Meanings and Expectations
The pre-ecumenical era ended very recently. In the 1930's workers at the state and local level, however expectant, were often thwarted by a feeling of frustration, because of the complexity of the cooperative enterprise, its many national agencies, and the seemingly elephantine ponderosity of its movements. This confusion has slowly given way to orderliness, though complexity remains, by the very nature of the multiplicity of church interests in relation to such a complicated culture.
Forty years ago some of us had the joy of pioneering in local councils that were "inclusive"; nearly thirty years ago Connecticut effected a merger at the state level. Then followed, in quick succession, national staff and Inter-Council field cooperation. Finally, state and local executives, many of whom had clamored for larger unity "at the top," were themselves willing to pool their strength in the ACS. By 1940, in the midst of a changing world climate, it was only a question of time until the NCC would be a reality.
If Norman Cousins is right when he says that man "has to convert historical experience into a design for a sane world,"1 church cooperation will rejoice in the progress it has made, but will be very sure that it has "not yet attained" much that the future will make necessary, if organized religion is to be a less chaotic aspect of our national life.
By and large, councils of churches seem to thrive in direct proportion to the density of the population. In 1956 the percentage of places (cities, towns, counties, and states) having councils ranged thus: