National Churches Council Splits off from Relief Agency
Witham, Larry, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
The National Council of Churches yesterday separated its charitable arm from its indebted advocacy office and backed a plan that could dissolve the 50-year-old ecumenical group in a bid to work with Catholics and evangelicals.
"Maybe the council won't exist in three years," said the Rev. Bob Edgar, general secretary of the council, an alliance of 35 Protestant and Orthodox denominations.
"The Holy Spirit is calling us to be open to new possibilities to create a new ecumenical body, a new framework," he said.
The actions come in the wake of the council's high profile in the recent Elian Gonzalez custody battle, in which the former NCC general secretary, the Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, supported Cuba and the boy's father.
The United Methodist Board of Church and Society opened a "legal-aid fund" for private donations to help Juan Miguel Gonzalez, and its management was then shifted to the NCC's New York office.
Neither church group gave money, church officials said yesterday, though some United Methodist staff time was donated.
The attorney for Elian's father, Gregory Craig, greeted the NCC meeting Monday with thanks for its "support" in the Elian battle.
In yesterday's vote, the 50-member executive board sought a new design for its ecumenical work by 2003 and also separated the finances of Church World Service (CWS), a relief agency, from its parent body, the National Council of Churches.
Their combined annual budget, given by people in the pews of member churches, has been from $60 million to $65 million, with the relief agency receiving 85 percent.
The NCC head office, however, in recent years had used at least $4 million of CWS funds to pay its own debts for advocacy and management, causing a credibility crisis that prompted some churches to withhold donations.
"There had been blending of this money," Mr. Edgar said. He explained that now there will be two entirely different sets of books, but also one manager over both the NCC and CWS. …