WASHINGTON (April 7, 2006) -- Thirty-four churches and national Christian organizations, representing over 100 million Americans, have formed the broadest, most inclusive fellowship of Christian churches and traditions in the USA in a gathering at Simpsonwood Conference and Retreat Center near Atlanta, Georgia, March 28 – 31, 2006. National leaders from five Christian families --- Evangelical/Pentecostal, Historic Protestant, Historic Racial/Ethnic, Orthodox and Catholic—made the historic decision to organize officially as "Christian Churches Together in the USA" (CCT). Its mission is "to enable churches and Christian organizations to grow closer together in Christ in order to strengthen our Christian witness in the world."
The Catholic bishops of the United States voted to participate in CCT at their November 2004 meeting. A twelve-member USCCB delegation was present at the Atlanta meeting, headed by Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, a former Chairman of the Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. In accord with the structure of the new organization, the USCCB delegation chose Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore, Bishop Blaire, and Rev. Ronald G. Roberson, CSP, of the staff of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, as the three members of the CCT Steering Committee reserved for the Catholic family. Professor Ana María Pineda, R.S.M., of the Religious Studies Department of Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California, was also chosen as an at-large member of the Steering Committee. Each family also elected one of five CCT Presidents, and Cardinal Keeler agreed to serve as the first Catholic President. Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta led Morning Prayer on March 30, and extended his greetings to the participants.
From its beginning, CCT has given priority to prayer and worship, to building relationships of trust, and to discerning challenges that need to be addressed in society for more faithful Christian witness. In this meeting, the group focused on the issue of poverty in the United States, engaging in biblical reflection and in conversations with those who have experienced poverty as well as those with academic expertise. Affirming that overcoming poverty is "central to the mission of the church and essential to our unity in Christ," participants committed themselves to work together to address the causes of poverty in the United States.
The vision of CCT began with a diverse group of Christian leaders gathered in the fall of 2001 who expressed a longing for an expanded Christian conversation in this nation. At the end of that meeting, which was hosted by Cardinal Keeler in Baltimore, the group expressed the need for a new ecumenical forum in the United States in these words: "We lament that we are divided and that our divisions too often result in distrust, misunderstandings, fear and even hostility between us. We long for the broken body of Christ to be made whole, where unity can be celebrated in the midst of our diversity. We long for more common witness, vision and mission."
Over these past years, a process of mutual engagement, agreement on purposes, and organizational planning has now resulted in an historic new expression of relationships among churches. "We finally found the courage to confront our obvious and longstanding divisions and to build a new expression of unity, rooted in the Spirit, that will strengthen our mission in the world," affirmed the Reverend Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America, who has served as interim moderator. "We are filled with excitement, hope and expectation for how God will use this new expression of our fellowship together." Cardinal Keeler said he was "delighted that the work we began in Baltimore has continued to prosper."
For his part, Bishop Blaire said that "the Catholic Church is deeply committed, as integral to her mission, to the full, visible communion of all Christians. Participation in Christian Churches Together is an important step forward in the process towards Christian unity that Jesus Christ wills for us." Father Roberson said he believes the decision taken in Atlanta to establish CCT will eventually be seen as a watershed moment in the history of ecumenism in the United States. "At the same time," he said, "we did this with a sense of incompleteness. We really felt the absence of some of our country's churches, and we continue to hope they will join us in this new initiative."
In addition to the 34 participant churches and organizations, eight churches and national organization, who are considering participation, were present as observers. CCT continues to extend a warm invitation to all churches, Christian Communities and National Christian Organizations to consider becoming active participants and to working together with others to present a more credible Christian witness in and to the world.
For further information, see the website www.christianchurchestogether.org