Subject: NCC Weekly News: Cuba and Christian Unity

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From Jim: Cuba and Christian Unity
My schedule has been hectic over the past several weeks ranging from the NCC’s recent Christian Unity Gathering, meetings of our Governing Board and Convening Tables, participation in the 75th anniversary of the Cuban Council of Churches, and the ongoing United Methodist Church General Conference.

We have now held three Christian Unity Gatherings and have a good idea of what works and does not work well. Evaluations completed by participants strongly affirmed worship and bible study, the Convening Tables, and several other aspects of the Gathering. We know we have to do a better job with logistics and promotion.

More to the point, the questions arise as to whether to hold organizational meetings in conjunction with the Christian Unity Gathering is the best way to proceed. How might we hold a Christian Unity Gathering that includes Christians from beyond the National Council of Churches? How might we ensure significant numbers of youth and young adults are present? How might we best maintain flexibility to respond creatively and in a timely manner to various matters in the world—an American presidential campaign, seemingly daily incidents of racial injustice and intolerance, church-dividing issues, or the Flint water crisis—when it’s necessary to sign contracts for food and lodging and give people ample time to make travel plans?

We’ll continue to perfect, I pray, the Christian Unity Gathering in future years. Someone once told me they felt they had attended a successful conference or convention if they made one new friend, heard one good speaker, and learned of one interesting book to read. Judged by those standards, our Gathering was wildly successful—for me, at least.

Immediately after CUG, I boarded a plane to Cuba. I have now had the opportunity to visit Cuba three times and remain deeply grateful for the solidarity that has existed for decades between the Cuban Council of Churches and the NCC here. The Cuban Council has an amazing and wide-ranging ministry ranging from Christian education to disaster response to active efforts to help the nation prepare for a new era. Some refer to the imminent tsunami of engagement with the United States—tourists, businesses, the Internet, capitalism, etc.—and everyone knows there will be positives and negatives.

One thing is crystal clear right now: the U.S. continues to maintain a blockade against Cuba. Until Congress acts to lift it, the resumption of diplomatic relations is mere window-dressing. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce (not exactly a communist organization) estimates the blockade costs the United States more than $1 billion annually. Imagine, then, how many more billions it costs the Cubans. The restrictions have created enormous hardships for the people of Cuba. The National Council of Churches will continue to push for the lifting of the blockade.

I am thankful for the ecumenical witness of the National Council of Churches and the Cuban Council of Churches. In the midst of giant societal changes, we have remained true to Jesus Christ, continue to share the Good News of the Gospel, and remain committed to justice and peace.
Yours in Christ,

Jim Winkler
President and General Secretary

Representing Our Church at a National Council of Churches Faith and Order Convening Table Meeting

by Rev. David Fekete, Swedenborgian Church

What does it mean to represent our church at a National Council of Churches meeting? It means dining with your colleagues; it means walking back to the hotel together chatting on the way; it means sharing stories about where you live, what you do, and how your journey took you there; it means reading and writing learned papers; it means letting people meet a real Swedenborgian.

While many of these activities may not seem profound, they are very important. Surprisingly many Christians have heard of the Swedenborgian Church, and many have preconceived prejudices about, and indeed, against Swedenborgians. This without having met any. There is some interest in our doctrines, church polity, and liturgy. But what I think really matters is for our fellow Christians to meet a real Swedenborgian person. When they do so, and find him or her to be an OK, in fact, normal person, they are relieved and welcome the Swedenborgian into their world. So, seemingly trivial activities may well be the convincing media through which our church is evaluated—not so much our stance on the trinity.

The National Council of Churches is divided into four “Convening Tables.” Convening Tables are groups that are organized according to the task they undertake. The four Convening Tables are:
  • Education and Leadership Formation
  • Faith and Order 
  • Interfaith Relations 
  • Joint Advocacy and Justice
I represent our church in the Faith and Order Convening Table. Our task is to explore the various issues that the NCCC brings up according to faith and doctrines, and church order.

