The election of female Disciples leaders to the boards of two ecumenical organizations is a reflection of the changing face of ecumenism, says the Rev. Robert K. Welsh, president of the Council on Christian Unity, the denomination’s ecumenical office.
The Rev. Sharon E. Watkins, general minister and president, begins her term in January as vice president on the governing board of the National Council of Churches (NCC), while Week of Compassion’s executive director, the Rev. Amy Gopp, will serve as 1st vice chairperson of the Church World Service (CWS) board of directors.
“There’s a whole new emerging focus for ecumenism” in North America, said Welsh, president of the Disciples’ Council on Christian Unity.
The election of Watkins and Gopp “represents the forward-looking perspective on ecumenism as we look at a changing landscape for the church and society today,” he added.
Justice and equality issues, particularly racial justice, are high priorities for the NCC and other groups seeking to model Christian unity. While Welsh credited the NCC for being at the forefront of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, he explained that ecumenical groups “can no longer say we want to witness about racial injustice in our society, and leave injustice alive and well within our churches.”
Watkins said the NCC “really tries to walk alongside those in the society and the world who are most vulnerable, believing that is where Jesus would be and where we should be.”
Welsh said that Watkins and Gopp “represent the cutting edge of leadership not only for us Disciples, but for the wider church in North America.” While female heads of denominations, communions, and ecumenical organizations are still scarce, “their election represents the direction and new emphasis,” he said.
The NCC is also interested in engaging the growing charismatic and emergent movements in North America, said Welsh, who chairs the NCC’s Ecclesiastical Relations Committee.
The changing North American religious landscape is leading the NCC to re-evaluate its vision and structures, he said.
Church World Service is also reframing its mission after a four-year period strategic visioning process. The 65 year-old humanitarian relief and development organization recently revealed its CWS 2020 Vision, which places greater emphasis on CWS as a global leader in eradicating hunger, and emphasizes community-based solutions.
Week of Compassion partners with CWS to assist refugees and alleviate the effects of global poverty on behalf of Disciples.
For more on Church World Service and the CWS 2020 Vision, see: www.CWS2020.org