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US churches prepare for transformation, at home and abroad

14 October 2005

Free photos available - see below.

Seminarians, students and youth delegates have expressed their determination to carry forward the ecumenical vision in the US, and have challenged church leaders to take their contribution seriously.

The young adults, many of whom will attend the WCC's 9th Assembly in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in February 2006, were attending a special event held in Chicago, 8-9 October 2005 in preparation for the Assembly. During the event, entitled "Shift your space - transform the world", they formulated "living letters" to bring back to their churches.

"We ask the church leaders to step out in faith and act in partnership," said Michael Neuroth, coordinator of the youth event, in a presentation during the annual meeting of the US Conference of WCC member churches, that took place immediately after the youth gathering.

"We recognize that greater youth participation is a reality which all of us must faithfully work towards. Our message is one of thankfulness, equal partnership, and a desire to contribute our talents toward the future work of the US conference," Neuroth said.

"As young adults people often tell us that we are the future of the church. The future is now. We share your passion, energy, faith and hope," underlined Ray Ranker, (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America). "We want to be equal partners at the board tables, where decisions are made, at the round tables, where we deliberate, and at the communion table, where we join in fellowship."

<span style="font-weight: bold; "» A milestone on the way to Porto Alegre

At the US Conference annual meeting, which doubled up as a pre-Assembly of WCC member church delegates, church representatives and ecumenists were briefed on preparations for the 9th Assembly, and discussed key issues of concern to the ecumenical movement.

For US Conference moderator Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky of the Orthodox Church in America, the pre-Assembly was "a milestone on the way to Porto Alegre".

Brazilian theologians Dr Victor Westhelle, a professor of systematic theology based in Chicago, and Dr Marcelo Schneider, a specialist in ecumenical social ethics, led plenaries on the key Assembly themes and the expectations of the Brazilian churches, while WCC staff detailed the programme arrangements.

<span style="font-weight: bold; "» Peacemaker awards

The US Conference participants turned again to the vision of a culture of peace promoted by the WCC’s global initiative, "Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV): Churches Seeking Reconciliation & Peace 2001-2010". Peacemaker awards were given by the US DOV committee to a number of groups and individuals based in the Chicago area.

Much attention was given to situations of conflict in the world, in Iraq and elsewhere. John Thomas, general minister and president of the United Church of Christ, upheld the reconciling ministry that the churches must nurture: "As we prepare for the 9th Assembly, we pray that this much-anticipated gathering of Christians will bear witness to the reconciling love of God in our violent world."

<span style="font-weight: bold; "» Changing religious context

A panel on "Ecumenism in the 21st Century" offered short presentations from a variety of perspectives, including Evangelical, Roman Catholic, youth and Hispanic, and invited participants to consider the way in which ecumenism is changing in the US as religion enters new areas of public life.

Speakers described the complex evolution of religious life in North America, with more "denominational mobility" among young people, alongside strengthened denominational identities. Evangelical and Pentecostal groups are also growing, posing new challenges to traditional ecumenical bodies.

<span style="font-weight: bold; "» Focus on Africa

The US Conference also paid particular attention to the situation of Africa as part of their preparations for the WCC 9th Assembly, which will gather under the theme "God, in your grace, transform the world."

Using the metaphor of an ecumenical "journey of hope" WCC director of management Dr William Temu reported that the WCC's "Africa Focus" had "galvanized churches and ecumenical organizations throughout the continent in practical actions to empower Africans to transform their own situations. In that sense, it is an inspiring example for all the churches which will gather at the 9th Assembly."

WCC US Office website :usa.wcc-coe.org

Photos from the annual meeting of the US Conference of the WCC and from the youth event are available on the WCC US Office website at:

usa.wcc-coe.org/photos/annual-meeting-2005.html