I don`t mean to give the impression that all we do is socialize at Faith and Order meetings. We put in long hours working on academic and doctrinal papers and books. Faith and Order is divided into 4 study groups. Mine is on Bible as it relates to the issues brought up by the governing board of the NCCC. The study groups met for 12 hours, in three, four-hour sessions over two days. My first night at the NCC Faith and Order Convening Table, I was given four 20-page papers to read through for discussion the next day. My group criticized the four papers, giving each paper two hours of comments and analysis. By the end of the day-and-a-half of meetings, I was exhausted.

I volunteered to write a similar kind of paper. We are looking at what the Bible and our tradition have to say about mass incarceration. I was drawn to write about the prophet Amos. There are deep-seated structural problems with our society, like the society of Amos. In our society, there are whole neighborhoods that generate children who seem fated to jail. There are schools with metal detectors at their entrances. There are children who walk through gang territory to get to and home from school. There are students without computers, which renders them unemployable in today’s world. These and many more details led to the formation of an organization called “The Cradle to Prison Pipeline” which seeks to educate and intervene in issues of this kind. Almost all the problems above are due to poverty and race. They are indicators of our society ailing, failing, showing signs of sickness. Were Amos alive today, his message might be much the same. The prophet saw similar abuses in his society,

because they sell the righteous for silver,
and the needy for a pair of shoes—
they that trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, ...
Therefore because you trample upon the poor
O you who turn justice to wormwood,

and cast down righteousness to the earth!
you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe,

They hate him who reproves in the gate,

and they abhor him who speaks the truth.

I attended the very first meeting of the Faith and Order Convening Table a year and a half ago, I believe. As might be expected, things were disorganized and inchoate. At that time I didn’t see the value of my continued participation, given the way things looked then. Now, our Convening Table seems better organized with a clearer idea about what its purpose is, and how to achieve that purpose. I now see considerable value in continuing to work with the National Council of Churches in the Faith and Order Convening Table.

I think that it is important for Swedenborgians to continue to participate and contribute to the ongoing work of the National Council of Churches. If, for no other reason, The National Council of Churches needs to meet real Swedenborgians.

Support grows for national boycott of Wendy’s Restaurants

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has been trying for 10 years to convince the Wendy’s company to join the Fair Food Program (FFP), which focuses on the rights of farmworkers. Despite its pleas, the Ohio-based fast food company has said no. Now the CIW is ramping up its campaign by calling for a national boycott of the food chain. This is only the second time in the group’s history that a national boycott has been called. The first time was 15 years ago against Taco Bell.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has supported the CIW from the beginning as it worked to secure Fair Food agreements from Yum Brands, McDonald’s, Burger King and Subway. At its recent meeting in Louisville, the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board officially endorsed the call for a national boycott.

“Rather than support Florida growers who uphold human rights under the Fair Food Program, Wendy’s switched its tomato purchases to Mexico, where the denial of human rights in the produce industry was well-documented in last year’s Los Angeles Times expose,” said the Rev. Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) “This is unacceptable, especially from a company that has prided itself on using U.S.-made products. Therefore, the PC(USA) joins the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in calling on Wendy’s to sign a Fair Food agreement.”

Message of the presidents of the World Council of Churches at Pentecost 2016

Dear sisters and brothers in faith,

In the name of the triune God and on behalf of the presidents of the World Council of Churches, I greet you all as we celebrate the birthday of the church on Pentecost.

Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?” (Acts 2:7-8).

As Christians, we are unified in a firm belief that the one God is the Creator who gives life to all that is. The one God is also the Saviour of all life. We know this, and we want to share this good news with all. The Saviour gives us solid grounds for hope – for this world and for the world to come.

But knowing is not enough. There must also be inspiration and commitment. That was given on Pentecost by the triune God through the Holy Spirit, when the apostles spoke to all those people assembled in Jerusalem, with their very different backgrounds, cultures and languages. And the listeners heard, each of them in their “own native language”!

Of course, it is only by using our experiences and our cultures that we can orient ourselves in life. Yet at the same time, that knowledge gives rise to prejudice and misunderstandings. Humanity can only survive with more focus on what unifies rather than on what divides.

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