13 March (ENInews)–For years, advocates for greater unity among Christian churches have wrung their hands amid talk of an “ecumenical winter.” But now, 10 years after leaders took the first steps toward forming the broad-based group Christian Churches Together in the USA (CCT), some have hopes that U.S. churches may be entering a new season of closer relations.
At a recent CCT meeting in Memphis, Tennessee, 85 Christians — Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox, white and nonwhite — made pilgrimages to historic sites of the civil rights movement, Religion News Service reports. They also made plans to use next year’s 50th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” to pursue anti-poverty projects with houses of worship unlike their own.
“I would like to think of it as an ecumenical spring and that we do not yet know what will break forth,” said the Rev. Stephen J. Sidorak Jr., ecumenical staff officer of the United Methodist Church. “I think that there’s the potential for the ecumenical movement to be more alive than it’s ever been because it will be more inclusive.”
In many ways, the movement that has grappled with theological differences, leadership struggles, finances — and even what to call itself — is in the midst of major down-sizing that they hope will lead to wider engagement:
– The National Council of Churches (NCC), the flagship agency of ecumenism, has shrunk from some 400 staffers in its heyday in the 1960s to fewer than 20. It is seeking a “transitional general secretary” after its executive, the Rev. Michael Kinnamon, stepped down on 31 December.
– Churches Uniting in Christ, a network that dates to the 1960s, closed its office doors in 2010 and one of its nine affiliated denominations — the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church — has suspended its membership. CUIC’s remaining leaders hope to continue to address racism and shared ministries.
– CCT itself is looking for new leadership after its part-time executive director announced his retirement. Though it includes “families” of Catholic, Orthodox, historic and evangelical Protestant faiths, it has struggled to find acceptance among the “historic racial/ethnic” churches.
Ecumenical veterans say a movement that was built on slow-moving bureaucracies needs to find a way to stay nimble in the 21st century. “It’s a little bit like keeping the post office running,” said the Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, the outgoing president of CCT’s historic Protestant family.