Subject: NCC Weekly News: Claremont Commencement Speech (Part 2)

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Part 2: Jim Winkler's Commencement Speech to the Graduates of Claremont School of Theology, May 24, 2016
I am thankful for Claremont’s commitment to inclusiveness, diversity, and interreligious dialogue and understanding. I trust you are prepared to help lead people of faith as we contend with our national disease of racism. 

Last month I helped host a World Council of Churches racial justice pilgrimage through Washington, Charleston, Ferguson, and Chicago. When we gathered on the final day of the pilgrimage to share reflections, the WCC leaders, who were from Africa, Asia, and Europe, told us they were shocked at the depth and prevalence of racism in this nation and called upon the National Council of Churches to undertake the demanding ministry of establishing a truth and reconciliation process. It was noted the first step of such a process must be for the white churches to repent of our complicity and active involvement in white privilege now and in the past. 

Just imagine how liberating it will be when white Christians in this nation, collectively, not only confess to our racism but begin to atone for it. This will only happen if people of faith lead the way. I ask your prayers and your active involvement in this historic effort. 

Your task, my sisters and brothers, is to bind up the wounds of the people and offer them a vision of God’s preferred future so that it may be on earth as it is in heaven. The years ahead will be strenuous, the task herculean, but the work must be done. Climate change, war, racism, violence, increasing inequality, growing fundamentalism in all major world religions—these and other phenomena have the potential to paralyze and overwhelm us, but we are a resurrection people, and therefore must rise to the occasion. 

Earlier this month, the National Council of Churches held our 3rd Christian Unity Gathering. Our theme was, “Fear Not: God’s Love in an Anxious Age.” We took as our text 1 John 4:16-21 in which are found these words, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” 

Our Bible study leader at the Gathering was Rev. Neichelle Guidry who taught us that F.E.A.R. stands for False Evidence Appearing Real. In this anxious age of mass shootings and terrorism, fear can incapacitate and exhaust us. A preacher recently told me he had been in a meeting of clergy in Ohio and asked them how many carried a gun into the pulpit on Sunday mornings. Every one of them said they did so. 
The social fabric seems to be fraying. So we must respond not only with prayer and fasting but through action. People of faith are not powerless to resist the voices of doom and gloom. We must protest, we must organize, and we must be bold.

A few examples:
  • Next month, the NCC is inviting senior faith leaders to come to Washington to push for passage of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act as one step in ending the crisis of mass incarceration;
  • In September, church leaders from the Holy Land and this nation will gather to call again for an end of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine;
  • Jews, Christians, and Muslims are standing shoulder to shoulder against acts of anti-Muslim bigotry and discrimination;
  • Catholics, evangelicals, and the NCC are committed to a circle of protection around public programs that assist those living in poverty;
  • Jews, Catholics, evangelicals, and the NCC work together in the National Religious Partnership for the Environment. 
God’s love compels us to action. What is happening around us in not by accident. Our salvation is tied to how we respond. I believe the fundamental trajectory of God’s history is in the direction of grace, love, mercy, unity, justice, and forgiveness and that we are living through the agonizing death throes of patriarchy, racism, homophobia, and narrow-mindedness. But the way forward depends on you.

If our children and grandchildren are to have a decent future it will be because we continue to work as children of God to change the direction of our nation and of the world to one committed to cooperation, justice, and peace. I am committed to that struggle and am honored to be with you in it.

Yours in Christ,

Jim Winkler
President and General Secretary

June is Torture Awareness Month

Every June, human rights and faith organizations join together to mark Torture Awareness Month because on June 26, 1987, the nations of the world took a major step against the immoral and abhorrent practice of torture. On that day, the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT for short) entered into force and the United Nations later declared June 26th the “International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.”

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) invites you, and your local church, synagogue, mosque, temple, or faith community, to join people of faith throughout the world in commemorating Torture Awareness Month.

Rhode Island UCC ministers seek to strengthen relationship with Muslim community ahead of Ramadan

Bolstered by the belief that people of faith can overcomes prejudices and arrive at a place of mutual respect, nearly 50 authorized United Church of Christ ministers in the Rhode Island Conference are reaching out, responding to an invitation from their Muslim neighbors ahead of the month of Ramadan to deepen their interfaith relationships.

