Subject: NCC Weekly News: Mainline Celebrities?

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From Jim: Why Few Mainline Celebrities?
Collectively, my great-grandfather, father, uncle, and brother served or are currently serving as local church pastors for more than 100 years. That’s all they wanted to do. They weren’t interested in becoming regional or national church officials. Preaching and teaching the Word, visiting the sick, and carrying out the countless daily responsibilities of a congregational pastor were fulfilling, time-consuming, and immensely rewarding for them.

They did not enter the ministry to become famous, although certainly, they were stars in their congregations and communities. A recent article asks the question, “Why are there so few mainline celebrities?”, and attempts to sort through the ‘chilly relationship’ mainline churches have with the marketplace.

The same question holds true for the other communions that make up the National Council of Churches, as well, including Orthodox, African American, Anglican, historic peace and other churches. The goal simply isn’t to develop celebrity status. 

I grew up in the Midwest—Oklahoma, Missouri, and Illinois—where there was an unspoken ethic: you did your work and chores and carried out your responsibilities because that’s what you were supposed to do. You might receive an award for perfect Sunday School attendance or for serving as an usher for dozens of years, but for the most part, you were expected to live a sober, modest, and productive life. We gave more thanks and praise to those who came to know Christ or sobered up than those who had been living that way all their lives.

But as for pursuing celebrity status, I can hear the questions now: Why do you have to be on the television and in the newspapers? What troubling ego needs do you have? What makes you so special, anyway? Who’s going to lead the Bible study, the Sunday services, the youth mission trip, etc., while you are traipsing around on national speaking engagements, book promotion tours, and so forth? 

This modesty and the focus on the local church has meant our congregations are not often in the news. They feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, and visit the sick. They raise children in the faith, welcome the stranger, and comfort the afflicted. They respond to needs locally and internationally in a variety of ways. 

Most congregations are friendly and open, others not so much. Most work well with other houses of worship; others are more insular. Most are diverse theologically and politically; others are more homogenous. Too few are racially and ethnically diverse. 

Most of our local congregations aren’t involved in protests, advocacy, or lawsuits. Most don’t have fancy neon signs out front or claim they are the victims of religious persecution or charge others with heresy. These congregations worship God, celebrate new life and marriages and mourn the passing of fellow congregants. They eat and pray together. Some congregations grow, and many are shrinking. 

What they’re not seeking is celebrity status, and in a celebrity-oriented culture where the media fixates on star power and those who cry foul or have an enduring sense of grievance or insist on their superiority, it leaves our churches and our pastors off the front pages. Then, they are derided as inconsequential or marginal because they aren’t engaged in flamboyant controversies and thus commanding the media’s attention. We do have a few celebrities here and there, and we have our megachurches, but it is not the norm. 

I confess I wish the National Council of Churches had a network of radio and television stations. I believe it would be better for our nation and our society if responsible clergy and laity were preaching and teaching sound theology and prescribing useful suggestions to fellow citizens on how to lead a good life and discussing serious social issues without screaming or yelling.

In recent days, I have attended national church and faith gatherings and met with denominational officials. During that time, I have been with Rev. Traci Blackmon, Rev. John Dorhauer, Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, Bishop Darin Moore, Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins. There are no finer Christian leaders in the United States today than these people and many others I am blessed to work with in ministry on a daily basis. They ought to be sought out by the media for comments and interviews, but they tend not to be incendiary and accusative in their style and methods, and that renders them uninteresting to Fox, CNN, the Today Show, etc. 

What they are doing is providing leadership in their churches, seeking unity, carrying out interreligious dialogues, building and nurturing relationships, proclaiming the faith, and following the teachings and example of Christ.

I’m good with that.

Grace and peace,
Jim Winkler, General Secretary and President
Across church families, across states: pledges for peace on the Korean Peninsula

As a WCC-convened forum on peace on the Korean Peninsula came to a close, participants from around the world, representing many churches, vowed to work together in accompanying the Christians of North and South Korea in their efforts for peace, reconciliation, and development.

