describing Atlanta as so segregated 40 years ago that it could have gone "the way of Bosnia or the Middle East." People nonetheless have learned to live together despite their differences, even learn to appreciate their differences, he said.

Now "we see a government unable to govern itself through the normal processes of elections, it seems, but looking at it another way, we have no choice but to find ways to work together regardless of who gets to be president," he commented. "He won’t be able to get a thing done without reaching out to the other side."

Acknowledging the struggle, division and despair that mark the lives of so many around the world and even affect churches, Young offered the theological assertion that "as we look at all the problems of our planet, we must bear witness in the midst of this confusion that God is still on the throne and that we are all dependent on God’s grace in Jesus Christ."

Addressing delegates sent by the Council’s broad diversity of 35 member communions – ranging from Quaker to Orthodox – he said, "We hold in this room some hope for the world, that we can disagree but not be disagreeable, come together bearing witness to different visions, be strengthened by them and learn to grow in grace."

As the equivalent of the Council’s "chairman of the board" for 2000-2001, Young will preside during these next four days over a meeting whose business includes two major foci.

The first is the launching of a 10-year ecumenical mobilization to overcome poverty, and Ambassador Young encouraged the churches to be as demanding of business and the private sector as they have been of the government.

"In Atlanta," he said, "most corporate chief executive officers also go to Sunday worship. As we minister to them as individuals … we must be both prophetic and pastoral. The generation of wealth has largely been the preserve of the private sector" – a resource for feeding the hungry, healing the sick and clothing the naked, he said.

The second major focus of the Nov. 14-17 NCC General Assembly is exploring how a divided church – U.S. Protestants, Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Pentecostals and Evangelicals – might find new ways to work together.

Laying the base for small-group work this afternoon (Nov. 14) was the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon – Professor at Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis and General Secretary of the Consultation on Church Union.

He offered his keynote, "The History of the NCC’s Commitment to Ecumenism," on behalf of the NCC Vision Committee, a small group helping to carry forward exploration of a larger ecumenical table. Among key reference documents: The 1997 Final Report of the NCC’s Ecclesiology Study Task Force.

The central question, Kinnamon said, is, "What is the ecumenical future that God is creating for the churches and how can we best embrace it?"

"Outside observers might conclude from news reports that the current outreach is a pragmatic approach to a current crisis, but they would be mistaken," he said. "In fact, it’s part of a long-standing conversation about the nature, scope and future of conciliar ecumenism. Reaching to other partners is an expression of the vision of unity in Christ that brings us here in the first place."

Kinnamon traced more than 50 years of work initiated by the NCC, World Council of Churches, Vatican and others, and emphasized that "the essence of a council of churches is not only what we do together but what we are together, the relationship of the churches to one another…. Expanding the table must include deepening our commitment to each other," he said, "or we are in danger of losing more than we gain."

Similarly, "whenever the churches see the council of churches as ‘that organization’ rather than ‘our fellowship,’ conciliar life is deeply impoverished," Kinnamon said. And when churches act together against racism or poverty, "our basic motive is not charity, but faithfulness."

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