By Rev. George Reed, Executive Director NC Council of Churches
At the Council’s 75th Anniversary celebration in May, it had been my happy assignment, after hearing from several Council leaders about the past, to bring us up to today and to look ahead a bit. Unfortunately, at least for my prepared remarks, the leaders from the past spoke right up to the dinner hour, and I had the good sense to toss the remarks aside in order not to be trampled by those heading to dinner. Below, modified a bit, were the remarks I had planned to make.
I was struck, as I listened to remembrances from the past, that we really are seeing progress on issues of social justice. But it happens over a period of years or even decades.
The issues we heard about at the Anniversary are difficult ones. They have produced years of frustration and sometimes what looked like complete failure. And yet . . .
- In the area of civil rights, we’ve come from institutionalized segregation and legal injustices to Barack Obama.
- In the area of equal rights for women, where we failed to secure ratification of the ERA, most legal inequalities have been eliminated. A woman is our governor. Nearly half of the Council of State are women. We’ve elected two women to the US Senate. And, in church life, we see progress in the persons of Hope Morgan Ward, Barbara Campbell Davis, and others.
- Regarding tobacco, we’ve gone from King Tobacco, where it was national news when we acknowledged the risks of smoking, to having smoke-free restaurants and bars state-wide.
- While farmworkers are still among our most oppressed residents, we’re seen some progress in legal protections, and we’ve seen FLOC’s success in organizing some farmworkers.
This is not to say that there is nothing remaining for us to address in these areas. We need look no farther than Wake County, where the School Board met at the very hour of our Anniversary gathering to cancel the diversity policy which had gained nationwide affirmation, a move many of us believe could lead towards re-segregation of our schools.
I was also struck in hearing our leaders from the past by how the Council has often been a few steps ahead – in scouting out areas of injustice and need and in leading people of faith to respond. I believe our recent history shows that to be continuing:
- Our admission of the Metropolitan Community Church as a full member of the Council and our work for an end to discrimination against people because of their sexual orientation – Stan Kimer is the face of this work, as he is set to become the Council’s president in December. When we meet in 2035 to celebrate the Council’s 100th anniversary, I suspect that this work will rank near the top of the list in importance and in being prophetic.
- Global warming – Eleven years ago, when Collins and Sr. Evelyn started what is now NC Interfaith Power & Light, few people had global warming on their radar screens and nobody (except Al Gore, of course) saw it as an issue for people of faith. Today both the reality of human-produced climate change and the religious call to protect God’s good earth and all that dwell here are pretty well established.
- Immigration – This seems to be today’s hottest “hot-button” issue. Our work on it, of course, goes back to decades of work on migrant farmworker issues. But we have also stayed a bit ahead of the curve in addressing, from a faith perspective, the call to welcome the stranger, to move from hostility to hospitality.
- Health and healthcare – We have long advocated for universal health care. The work of Council volunteer Sandy Irving over the past year has been part of a national faith-based effort which has contributed mightily to the passage of federal legislation which moves use markedly closer to that goal of health care for all. And our newest program – Partners in Health and Wholeness – is putting us on the cutting edge in helping congregations to promote and model healthier patterns of living.
- Interfaith dialogue – Our Christian Unity Committee is moving us into much-needed conversation with Muslims and Jews. And keep in mind that this is at a time when all too many people seem to agree with the bumper sticker that says “All I need to know about Muslims I learned on 9/11.”
I would be remiss if I did not state the obvious. We are in these good places because of the wonderful staff we have.
- Jill Rios, Mark Ginsberg, and Richard Fireman in global warming. (While we were sad to say goodbye to Jill in July, we welcome Kathy Shea as the new Director of NC IPL.)
- Chris Liu-Beers in immigration
- Sandy Irving, a volunteer, on health care reform
- Willona Stallings with Partners in Health and Wholeness
- Rollin Russell, another volunteer, on Christian unity and interfaith dialogue
- Aleta Payne, who is doing remarkable work in communications and development
- Rose Gurkin, who keeps our work humming along as smoothly as possible with a group like ours, and is also our unofficial Minister of Fun
- And, David LaMotte, who joined us in July to continue our work for peace.
Now, let me look to the future. Let me mention two areas I think are of greatest importance to us as we move to the future. Both are areas in which you can help.
First, we really must reach out to younger people. If you looked around at our 75th Anniversary events, you saw lots of gray and white hair. Our future depends on our ability to bring in some younger people with the same passion for peace and justice of our gray-haired leaders. We are already taking steps in this direction:
- We are involved in a project with the Adult Education School at NC State to better use Facebook and other social networking to reach a younger generation. (This is a project first dreamed up by Colleen Wiessner, spouse of one of our Board members and a professor in that School. When she passed away last summer, suddenly and unexpectedly, two of her colleagues decided to complete the project in her memory.)
- David LaMotte, while we hired him to head our peace work, comes with an active following of current and past college students. We hope, through him, to be able to introduce them both to our work for peace and to the rest of the things we are doing.
Here’s what you can do to help: As an anniversary present to the Council, lead us to one or two new young people, people who might engage with the Council over the next forty years in the exciting ways you have engaged with us for the past forty. Who do you know who should be plugged in with what we are doing?
Second, we have the ongoing challenge of financial sustainability. Our support from individuals has increased in the past years, even as our support from member judicatories and congregations has remained flat and even declined a bit. Threats to our funding from several of our most generous member bodies make us especially aware of our vulnerability here. Our growth in programming has been because of grants, especially from The Duke Endowment, Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC Foundation, and Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, support for which we are very grateful. We are taking steps here too:
- We have created a Resource Development Committee, and it includes three experienced development professionals who give us their time and expertise.
- We have created a staff position with responsibility for development, work now in the capable hands of Aleta Payne.
What you can do to help: At the 75th Anniversary program, Rebecca Askew, one of those development professionals, appealed to us to do three things: 1) to continue faithful regular contributions to the Council, 2) to make a special, one-time gift of $75 as an Anniversary Friend, and 3) include the Council in your estate planning and by so doing become a member of our new Covenant Giving Society.
As I looked around at the 75th Anniversary events, I saw those people still living who are most responsible for where the Council is today. We were also reminded of those who have gone on, from Shelton Smith to Sr. Evelyn. But it is also you who can sustain us for the next 25 years – by financial contributions, by continuing to fill leadership positions, and by helping us to find the leaders in a new generation.
Click here to read a letter from David LaMotte on the future work of the Council.