From the Worldwide Faith News archives

New NCCCUSA President Craig Anderson

Date 21 Nov 1997 19:15:10

National Council of the Churches of Christ in the 
Contact: Wendy S. McDowell, NCC, 212-870-2227


Brings Experience as Educator and as South Dakota 

 WASHINGTON, D.C., Nov. 12 ---- Episcopal Bishop 
Craig Barry Anderson, the new President of the 
National Council of Churches (NCC), envisions new 
opportunities for the NCC to be a clear and bold 
Christian witness on the brink of the millennium.

 Bishop Anderson, currently the Rector at St. 
Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire, will be 
installed as NCC President in a special service at 
the Washington National Cathedral on November 12.  
He will begin serving his two-year term on January 
1, 1998.

 The President is the NCC's highest unsalaried 
leadership position, somewhat like the president of 
the board of a corporation.  The General Secretary 
is the highest salaried position, equivalent to the 
chief executive officer of a company.  The NCC is 
made up of thirty-four denominations representing 
some 52 million Christians.

 "I have a strong belief in the NCC as a body 
that needs to be strengthened in an increasingly 
secular and pluralistic age," Bishop Anderson said.  
"If we did not have a strong NCC then we would have 
to invent one, because the world is looking for a 
Christian witness that transcends parochialism and 
is not interested simply in institutional survival.  
We have a unique opportunity, unlike any other in 
the recent past, to work cooperatively and practice 
ecumenical principles."

 The NCC's General Secretary, the Rev. Dr. Joan 
Brown Campbell, said that "as an educator, Craig 
Anderson understands that ecumenical formation is 
crucial if we are to strengthen the ecumenical 
movement into the next century.  Serving at the turn 
of the millennium, he stands in the grand tradition 
of Bishop Henry Knox Sherrill and Cynthia Wedel, 
other Episcopalians who served as NCC presidents at 
crucial times in our history.  Given his diverse 
background as an educator, ecumenist and leader in 
his communion, he is uniquely equipped to serve the 
NCC at this time."

Bishop Anderson's Ministry Marked by Commitment to 

 Bishop Anderson comes by ecumenical work both 
denominationally and experientially.  "The genius of 
Anglicanism, of the Episcopal Church, is to be a 
bridge church," he explained.  "The Episcopal Church 
is the 'via media,' the middle way, between Roman 
Catholicism and Protestantism.  It defines itself in 
its catechism in seeing ministry primarily as 
reconciliation.  That is why the Episcopal Church 
has played a role in befriending Orthodox 
congregations and in fostering ecumenical dialogue, 
especially among churches of the catholic family."

 "One of the reasons we are trusted by the 
Orthodox Church is that we have never proselytized," 
Bishop Anderson said.  "We have been open to other 
faiths without demanding conversion.  Whether by 
supporting Native American spirituality or housing 
Orthodox congregations, we have been open to sharing 
our resources."

 Bishop Anderson's own personal trajectory has 
also been particularly engaged in ecumenical 
efforts.  "My whole ministry has been defined by an 
interest in ecumenism," he said.  "I have served on 
the board of the NCC for nine years and been 
committed to that work.  As an educator, I have also 
always been ecumenically concerned, whether during 
my time as President and Dean at General Seminary in 
New York City, where we are organically related to 
the Jewish Christian Center, or at St. Paul's 
School, which is based in the Anglican tradition but 
open to all faith groups."

 Bishop Anderson's understanding of the vital 
need for ecumenism was especially developed during 
his nine years as the eighth Bishop of South Dakota.

 He explained, "in South Dakota, which is the 
poorest diocese in the Episcopal Church, there were 
not many dollars and not many people but many basic 
needs, like feeding the hungry, clothing the cold, 
and combating the structures of oppression and 
institutional racism on the reservation.  There was 
a deep recognition that unless we worked together, 
sharing cost and personnel, the work would simply 
not get done.

 The situation on the reservation, where there 
was a violation of not only civil and legal rights 
of Native Americans but also basic human rights, 
necessitated a grass roots ecumenism," Bishop 
Anderson said.  "Through the South Dakota 
Association of Christian Churches, which includes 
the Roman Catholic Church, we were able to 
acknowledge the ninety percent on which we agreed.  
Although we talked about the things we did not agree 
on, we were unwilling to let those differences be an 
obstacle to the imperative of the gospel to attend 
to human need and work for justice.

