Like many mainline Protestant institutions, the National Council of Churches has had a rough couple of years. Once the public face of American Protestantism, the NCC is now just another face in the crowd. Yet with new leadership and a retooled mission, the NCC is poised to rebound from its low ebb of influence and carries a great deal of promise into the future.
At the end of the year Joan Brown Campbell will conclude her nine-year tenure at the helm of the National Council of Churches. But she won't be relinquishing her role as a champion of the ecumenical movement. She will become director of religion at the Chautauqua Institute in New York state, overseeing religious programs and interfaith services.
This month the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and representatives of its 35 member communions will journey to Cleveland, the city of the NCC's founding in 1950, to celebrate (a few months early) its golden anniversary.
Often I hear it said, "If the National Council of Churches came to an end, church leaders would gather and decide to create something like it again." I agree. And that might be the best thing that could happen. The NCC's immediate financial crisis is but the symptom of a deeper crisis. Trust in the NCC by the leaders and constituency of many of its member communions has been severely eroded.
Robert Edgar, whose four-year term as general secretary of the National Council of Churches begins January 1, will commute between New York and Southern California for two months while he wraps up his responsibilities at the School of Theology at Claremont. He is expected to be virtually full time at the council by March.
The National Council of Churches, its existence threatened by persistent deficits, inept financial management and denominational apathy, approved plans at a November 9-12 meeting to eliminate 34 staff positions, mandated a gaunt new structure, and OK'd the framework for a balanced year 2000 budget that would include a built-in 10 percent surplus.