Magazine article The Christian Century

Andrew Young to NCC Post

Magazine article The Christian Century

Andrew Young to NCC Post

Article excerpt

HE IS KNOWN as a former ambassador, congressman and mayor, but Andrew M. Young considers himself, most of all, to be a pastor. "I viewed being in the Congress ... like I was pastor of a 435-member church," said Young, who represented a Georgia district in the 1970s. As the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and Atlanta's mayor, he considered his efforts at negotiation to be a version of the Christian tradition of "breaking bread." Now Young will put his negotiating skills and religious fervor into practice again as the president of the National Council of Churches, an ecumenical organization of 35 Protestant and Orthodox denominations that is struggling with financial problems and facing organizational challenges.

Young, 67, who worked for the New York-based council in the 1950s before becoming active in the civil rights movement, said the ecumenical body and mainline Protestantism in general are in need of "a dramatic infusion of the spirit," one that could lead adherents to address issues such as poverty more effectively. "I think American Protestantism is at a crisis moment," said Young, a member of the United Church of Christ. "It's not just that people are losing interest in the ecumenical movement. They're losing interest in their own denominations and they're losing interest in the mainstream local churches."

But Young's plans for helping to shape the council and the ecumenical community it represents are shadowed by his announcement in early October that he has "very early cancer of the prostate." In a letter to Joan Brown Campbell, NCC general secretary, Young said, "The good news is that my doctor confirms that the disease was detected early and is highly curable."

Campbell noted that Young, who is scheduled for surgery in December, will be installed November 11 as the president of the council at the group's General Assembly in Cleveland but will not participate in an NCC delegation's trip to Cuba in December. He expects to resume his full schedule after February.

Young will become the NCC's 20th president, serving from 2000 to 2001 as essentially the chairman of the board of the council which is poised to celebrate its 50th anniversary but faces a very uncertain future. In recent weeks the United Methodist Church, the NCC's largest member denomination, temporarily suspended its funding of the council because of concerns about an expected budget shortfall of about $4 million this year.

Young said he became Atlanta's mayor when the city was in decline and has been involved in many other challenging situations. "It's only when we're at the end of our power and are almost in despair over our own human weakness that we are open to God's power in our own lives and in our institutions and culture," he said in a phone interview.

Young's experience in the corporate and political worlds as well as religious realms was a key factor in the nominating committee's unanimous endorsement of him as the NCC's president. "I think Andy's sense of positive leadership and his experience in the corporate world will help us choose the right paths toward steady performance and steady economic support," said Jeffrey R. Newhall, pastor of Greendale People's Church in Worcester, Massachusetts, and chair of the nominating committee that chose Young. "If ever there was a man called for such a moment as this, it's Andrew Young. …

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