The last two days I've shared information about Christian Churches Together in the USA. Today I share from a fuller account of the week issued today as a press release about the meeting. CCT completed its sixth annual meeting (February 14-17, 2012) in Memphis, Tennessee. Some 85 church and organizational leaders (representing 36 African American, Catholic, Historic Protestant, Evangelical/Pentecostal and Orthodox churches and 6 Christian organizations: American Bible Society, Bread for the World, Evangelicals for Social Action, Habitat For Humanity, Sojourners and World Vision) met to discern together how CCT should respond to racism and poverty now. This theme began in last year’s annual meeting (which was held in Birmingham) and it was decided to continue the theme this year drawing on the historical resources of Memphis.
The participants visited the National Civil Rights Museum/Lorraine Motel (site of Dr. King’s martyrdom), Slave Haven Museum (an Underground Railroad safe house), and the historic Mason Temple where Dr. King delivered his “Mountain Top” speech. We heard an inspiring sermon from Bishop Claire Burkat (ELCA) to begin our time together. Dr. Bernard LaFayette (co-founder of SNCC and Freedom Rider), presented the non-violent underpinnings of Dr. King’s movement. Dr. Albert Raboteau (Princeton) provided insight into the Biblical foundations of Dr. King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail”. Dr. Virgil Wood (Virginia organizer for the Washington March), challenged the church to go beyond equality to seek equity. David Beckmann (Bread for the World) brought good news regarding the success of the Circle of Protection designed to protect the “safety net” for the poorest Americans. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson (PCUSA) challenged us to understand the bigoted underpinnings of much of the current political rhetoric. Dr. Frank Thomas (Mississippi Blvd. Christian Church, Disciples of Christ), brought a challenge to true sacrifice in the face of the current economic inequities. We together, men and women of many colors and ethnicities, worshiped, experienced, related and sought to better understand and more effectively organize to combat racism and poverty in America.
During the week, there were reports heard from those who had participated in the Sankofa Journey, sponsored by the Evangelical Covenant Church, which pairs riders of different races and ethnicities on a three day bus trip from Chicago to Birmingham, Montgomery, Jackson, Memphis and back to Chicago. The time on the bus between historical sites of the civil rights movement is spent in dialogue and viewing video resources. As one participant, Wendy McFadden of the Church of the Brethren, reported, “It was a journey to the past that begins to free us to move forward together. And that is what Sankofa means.”
Dr. Jeff Farmer (Open Bible Churches) and Steve Hass (World Vision) informed us about the anti-malaria work that is being done by Evangelical Pentecostal churches as well as by Historic Protestants and others. There were also reports from leaders of the Global Christian Forum: Nicta Lubaale of Kenya, Larry Miller of France, and Wes Granberg-Michaelson of the U.S. There was a report on the situation in Syria from Archbishop Karim (Syrian Orthodox) and a report on the situation in Egypt from Dr. Sam Wanis and Father John Paul Abdelsayed of the Coptic Orthodox Church on behalf of Bishop Serapion who was in Egypt. Dick Hamm reported on the Christian Unity Summit that took place in January in which participants in four Christian unity organizations attended: Christian Churches Together in the USA, Churches Uniting in Christ, the National Association of Evangelicals, and the National Council of Churches.
CCT meetings are marked by five worship services, each in a form typical of one of the five “families” of churches. Also, in small groups of five, participants share their personal spiritual journey and are each prayed for in turn. These practices, along with casual conversations and more structured encounters, help participants to better understand one another’s traditions and to build trust with one another – an essential element in an organization that represents the broadest regular gathering of national church leaders in the country.
Seven seminarians and young church leaders participated in all or part of the four day meeting representing four different traditions.
Bishop Denis Madden (Baltimore) was elected president of the Catholic family. Bishop Sharon Zimmerman Rader (United Methodist Church) was elected president of the Historic Protestant family, and Gary Walter (Evangelical Covenant Church) was elected president of the Evangelical/Pentecostal family. Dr. Stephen Thurston (National Baptist Convention of America, Inc.) continues as president of the African American family and Father Leonid Kishkovsky (Orthodox Church in America) continues as president of the Orthodox family and as moderator of CCT. The five “families” are simply to insure that each perspective is heard from adequately in dialogue. CCT is governed by consensus decision making.
Rev. Russell Meyer, Executive Director of the Florida Council of Churches, led the meeting in a discernment process that was rooted in the question, “How might the Holy Spirit use the witness of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his Letter from the Birmingham Jail to help the church live the Gospel more fully and proclaim it more faithfully? The result was the statement below, which is issued by consensus of the participants.