WASHINGTON (February 22, 2007)--A consensus on the importance of evangelism and the need to eliminate domestic poverty marked the official formation of Christian Churches Together (CCT), meeting in Pasadena, California, February 6-9. The CCT is composed of 36 churches and national organizations from virtually all U.S. Christian groups who have been seeking to come together for fellowship, worship and opportunities to share in important ministries.
Welcoming the group to Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger Mahony observed that "Christian Churches Together began in 2001 out of a deeply felt need to broaden and expand fellowship, unity, and common witness among the diverse expressions of our Christian faith today. Los Angeles, perhaps uniquely, is a wondrously religiously diverse city, a beautiful mosaic of Christian faith, with each family of Christians adding its own particular beauty and radiance to the whole tableau. It is very appropriate, therefore, that this gathering take place here for Christian Churches Together has become the broadest, most inclusive fellowship of Christian Churches and traditions in the United States," Cardinal Mahony said.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops voted to participate in CCT in November, 2004. An eleven-member USCCB delegation was present in Pasadena, headed by Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, a former Chairman of the Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. Bishop Richard J. Sklba, the current BCEIA Chairman, represented Cardinal William Keeler, the Catholic President of CCT, who was unable to attend because of illness.
"CCT is good news for American Christians," said the very Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky of the Orthodox Church in America. "Our gathering of the wider spectrum of U.S. Christian churches is succeeding in building mutual trust and overcoming stereotypes. Our common hope and expectation is that CCT will enable our churches to offer a strong and united Christian moral voice and vision in the public square."
The Pasadena meeting included over 150 participants and observers, along with a group of seminary students and young leaders. The 36 founding members includes the most recent groups to become official participants in CCT: the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America were warmly welcomed. Other groups are currently investigating membership, said the Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson of the Reformed Church in America, chair of the CCT steering committee.
"Seeing the leaders of all the participating churches and organizations standing and praying together in their commitment to this vision was a powerful, visible sign of hope," Granberg-Michaelson said. "We have said from the beginning that our purpose is to grow closer together in Christ in order to strengthen our Christian witness in the world. In Pasadena we all experienced how this is truly happening and this fills us with joy for the future."
CCT preparatory meetings began in 2001 and have been held annually. By-laws officially bringing the organization into existence were adopted at the 2006 annual gathering in Atlanta, where participants first discussed the topic of domestic poverty. The Pasadena meeting was the first to be held under the by-laws and in that sense the first full meeting to take place since CCT was formed.
Evangelism and the need to eliminate poverty in the U.S. were major topics at the Pasadena meeting.
Dr. William Shaw of the National Baptist Convention USA, Inc., declared poverty in the United States to be a "scandal." Poverty "will not be redressed without intentional and painful effort by the total U.S. community," Shaw said. "CCT calls the country's conscience to that effort and commits itself to being a part of that redressing."
CCT participants continued discussions begun at the Atlanta meeting where a committee had been appointed to find common ground and propose ways for CCT to challenge U.S. Christians and the entire country to address the tragedy of poverty at home. Participants considered the committee's proposals and approved a statement on poverty while agreeing to
address domestic poverty in the future, including a strong focus at the January 8-11, 2008 annual gathering, in Washington, D.C. (The text of the poverty statement is below).
On the first entire day of the gathering, participants addressed the theme, "Is Jesus' Proclamation Our Proclamation?" responding to Luke 4:18. They discussed evangelism in their church and faith family contexts and how evangelism shapes or includes actions towards social justice and the healing of the deep hurts in the world.
The discussion on evangelism was opened to a group of seminary students and young leaders "so that they might learn about the exciting movement for unity in the CCT as well as adding their challenges and perspectives," Granberg-Michaelson said. The group of students represented the diversity of the five faith families of the CCT. "Their excitement and contributions were welcomed and CCT leadership expects to look for ways to include these perspectives in the future," Granberg-Michaelson said. The five CCT families include the Evangelical/Pentecostal, Orthodox, Catholic, historic Protestant and Racial/Ethnic churches.
The Catholic presentation on the theme was given by Rev. John Hurley, CSP, former Executive Director of USCCB's Secretariat for Evangelization. He said that it was not until the mid-1960s that the Catholic Church experienced a "reawakening of evangelization as the essential mission of the church" at the urging of Pope Paul VI. The renewed Catholic emphasis on evangelization has been holistic, Fr. Hurley said, adding that "evangelizing means bringing the Good News of Jesus into every human situation and seeking to convert individual and society."
Bishop Blaire noted that one of the common threads discovered in the discussion was an understanding that evangelism is rooted in personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Shared learning is a crucial part of the fellowship of the CCT. As each family shared some history, perspectives and practices related to evangelism with vulnerability and humility, the other churches listened intently. Participants wrestled with the challenge to consider future cooperative possibilities while recognizing and affirming the common efforts and cooperation that already exist on many levels.
Further enhancing the learning and fellowship of the gathering, worship services included liturgies from all of the five faith families and musical contributions from a Korean choir of pastors' wives. At the invitation of His Eminence, Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, CCT participated in Evening Prayer and dinner at the Armenian Orthodox Center of Los Angeles. Prayer and meal fellowship adds to the formal discussions in creating the CCT movement and building relationships.
