Church World Service Ponders Role in NCC

From Religious News Service

A committee charged with steering the National Council of Churches through a financial and organizational crisis is beginning its work with mixed signals about the council’s largest program unit.

In question is whether Church World Service, the NCC’s relief and development agency and the focus of much heated debate within the last year, wishes to become an autonomous agency or remain within the council.

Input from each of the council’s units is being solicited by the Committee of Fifteen, a panel headed by United Methodist Bishop Melvin Talbert of San Francisco, scheduled to submit recommendations on the crisis to the Governing Board in May.

At a Nov. 29 meeting in Chicago, members of the Church World Service unit committee approved a statement to Talbert’s committee encouraging reconstitution of Church World Service as a “discrete organization” governed by its own board of directors. The CWS board, they said, should have “full responsibility and authority” for setting policy, finances and staffing.


However, some relief agency officers are now saying that statement could be misunderstood and have written a second letter to Talbert’s committee saying they want “to communicate clearly . . . the intention of CWS to remain in close relationship with the NCC and/or its successor bodies.”

At its first meeting in December, Talbert’s committee also received a letter from a high-ranking United Methodist missions official suggesting that Church World Service remain within the council structure, according to an official report from the NCC.

“Although there were voices (in the CWS unit committee on Nov. 29) which asked for independence and autonomy for CWS, that position was not the final action of the committee nor was it the position of the majority of members of CWS,” said the Rev. Randolph Nugent, general secretary of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. “We believe CWS must remain within the council.”

Church World Service has been at the center of a debate in the NCC over the degree to which the council’s agencies should be responsible to the Governing Board and contribute funds to provide for council-wide services.

Historically, Church World Service has operated with a significant degree of independence. But dwindling finances have resulted in increasing attempts to “rein in” the agency.