July 16, 2007
Report from Wisconsin
Last Monday's column ("Campus Funding Frays," July 9) incorrectly stated that the Rosenberger case was decided in 1991. The case was decided in 1995.
Last month, I spent a page sighting activities in mainline Protestant bodies as exemplified in a large congregation, and extrapolating on the basis of that to smaller ones everywhere ("Mainline Mission," June 4). Today I focus on a Council of Churches in order to look at councils of churches. I do this because I have spent the week in Wisconsin, on cherished (for the Martys) Washington Island, off the tip of the Door Peninsula. It was our home for all of summer, decades ago, but now we are able to go for only a week. For eleven years we held retreats there, but decided to quit while we were ahead. Mine was a week of great great-grandparenting and family leisure, so I did not even stop by to look in on the Washington Island Forum, led this year by notables Barbara Brown Taylor and Tom Long. The Wisconsin Council sponsors it, and the Christian Century, in which I have a finger, has a hand in it. The Forum is an annual highlight.
I waited until the Forum was over to mention it because the publishers of Sightings, like most publishers, know that it is opening a can of caterpillars to use a newsletter as a free bulletin board for "Forthcoming Events." Why? Because most readers can't go to most of them, so detail is irrelevant, and advertising shouldn't be free, they tell me. So to keep my covenant with subscribers I will list no dates of forthcoming events of the WCC, and will mainly point to events of a typical season in a typical Council. (And I have sentimental ties to this one, having spoken for a milestone anniversary many years ago.)
Now, in the nature of things, such councils are always under-staffed, under-budgeted, and under-noticed, but they coordinate and/or are the pulse of many things that go on in the putatively languishing mainline. They are under-noticed in part because the mainline is not adept at or focused on the media. They make news this century mainly because they are torn over the issue of homosexuality.
So what goes on, beyond the Forum? To those who think mainliners are wishy-washy, one should point out that its website identifies the Wisconsin Council as a collection of churches which proclaim the Triune God and redemption in Jesus Christ. It helps equip the "missional church." On its agenda are topics like hunger, health care, housing, nonviolence, poverty, and other issues which their leaders are told should not be their focus the way homosexuality and abortion are, but which they find hard to avoid because of the hundreds of pages in their Bibles which do address such issues. And they announce some strong "Bible-believing topics," such as Susan Briehl's workshops on the Gospel of John at three sites, and workshops by James Bailey on the Gospel of Matthew.
There are churchly concerns, such as lay ministry and relationships among religions and cultures, and some probing of church and state issues, with one workshop on advocacy, whose singularity suggests that it's not an overdone topic.
Note that this Illinoisan is not "promoting" Wisconsin. Hit the link provided in the "References" below, and you will find that most of the other forty-nine states have analogous agencies, and there are hundreds of non-state bases as well. They may seem to fly "under the radar" of the media, but they help fly reconnaissance and other missions whose beneficiaries are well aware of them.
For more information about the Wisconsin Council of Churches and other agencies, please visit: http://www.ecumenism.net/agencies/usa.htm.
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.
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