The Islamic Center of Providence wants to host open houses at area mosques, hoping to educate the public on the pillars of Islam, and establish and advance community relationships. In all, 49 UCC ministers (ordained, licensed, commissioned and retired) from Rhode Island signed their names to a letter that expresses gratitude for the invitations and excitement for the opportunity to learn more about each other.

"This began with a conversation at one of our monthly Rhode Island Ministers' Association meetings," explains the Rev. Timoth Sylvia, pastor of Newman UCC in Rumford, R.I., and convener of the association. "With the increased anti-Muslim rhetoric echoing throughout the nation, I had asked the group if we could have some conversation around it. The letter was the result of those conversations."

June 2016 - A journey of faith—Gradye Parsons

This is approximately my 96th monthly column. It is the bookend for my eight years of writing these columns. I want to thank you for sharing your stories with me. You have trusted me with your joys and challenges in conversations across the congregations and mid council bodies of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Please know that each of your stories has impacted me and will always remain part of my understanding of faith. What follows is my journey of faith that I prepared as part of my reentry into the Presbytery of East Tennessee.

I was examined to become a candidate for ministry at the Mars Hill Presbyterian Church in Athens, Tennessee, in 1976. I started seminary that fall at Gordon-Conwell and graduated in 1979. While in seminary I had my first paid job in the church. I was a church janitor.

I was called, installed, and ordained at the Newport Presbyterian Church in 1979, serving five years with that congregation. The congregation taught me how to be a pastor. I was expected to call on a ruling elder at random on Sundays for the offering prayer. I would hear these beautiful prayers in perfect King James English. It was while I was in Newport that I really fell in love with the mountains and mountain people.

This Week's Podcast: Subscribe TODAY!

The NCC is bringing the best, most interesting and relevant voices from the faith community to your mobile device. Every week NCC communications director Rev. Steven D. Martin interviews faith leaders, activists, and people from across the NCC's 38 member communions and affiliated organizations.

This week we speak with Shaarik Zafar, Special Representative for Muslim Communities, U.S. Department of State.  Shaarik speaks with us about Ramadan, interfaith relations, and the image of the U.S. overseas in view of anti-Muslim rhetoric employed in the presidential campaigns.

Be sure to subscribe to the podcast in the iTunes Store and Stitcher Radio. If you like what you're hearing, please write a review. By doing this you will help us reach the widest possible audience!

Ecumenical Opportunities:

The Children’s Environmental Health Network is seeking nominations for its 2016 Nsedu Obot Witherspoon (NOW) Youth Leadership Award!

The NOW Youth Leadership Award was created as part of the Children’s Environmental Health Network’s (CEHN) 20th anniversary celebration in 2012, in honor of Executive Director Nsedu Obot Witherspoon. This award honors a young person (ages 12-21 at the time of the nomination) who has demonstrated exceptional environmental health leadership--efforts to protect human health, especially of our most vulnerable populations, through actions including: raising awareness of, advocacy for, and outreach around safer, healthier environments across places.

We encourage submissions of nominees who are young leaders that are involved and committed to environmental health, participate in community action, and have strong leadership skills. Submissions must come from non-family members. This award will be presented at CEHN’s 11th Annual Child Health Advocate Award Event in Washington, DC on October 13th, 2016. The winner must be able to travel to DC and attend the event to accept their award. Submit your nomination here by 4pm EST, July 15th, 2016!

The Episcopal Church is accepting applications for the position of Director of Government Relations, a member of the Presiding Bishop’s staff. Based in Washington, DC, the Director of Government Relations is a full-time position responsible for representing the public policy positions adopted by the Episcopal Church’s General Convention and Executive Council, and the ministry of the Presiding Bishop, to policy makers in Washington, including the White House, the Congress, the Washington, D.C. diplomatic community, the Episcopal institutions and networks, visiting Anglican and Episcopal leaders, the ecumenical community, and public interest organizations so that the Church has a direct presence and ability to advocate its positions to those who make or are concerned about governmental policy. Deadline for applying is June 20.

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