Subject: NCC Weekly News: New Year Hopes, New Gun Rules, Syrian Refugees

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From Jim: My New Year's Desire
I hope each of you had a wonderful holiday season. My family traveled to Disney World and then went on to visit our extended family in California and Illinois. I’ve reached the point in life where I am now a great-uncle and, simultaneously, have an aged mother who faces persistent health problems. 

And so, as I enter 2016 I pray for good health. I confess I have a few resolutions for 2016. I say, “I confess,” because I generally haven’t found New Year’s resolutions to be particularly effective. However, I am determined to lose some weight and take better care of myself.

But what I really desire in the coming year is to deepen my faith, to be more intentional at developing and nurturing friendships, to practice healthy living, to be a more generous person, to read poetry, to be a better husband, son, father, brother, uncle, and nephew, to enjoy life more, to accept my frailties and vulnerabilities, to soak up wisdom, to live a more authentic life.

I wish to be more mindful. One definition of mindfulness I recently came across is to maintain "a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. Mindfulness also involves acceptance…when we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future."

I constantly rehash the past and imagine the future. Perhaps one of the reasons I have been able to accept criticism reasonably well is because I am my own worst critic. I have a growing and endless list of shortcomings that I dwell on and reorder each day. It’s a miracle I get anything done.

Yet, I feel incredibly blessed in nearly every conceivable way. I have a warm and loving family, fantastic colleagues at work, and a perpetually fascinating vocation. Regardless of my own insecurities and doubts, the National Council of Churches is on the front lines and is living out its purpose to be a community of communions called by Christ to visible unity and sent forth in the Spirit to promote God’s justice, peace and the healing of the world.

I look forward to 2016 with anticipation and excitement. May God give you the strength you need to carry through on your resolutions and may this year be the best one of your life.

Jim Winkler,
President and General Secretary

NCC Applauds New Gun Rules

The National Council of Churches expresses its gratitude and appreciation for President Obama’s bold announcement of an executive order strengthening background checks and limiting access to loopholes for gun sales in the United States. We applaud him also for his order to provide new funding for access to mental health care, and for additional personnel to perform background checks. We urge Congress to allow these restrictions to remain in place. We hope that, with God’s help, these measures will save lives.

As President Obama noted, all of our fundamental rights and values as Americans must be balanced and protected. The “right to worship freely and safely,” as the President remarked, is as essential as the right to bear arms. Religious freedom “was denied to Christians in Charleston, South Carolina. And that was denied Jews in Kansas City. And that was denied Muslims in Chapel Hill, and Sikhs in Oak Creek. They had rights, too.”

PC(USA) Office of Public Witness looks ahead to the 2016 campaign year

Gun violence and climate change should be top issues in upcoming presidential election

The 2016 presidential election campaign has been underway for nearly a year, but the coming months will see campaigns kick into high gear as voters begin to react to what they’ve seen and heard from the candidates. The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, director of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness, says he believes four key issues should be the major focus leading up to next November.

“Gun violence in the U.S. should be the top concern of our candidates. When we think about what has happened on our college campuses, movie theaters and other public venues, all of us are at risk when guns are in the hands of individuals who should not have them,” he says. “For the issue of safety, that needs to be addressed by all campaigns as to how they will deal with it.”

Nelson notes the PC(USA) General Assembly supports common sense gun legislation which includes universal background checks and a re-instatement of the ban on assault rifles. He says many of the killings in the past year could have been avoided if those checks were mandated.

Ministers and seminary leaders make ‘appeal to Christians’ in the US

A small group of Presbyterian leaders reached a tipping point after Republican frontrunner Donald Trump proposed a temporary ban on all Muslims entering the United States.

They had been concerned for a while about the political discourse regarding refugees and immigrants — rhetoric they considered to be a direct challenge to Christianity’s most fundamental convictions.

So Erskine Clarke, a professor emeritus of American Religious History at Columbia Theological Seminary in Georgia, reached out to fellow seminary professors and pastors in early December in search of a way to counter the words of candidates who were invoking the Christian faith as rationale for their words and actions. Some in the Triangle were on the receiving end of his inquiry.

United Methodist agency adopts Syrian refugee family

The Rev. Gary Henderson carried a load of presents as he walked toward the apartment where 3-year-old Mahmoud Nakshou greeted him in fuzzy footed pajamas with an excited "hi" and a big smile. The boy dashed inside to tell his mother their guests had arrived.

Mahmoud and his family resettled in the United States about five months ago and did not know Henderson, but faith and a desire to help brought the Christian colleagues and Muslim family together Thursday afternoon for the first time.

Henderson and his colleagues at United Methodist Communications, the Nashville-based communications agency of the United Methodist Church, decided to adopt the family of four for Christmas, gifting them warm clothes, toys and a used freezer. They delivered the presents Thursday.

United Methodist Communications staff first learned of Mahmoud and his family's experience as Syrian refugees from a November story by The Tennessean. As anti-refugee rhetoric escalated across the country, The Tennessean interviewed his mother and father, Khuloud Hamzeh and Fahed Nakshou, about the strict refugee vetting and resettlement process. They fled violence in Syria in 2011 and were resettled in Nashville as refugees in late August.

Wesley M. (Pat) Pattillo, former national RCC president, dies December 22

Wesley M. (Pat) Pattillo, Jr. retired in 2011 after ten years as associate general secretary of the National Council of Churches USA, an ecumenical ministry of 38 Christian denominations, based in New York City and Washington, DC.

Before joining the Council’s senior staff, Pattillo served for more than 30 years in leadership roles with three prominent Baptist educational institutions:
  • The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., 1965-86;
  • Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., 1986-94;
  • Hong Kong Baptist University, Kowloon, China, 1996-2001.
Pattillo earned AB and MA degrees in journalism and mass communications from the University of Georgia and Ohio State University.

He was national president of both Religion Communicators Council (1990-92) and Baptist Communicators Association. Pattillo also served as a North American board member for the World Association of Christian Communication (Toronto), which works for media justice, especially in developing nations.

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