Magazine article The Christian Century

New Funds Boost NCC. (News)

Magazine article The Christian Century

New Funds Boost NCC. (News)

Article excerpt

A BEHIND-THE-SCENES effort to widen the table of U.S. Christian fellowship by forming a unified mainline, Orthodox, Catholic and evangelical voice of conscience was begun two years ago by a seemingly fading ecumenical player, the National Council of Churches. Financially strapped, the NCC was dealing from a position of weakness.

But through cost-cutting measures and, most recently, a $500,000 grant from the Lilly Endowment and a $625,000 advance royalty check from a conservative Bible publisher, the National Council of Churches has balanced its books with an unrestrained smile.

"Lilly was reluctant to support the council two years ago because of our financial difficulties," said Bob Edgar, NCC general secretary. "This celebrates our recovery and gives us a kind of `Good Housekeeping' seal of approval." The grant money, to be spread over a three-year period, Will aid the NCC's fund-raising arm in seeking more outside donors. Member denominations have had to struggle to make contributions to the council.

The $625,000 check from Crossway Books received this summer carried with it a bit of irony. Well before Edgar was elected to the NCC's chief executive post in late 1999, the council had sold special rights to its Revised Standard Version Bible to Crossway. That publisher edited "a derivative" version for a theologically conservative market--the English Standard Version. Other publishers with rights from the NCC use the updated NRSV translation.

Rather than stringing out royalty checks over the term of the ten-year contract, Crossway negotiated a large advance payment. "It's a Win-win situation for us both," said John Briscoe, NCC director of development. The sum in turn enabled the NCC to erase a debt owed to Church World Service arising from their organizational separation last year, said Briscoe. "Now, we have no squirrelly footnotes in our auditor's report on this long-term [ten-year] obligation to CWS," he said. "Having a clean, clean audit is a critical part of rebuilding confidence from our [member] communions, foundations and donors."

Earning Lilly's trust again was vital. The nation's largest benefactor for religious purposes made three grants totaling nearly $1 million to the NCC in 1998, including $635,575 for electronic updating of the NCC's popular church yearbook, said Lilly spokeswoman Gretchen Wolfram. Of the new Lilly grant, Craig Dykstra, vice president for religion, said: "We were pleased to consider the promising development plan for the National Council of Churches and think that the NCC certainly has a role to play in establishing larger ecumenical conversations and relationships in the country."

The reference to larger conversations includes the work of Christian Churches Together in the U.S.A. After a first meeting in Baltimore in September 2001, representatives of mainline Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, evangelical and Pentecostal churches formulated a theological base and an eightfold purpose at an April 4-6 meeting in Chicago. The CCT steering committee, headed by Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, general secretary of the Reformed Church in America, met in Chicago at the end of July to make plans for a possibly decisive meeting at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California, January 27-29.

Between 50 and 60 representatives of denominations, churches and Christian ministries are expected, Granberg-Michaelson said. But given the social-religious distance between most theologically conservative churches and liberal-to-moderate denominations, the January conference--like the Chicago gathering--will meet privately to permit free discussion, he said.

Two key steering committee members are Bishop Tod Brown of Orange, California, the ecumenical point man for the U.S. Catholic bishops, and Commissioner John A. Busby, national commander of the evangelical-oriented Salvation Army. …

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