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Historic Occasion: Pentecostal Presence at the National Council of Churches of Christ General Assembly

Historic Occasion: Pentecostal Presence at the National Council of Churches of Christ General Assembly

I am especially grateful to have been the first ever formally endorsed invited guest and observer from the Church of God (Cleveland, TN) at the National Council of Churches General Assembly in Minneapolis, Minnesota (Nov 10-12, 2009). This was truly an historic occasion.

The theme of the Assembly was “Rejoice Always, Pray without ceasing, Give thanks in all circumstances (I Thessalonians 5:16-18, NRSV.) Some commented that although at first glance this seemed inappropriately optimistic in the face of world conditions, it actually reflects the Church’s faith that God has called them together to proclaim the gospel and restore justice to the world. Staff leaders of two sister two organizations – the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, and the Rev. John L. McCullough, Executive Director and CEO of Church World Service – each described alarming conditions in which millions live in the nation and around the world, and called upon the member communions to recommit themselves to proclaiming this gospel of hope and justice. Dr Kinnamon in particular said it was appropriate for Christians to be openly outraged about the state of the world. However, he also called the NCC to repentance and to remember the cause for which God first raised it up: the unity of the body of Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Dr Kinnamon also invited me to address the Assembly briefly, bringing greetings from the Church of God and from other Pentecostals in expressed appreciation for the meeting. I particularly stressed the work of the Holy Spirit in the world today. There was a great deal of applause then and later personal expressions of affirmation for the global role of the Church of God and Pentecostalism in general today. Partly as a result of this public exposure and partly as a result of some previous personal relationships, I spent a great deal of time talking with people about global Pentecostalism. I also passed out some literature and contact information. Many inquirers approached me. In short, I shared my Pentecostal testimony with others!

The NCC GA also had regular worship services with each one led by a different Christian tradition, and daily prayer times and Bible studies (with Bibles provided by the American Bible Society through the mediation of President R. Lamar Vest, former Presiding Bishop of the Church of God). The emphasis overall, however, was on social action. Emphasis was on alleviating poverty and establishing justice and peace; but economic crisis, health care reform, nuclear proliferation, and global water shortages were also addressed. A few times climate change came up too, along with some evidence of prolife presence and women’s rights advocacy. Ecumenism and interfaith issues repeatedly surfaced. A highlight was when Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty came. After breakfast, he addressed the GA, highlighting the importance of God and religion in American public life and government. Further, Dr Richard L. “Dick” Hamm, Executive Director of Christian Churches Together (CTT) was present and strongly stressed partnering with Evangelicals and Pentecostals to the entire GA. We have agreed to follow up on discussing Pentecostals and CTT.

As it turns out, another Pentecostal, my friend Andrew Hudson, was also present. Andrew was one of two senior stewards at NCC. He was a steward last year as well through application and this year he was asked and nominated to be one of the leaders of this group. He was also the chair of the worship committee for the New Fire young adult ecumenical conference in the preconference program. The committee was made up of 3 members and 12 denominations. Brother Hudson was the only Pentecostal. He is the son of a Church of God pastor and is himself an ordained minister from Western North Carolina. Andrew is a 2nd year Master of Divinity student at Princeton Theological Seminary. Further, he is the co-moderator for ACTS (Association of Charismatic and Pentecostal Theological Students) at Princeton Seminary. He is the multicultural ministries director for Mt. Bethel Church of God in Trenton, NJ and a member of the youth advisory board for the Church of God in NJ. Brother Hudson is as an example of some of our best and brightest young ministers and students who are becoming increasingly interested in ecumenical ministries. We were both very well received.

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Category: Church History

About the Author: Tony Richie, D.Min, Ph.D., is missionary teacher at SEMISUD (Quito, Ecuador) and adjunct professor at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary (Cleveland, TN). Dr. Richie is an Ordained Bishop in the Church of God, and Senior Pastor at New Harvest in Knoxville, TN. He has served the Society for Pentecostal Studies as Ecumenical Studies Interest Group Leader and is currently Liaison to the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches (USA), and represents Pentecostals with Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation of the World Council of Churches and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs. He is the author of Speaking by the Spirit: A Pentecostal Model for Interreligious Dialogue (Emeth Press, 2011) and Toward a Pentecostal Theology of Religions: Encountering Cornelius Today (CPT Press, 2013) as well as several journal articles and books chapters on Pentecostal theology and experience.

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