 Sometimes the need was straightforward, like 
getting dollars together for food and fuel in harsh 
winters," Bishop Anderson said, "but we also 
addressed the violence that occasioned racism.  Our 
efforts resulted in a 'decade of reconciliation' in 
South Dakota, which ended up being endorsed by the 
governor.  This was a good example of the churches 
bringing appropriate pressure to bear on 
governmental structures to promote justice, 
righteousness and healing.  It was also a clear 
example of how ecumenical ministry and theology can 
effect public policy."

Bishop Anderson Hopes for Stronger Public Policy 

 His experience in South Dakota thus reaffirmed 
Bishop Anderson's ongoing interest in the 
relationship of the church and the formation of 
public policy.  "My interest deepened when I was a 
Mershon post-doctoral fellow at Ohio State 
University where I did research and teaching in the 
area of public policy and theology," he said.

 Bishop Anderson said he has hopes for the NCC 
in this arena.  "We need to do a better job in the 
NCC of allowing theology to inform public policy," 
he said.  "We should not allow the voice of mainline 
churches to be co-opted by undue influence from 
those religious bodies aligned with the Religious 
Right, nor should the NCC be dominated by special 
interest or pressure groups."

 That is why Bishop Anderson purposefully 
recommended Washington, D.C., and the Washington 
National Cathedral as the sites for the beginning of 
his presidency.  "The NCC is at a critical juncture 
historically," he said.  "We need to provide 
forceful and thoughtful influence on governmental 
structures.  Andrew Young's willingness to serve as 
President-elect is a great gift which underscores 
this concern."

 We must not succumb to the religious slogans of 
either conservatives or liberals," he said.  "We are 
a moderating group by virtue of our makeup.  But the 
NCC suffers from some old perceptions.  We need to 
communicate with clarity and conviction exactly who 
we are today.

 It seems to me that all the signs and 
conditions are right for a new vision, to step out 
boldly," Bishop Anderson continued.  He pointed to 
the Burned Churches Fund as "one of the best 
examples in recent years of the NCC having a clear 
sense of purpose and not being apologetic about our 
work identifying and responding to injustice.  And 
look at the response!"

 He said the task for the NCC now is to address: 
"How do we take a project like the Burned Churches 
Fund, communicate that it is emblematic of who and 
what we are, then talk about our other important 
ministries, like the work we do in advocacy, Bible 
translation and world relief?"

Lakota Spirituality Informs Bishop Anderson's Vision 
for the NCC

 Bishop Anderson said he sees one of his 
challenges to be "moving beyond different, competing 
interest groups and structures" to be a President of 
all.  "As President of the NCC, I don't want to be 
captive to any one agenda, but to be open to all and 
to coordinate the many gifts and voices that are the 
NCC," he said.

 To answer this new "call" to be President, 
Bishop Anderson said he will draw on his learnings 
in South Dakota.  "My experience on the Pine Ridge 
Reservation formed my understanding of church and 
spirituality," Bishop Anderson revealed.  "One of 
the most powerful things I learned from Lakota 
spirituality is that we are part of the circle, not 
the center of it.  That is, the concept of community 
defines the self and not the other way around.

 Because our culture is so narcissistic, we tend 
to put ourselves in the center, either as 
individuals or religious groups," he reflected.  "We 
have an excessive concern for rights rather than a 
deep responsibility and accountability to the other 
in our midst."

Bishop Anderson's ongoing commitment to American 
Indian and Alaska Natives informs his work and 
shapes his vision of the NCC.  "In the words of the 
Lakota people, 'mitakuye owasin,' we are all 
related," he said.  "We can no longer compete among 

 "I know that family metaphors are fraught with 
difficulty," Bishop Anderson said, "but unless we 
can look at the NCC as the family of God, or in 
Lakota, 'tiospaye wakan,' the 'holy family,' we will 
be divided.  Institutional language is too limiting.  
In the past, our very structure militated against 
what we were trying to embody - unity - but now we 
have a new structure for a new day.  The time is 
right for the NCC to embody this new structure which 
is designed to serve the world in the name of Jesus 
the Christ.

 "I feel this election to be an election in the 
biblical and theological sense of a call," Bishop 
Anderson said.  "I think the NCC is crucial to the 
future of American Christianity as we know it, and I 
believe God is calling us to an intentional and 
prophetic ministry of reconciliation."



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