From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
New NCCCUSA President Craig Anderson
CAROL_FOUKE.firstname.lastname@example.org (CAROL FOUKE)
21 Nov 1997 19:15:10
National Council of the Churches of Christ in the
Contact: Wendy S. McDowell, NCC, 212-870-2227
NEW NCC PRESIDENT ENVISIONS OPPORTUNITY FOR VITAL
ECUMENICAL WITNESS AT TURN OF THE MILLENNIUM
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
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
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
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
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
"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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