The service of celebration and commitment on Wednesday evening included words of welcome from Cardinal Mahony and Rev. Dr. Barbara Anderson, co-pastor of Pasadena Presbyterian Church, host of the service. The Coptic Orthodox Choir of the Diocese of Los Angeles and other musical contributions complimented scriptural readings and words from the five presidents on the importance of joining this movement for Christian unity.
Dr. William Shaw of the National Baptist Convention USA, Rev. Larry Pickens of the United Methodist Church, Bishop James Leggett of the International Pentecostal Holiness Church, Father Leonid Kishkovsky of the Orthodox Church in America, and Bishop Richard Sklba representing Cardinal Keeler joined together as the presidents of the five faith families of CCT and, in a symbolic action of lighting candles, committed themselves "to grow closer together in Christ in order to strengthen our Christian witness in the world."
Discussing the importance of the CCT initiative, Bishop Sklba said that the Catholic bishops "are convinced of our duty to obey and to embrace the Lord's call for unity within and among the Churches." He recalled that Cardinal Keeler was particularly pleased to have hosted in 2001 the first meeting leading to the formation of CCT in Baltimore, the oldest Catholic Archdiocese in the nation. He went on to say that when Pope John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council, he listed the restoration of Christian unity as one of the primary goals of that historic meeting. "Almost half a century later, Bishop Sklba said, "the Catholic bishops see Christian Churches Together as an opportunity to bring us into greater conformity with the will of Christ, and to enable all who have been baptized in Christ to give united witness to the Lord's saving Death and Resurrection."
More information, including documentation and photos, can be found on the CCT website at: http://www.christianchurchestogether.org/
The full text of the CCT statement on poverty is below.
Christian Churches Together's Statement on Poverty
As Christian leaders in the wealthiest society on earth, we are called by God to urge our churches and nation to strengthen and expand efforts to address the scandal of widespread poverty in the United States and around the world. The Gospel and our ethical principles place our service of the poor and vulnerable and our work for justice at the center of Christian life and witness.
Our common faith compels us. Christ our Lord teaches us that when we serve and stand with "the least of these," we serve and stand with Him. Our Bible teaches us in hundreds of places that the God we worship has a special concern for the poor. God judges individuals and societies by how they respond to the needs of the poor. As leaders in Christian Churches Together, we believe that a renewed commitment to overcome poverty is central to the mission of the church and essential to our unity in Christ. Therefore in order to obey our God, respect the dignity of every person, and promote the common good of society, we must act. Our focus here is domestic poverty, but we reaffirm our commitment to overcome poverty all around the world.
Widespread and persistent poverty challenges us to action. The painful truth is that about thirty-seven million people in our country live below the poverty line. Tragically, 18 percent of all our children struggle in poverty. The sad reality is that millions in our nation work hard and still cannot escape poverty. We lament this ongoing poverty.
Our faith in Christ who is the truth compels us to confront the ignorance of and indifference to the scandal of widespread, persistent poverty in this rich nation. We must call this situation by its real names: moral failure, unacceptable injustice. Our faith in Christ drives us to call our churches and our society to a more urgent, united response.
We are grateful for the vast array of ways our churches are already helping millions of struggling people. We want to build on these efforts, learn from each other, and collaborate more closely. But we can, we must, do more.
We also recognize and encourage leaders in community, economic and public life who seek justice for poor people in our land. But we can, we must, do more. Our goal must be the elimination of poverty in this land.
As we as Christians renew and strengthen our efforts to overcome domestic poverty, we will seek to work with people of other faiths and all persons of good will in this urgent task.
Unfortunately, partisan and ideological divisions too often promote one-sided solutions and prevent genuine progress. We believe substantial success in reducing domestic poverty requires an overall framework that insists that overcoming poverty requires both more personal responsibility and broader societal responsibility, both better choices by individuals and better policies and investments by government, both renewing wholesome families and strengthening economic incentives. We believe that genuine success in reducing American poverty will require greater commitment and concrete action by all four of the following: churches, neighborhoods, communities, and faith-based and other organizations; government that implements better public policy at local, state, and federal levels; individuals and families; the market and private sector (employers, unions and other economic actors).
We are leaders of the Christian community, not an interest group. We have no partisan political agenda. We are conservatives and liberals, Independents, Republicans and Democrats. Together we believe that our faith demands and the people of this land yearn for concrete proposals that transcend divisive political divisions.
We give thanks to God for bringing together at one Christian table in Christian Churches Together for the first time in our history representatives of almost all the families in Christianity in the United States: Evangelicals/Pentecostals, Catholics, Racial/Ethnic, Orthodox and Historic Protestants. As a united voice of Christianity in this country, we pledge to strengthen our efforts to end the scandal of widespread poverty in the richest nation in history.
CCT will promote its commitment to overcoming domestic poverty by inviting all Christians and all people, especially our leaders in public life, to embrace and implement the following objectives:
a. to strengthen families and communities; because they are essential bulwarks against poverty;
b. to reduce child poverty; we seek to cut child poverty by 50 percent in the next ten years;
c. to make work work; by combating racism and guaranteeing that full time work offers a realistic escape from poverty and access to good health care;
d. to strengthen the educational system in our country with particular attention to the public schools; because access to quality education offers perhaps the best way out of poverty.