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From Jim: My remarks at the memorial service for Syngman Rhee
On behalf of the National Council of Churches in Christ in the United States of America, I extend my condolences to the family of Rev. Dr. Syngman Rhee and I also express sincere thanks for his service as president of the NCC.

Not many people have served as president of the National Council of Churches, the leading ecumenical body in our country. It is a signal honor, one bestowed by one’s peers at the highest levels of denominational leadership, although quite a bit more of an honor in 1992 than it remains today. More than 100,000 local churches and 40 million Christians in Orthodox, African American, Anglican, mainline Protestant, and living peace churches comprise the National Council of Churches.

As recently as last week, I was in consultation with the leaders of the Council regarding who will be named as the next chair of the Governing Board. I can assure you that the faith, character, stature, and leadership qualities of senior religious leaders in our nation were central to the discussion.

Dr. Syngman Rhee was elected to lead the National Council of Churches because bishops and archbishops, stated clerks, moderators, presidents, general secretaries and others with fancy titles honored his deep faith in Jesus Christ, valued his wisdom, appreciated his life experiences, knew of his diplomatic capacities, and were confident he could lead the Council through trying times, and he did so.

During the time of his leadership, the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible was being introduced to our member churches by the NCC. The turmoil created by the first Gulf War, the efforts to bring apartheid to an end in South Africa, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the riots in Los Angeles dominated the headlines. And, of course, the continuing conflict on the Korean peninsula, one that divided his own family, raged on.

Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell served as general secretary of the National Council of Churches under Syngman Rhee’s leadership. She wrote these words to me last week, “Syngman Rhee was the first and to date only Asian President of the National Council of Churches in the USA. The night of his inauguration was marked by tears of grateful thanks when his relatives from North Korea entered the church. Syngman’s family had not been together for years and the moment they were reunited was for all who attended a sign of hope that peace might be possible. History tells us that the separation of North and South remains but the hope of Syngman’s family points to a future for which we pray, one of renewal and reconciliation.”

Further, Syngman Rhee served as moderator of the Presbyterian Church USA, one of the great Protestant denominations of our nation and one that is central to the life of the National Council of Churches. I reached out last week to Rev. Dr. Cliff Kirkpatrick, former stated clerk of the PCUSA, and he kindly shared memories with me of Syngman as they knew one another for many years and together provided leadership to the Presbyterian Church.

Cliff wrote that Syngman was “a blessing to the church--Presbyterian, Ecumenical, and Global. He was a gift of God to us and a great saint of the Church. I will miss him very much, but I give thanks that my life has been enriched by this remarkable. man.”

Syngman Rhee became involved in the life of the NCC in the late 1960s while he was a university chaplain at the University of Louisville - before he joined the Presbyterian Church staff in NY.

At the University of Louisville, Syngman was known for his work on civil rights in Louisville in the 1960s. He was the first faculty advisor for the Black student union at the University of Louisville. He marched in the streets and was arrested with other activists. When people asked him why he was involved in a "Black and White" issue, he told them he saw it as a human issue - not only for Blacks and Whites but for everyone.

I believe the fact that he, as an immigrant to the U.S., became involved in the civil rights movement here is a testament to his foresight and wisdom and fearlessness. He was also dedicated to peacemaking efforts in the Middle East and North Africa and was involved in the World Reformed Alliance work with the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission and similar applications to the situation in Rwanda.

During his tenure at the NCC, he presided over some of the discussions regarding membership of the Metropolitan Community Church. At that time, our churches were not ready to accept as part of the NCC a denomination that explicitly ministered to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered persons. Interestingly, religious news was dominated over recent days with the news that Syngman’s church, the PCUSA, has now officially voted to amend their constitution to change the description of marriage from being between a man and a woman to being between two people.

Please permit me a moment of personal privilege to express my appreciation of Syngman’s daughter, Anna, a friend of 30 years. We are both preacher’s kids and we served the United Methodist Church in numerous capacities. Anna follows in her father’s footsteps as a servant of Christ and as one who is committed to the ecumenical movement and the unity of the Church.
So, today, it is appropriate that we gather to share our memories of Syngman Rhee and give thanks to his service to and his leadership of the Church Universal. He belongs to the great cloud of witnesses who watch over us. His faith, his courage, his commitment, provide an example to each of us.

Climate denial is immoral, says head of US Episcopal church

The highest ranking woman in the Anglican communion has said climate denial is a “blind” and immoral position which rejects God’s gift of knowledge.

Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal church and one of the most powerful women in Christianity, said that climate change was a moral imperative akin to that of the civil rights movement. She said it was already a threat to the livelihoods and survival of people in the developing world.

“It is in that sense much like the civil rights movement in this country where we are attending to the rights of all people and the rights of the earth to continue to be a flourishing place,” Bishop Jefferts Schori said in an interview with the Guardian. “It is certainly a moral issue in terms of the impacts on the poorest and most vulnerable around the world already.”

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

At least once a year, Christians are reminded of Jesus’ prayer for his disciples that “they may be one so that the world may believe” (see John 17.21). Hearts are touched and Christians come together to pray for their unity. Congregations and parishes all over the world exchange preachers or arrange special ecumenical celebrations and prayer services. The event that touches off this special experience is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Traditionally the week of prayer is celebrated between 18-25 January, between the feasts of St Peter and St Paul. In the southern hemisphere, where January is a vacation time, churches often find other days to celebrate it, for example around Pentecost, which is also a symbolic date for unity.
The Holiness Found In Hope: A Meditation For Holy Week

Written by the Rev. Geoffrey Black

There are no surprises here. We know how the events of this week unfold. Through hindsight, we can see what those first disciples of Jesus couldn't. Yet, if we allow ourselves to walk through what we now refer to as Holy Week with imagination and openness, we can also begin to sense those inescapable feelings of foreboding tragedy, fear, betrayal, suffering and immense grief that must have been theirs. Over time there came to be a deep sense of community among those closest to Jesus. Jesus set the tone for that by instituting an act of remembrance during those last days they were together.

Perhaps the holiness of this week is to be found in the slight glimmers of hope that break through from time to time as we read the Passion narrative. There is hope to be found in Jesus' expectation that beyond his death, the Gospel would be proclaimed throughout the world. There is hope expressed in the initiation of that meal of remembrance and in his expectation that he would indeed drink of the fruit of the vine anew in the Kingdom of God. Hope is evident in Jesus' declaration to his disciples that he would be raised from death and go before them to Galilee.

Registration open for 2015 Christian Unity Gathering!

The 2015 NCC's signature event, the annual Christian Unity Gathering, will again be held outside of Washington, DC at the Hilton Washington Dulles International Airport. This year's gathering will continue our focus on Mass Incarceration as well as spend significant time examining NCC's second priority area, Interfaith Relations with a Focus on Peace. In addition, there will be a special service of commemoration for the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide held at the Washington National Cathedral. This service will include visitors from around the world and from many levels of government as well.

Thursday's keynote address will be given by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Leymah Gbowee. During the Liberian civil war, Gbowee organized Christian and Muslim women to demonstrate together, founding Liberian Mass Action for Peace and launching protests and a sex strike. Gbowee's part in helping to oust Charles Taylor was featured in the documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell. This will be a powerful event you will not want to miss!
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