The Ecumenical Forum for Peace, Reunification and Development Cooperation on the Korean Peninsula (EFK) convened in Leipzig, Germany, on 7-8 July, at a time of greatly heightened tensions in the region. EFK participants, in turn, heightened both their hope and resolve for a peaceful outcome.

Thirty-two people from churches and related organizations from North Korea, South Korea and seven other countries took part in the meeting, which was hosted by the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC).

From Mimi Han, representing the YWCA in the Republic of Korea who asked for “more safe and inclusive space for youth and women at the decision-making table,” to Steve Pearce, partnership coordinator for Asia with the Methodist Church in Britain, who asked for “concrete actions for peace from the international community,” participants felt strongly that churches have a role in building peace.

Traci Blackmon elected overwhelmingly to lead UCC's justice ministry

The Rev. Traci Blackmon was elected the executive minister of United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries by delegates to General Synod 2017 on Sunday evening, July 2, after serving in that capacity as acting executive minister for 19 months.

Blackmon electrified the General Synod crowd a day earlier when she delivered her nomination remarks on Saturday morning. The momentum carried over for the next 36 hours. Needing two-thirds of the votes to confirm her election, Blackmon received 97 percent from the 737 voting delegates.

After the votes were counted, those on the floor who were able stood and applauded her, as a section of the crowd began chanting "Traci! Traci! Traci!"

Needing a moment to gather herself on stage, the Rev. John Dorhauer and the Rev. James Moos, her fellow national officers, stood beside her for an election selfie.

"I spent this morning in prayer, and I did something I rarely do. I asked God to grant me favor in this election, and I heard the Spirit say, 'I am with you all. And that is enough,'" Blackmon said. "People must choose their own leader from among them."

Christian Church (Disciples of Christ): Meet the New GMP

The General Board voted to forward the name of Rev. Teresa (Terri) Hord Owens to the 2017 General Assembly as the nominee for General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

A Disciple since young adulthood, Hord Owens is currently dean of students at the University of Chicago Divinity School and pastor of First Christian Church of Downers Grove, IL.

Search Committee Chair Jackie Bunch reviewed the process for the General Board before the members of the board had the opportunity to meet Hord Owens in small groups and in the plenary. Of more than 40 people recommended last summer, nine were screened in accordance with the executive search process. Four were then interviewed in person in October by the search committee. Just prior to the General Board meeting, three candidates were interviewed by the Administrative Committee to determine which candidate to recommend to the board.

Rev. Owens is widely sought after as a preacher, speaker and workshop facilitator. Her ministry and intellectual interests include a theology of reconciliation, cultural intelligence, developing inclusive and multi-cultural congregations, and the mentoring of youth and young adults. She is married to Walter Owens, Jr., with whom she will soon celebrate 30 years of marriage. They are the proud parents of an adult son, W. Mitchell Owens, III.
Cuban embargo causes suffering, General Synod resolves to open doors

A resolution that began with UCC delegations to Cuba and exchanges in the Southern Conference produced a strong Synod resolution to end the United States embargo that blocks normal cultural, educational and scientific exchange between nations that are neighbors.

The U.S. embargo of Cuba causes suffering and even death for ordinary Cuban people who do not have access to critical medications. The Rev. Joel Ortega Dopico, president of the Council of Churches of Cuba, said, "The embargo needs to end, not because it is illegal under international law, not because it is opposed by the U.N., but because it makes people suffer. God does not want people to suffer."

The embargo affects not only medical imports and the exchange of technology with the U.S., it also blocks many imports from European companies that do business in the U.S. Dopico told the story of a family of Cuban doctors whose son is a doctor in the U.S. The father, a pediatrician, needed heart surgery, but the son was unable to help supply the needed equipment until he went directly to a German manufacturer. Luckily, this firm did not have U.S. ties that would have blocked the sale.

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