1998 NCC News Archives

National Council of Churches logo represents the church 
as ecumenical ship, serving the world

Third Ecumenical Conference on
"Mission in a New Millennium" Includes
Evangelicals with Mainline Protestants, Catholics

To be Held May 14-17 at the Archbishop Cousins Catholic Center, Milwaukee, Wis.

NEW YORK, May 4, 1998 ---- The changing character of mission work and how that work might be better accomplished ecumenically in the next millennium will be discussed by a group of mainline Protestants, Catholics and Evangelicals at the Third Ecumenical Conference on Common Witness, to be held May 14-17 at the Bishop Cousins Center in Milwaukee, Wis.

A stronger evangelical presence than at past conferences will join the U.S. Catholic Mission Association (USCMA) and Church World Service and Witness (CWSW), which represents Protestant and Orthodox communions, in the 11-year-old effort to explore possibilities of common ground in mission work.

The Most Rev. Rembert G. Weakland, O.S.B., Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, will welcome the participants. CWSW is the humanitarian relief and refugee assistance arm of the National Council of Churches.

Through plenaries, discussion groups and Bible study, an expected 65 participants will focus on four critical issues: 1) evangelism; 2) globalization of the economy 3) urbanization and mission in the city, and 4) refugees and displaced people.

The keynote address will be delivered by the Rev. Dr. Robert Michael Franklin, President of the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta and an ordained minister in the Church of God in Christ. Other speakers include: The Rev. Carlos Cardoza, a Puerto Rican Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) minister; Immanuel Clapsis, Pastor of the St. Anargyro Greek Orthodox Church in Marboro, Mass.; Claudette LaVerdiere, a Maryknoll sister who taught for many years in East Africa; Radhika Balakrishnan from the Department of International Studies at Marymount College, and Joan Maruskin, a United Methodist Minister from Yoe, Penn. who coordinates People of the Golden Vision.

"The millennium mandates that we get together and make a theological, missiological attempt to go outside our own programs and plan for the future," said the Rev. Lonnie Turnipseed from CWSW, who is organizing the conference along with Sister Mary Motte of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary. "This is a counter-cultural move to go against more divisive forces at work in society and in our churches and to struggle to find common ground."

"The very fact that we are getting together is newsworthy," said Ms. Margaret Larom, Director of World Mission Interpretation and Networks for the Episcopal Church and a member of the Continuing Committee for Common Witness, a consultative ecumenical body which was formed in 1987 by representatives from CWSW and the USCMA to foster unity in mission. "That all three streams, not only mainline Protestants and Catholics but also Evangelicals, are discussing these issues, is worth noting. Institutionally, we do not do things together often, either in this country or abroad."

Although Continuing Committee members said that Christians do sometimes end up working together on the local level, they stressed that divisions at the institutional level in the United States and abroad end up hampering local mission efforts, particularly in an age when there are limited resources for much church mission work.

"A positive example of what can happen when we do work together is the Asia Pacific Center in Washington, D.C., which brings together Protestants and Catholics to work for justice and peace in Asia," said the Rev. Joe LaPauw, Provincial of the Missionhurst Fathers (C.I.E.M.). "Working together from our common resource of faith allows for better monitoring and advocating in Asia."

Members of the Continuing Committee readily acknowledge that the groups they represent - which number about 700 altogether - are remarkably diverse in terms of theological and political opinions. Because of these differences, the evangelical participants "are coming to the consultation to assess and explore" before making any commitments to work cooperatively, said the Rev. Paul McKaughan, Executive Director of the Evangelical Fellowship of Mission Agencies.

"The relationships we form are the most important part and are a model of what is happening everywhere as we are increasingly having to learn to live together as a multicultural, multireligious society," Rev. Turnipseed said.

The Continuing Committee on Common Witness has held two prior consultations, in 1987 and 1994. Following the 1994 meeting on "Common Witness in a Changing World Order," the Committee issued a final statement pledging to work together in four "concrete acts of common witness": ecumenical missionary orientation; ecumenical mission education; a communications network; and a new CWSW-USCMA relationship.

As a result of this pledge, USCMA and CWSW have exchanged representatives at board meetings and Lutherans, Presbyterians and Catholics have cooperated in some joint missionary orientations. To address its interest in communications, the committee held a conference on the "information superhighway" at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. in June, 1995.

"Mission is not dead, but the context has changed with the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the changing global economy," said the Rev. LaPauw. "There is a remarkable amount of stereotyping about mission. It is not an old-fashioned word - it is always at the cutting edge. Mission is about sharing some signs of hope in the world today."

One of the major changes in mission work in recent years is the move toward mutuality, committee members explained. "The United States is now receiving missionaries, and in fact many countries that ‘first world’ countries once missionized now consider those same first world countries to be their most urgent mission field because they have become so secular," Rev. LaPauw explained.

"The foundation for all Christians is baptism, and we share a common vocation," said Rev. Turnipseed. "Yet too often, we do not recognize that we are all seeking to share the gospel of Christ in a particular place. We hope to find ways at this conference to share our common faith."

Contact: Wendy S. McDowell, NCC, 212-870-2227

NCC Home Page
NCC News Service Index