Top ecumenical planners from the Vatican and the World Council of Churches conferred once again at Rome December 1–5 with enough straws in the wind to thatch at least a modest common dwelling. One topic was plans for a WCC-Vatican peace consultation at Bossey, Switzerland, next June. Another possibility: Vatican membership in the WCC.

Just before the meeting opened, a special commission of cardinals called for some strategic rewriting of Holland’s liberal, Protestantized “New Catechism.” And at his general audience on the 4th, Pope Paul VI uttered one of his strongest statements against those within the Roman fold who question church traditions. “When it comes to its own teaching,” he vowed, “the Church is intransigent and dogmatic—at any cost.”

Yet the very ferment that troubles the Vatican’s soul could, in a back-door way, further the ecumenical cause, as Catholicism inches toward the loose authority, doctrinal variety, and secular involvement that have characterized recent Protestant history.

Fueling speculation was the Geneva meeting of leaders from the world’s major Protestant confessional groupsLutheran World Federation, Anglican Communion, World Alliance of Reformed Churches, Baptist World Alliance, World Methodist Council, International Congregational Council, World Convention of Churches of Christ (Disciples), Friends World Committee, International Conference of Old Catholic Bishops, Orthodox Patriarchates of Constantinople and Moscow, and the Salvation Army. The 1968 meeting also drew observers from the Seventh-day Adventist Church and the Reformed Ecumenical Synod, and the Mennonites may be joining. late last month. The loosely-organized Conference of Secretaries of World Confessional Families has met annually since 1957. But guest Father Jerome Hamer of the Vatican Christian-unity secretariat made this year’s session memorable with a strong hint that the Roman Catholic Church may be its next member.

“The Roman Catholic Church is a church, it is a family, it is a people. It can be considered a world confessional family,” he said, and conferees invited Rome to join the conference—with the same status as other communions. The Catholic question was high on the agenda generally, and Hamer offered a thorough review of burgeoning talks with Protestant groups around the world.

Echoing Uppsala, World Council of Churches Faith and Order director Lukas Vischer described current ecumenism as preparation for a “truly ecumenical council of the whole of Christianity,” and urged the confessional officials to work more closely with the WCC. World Council Secretary Eugene Carson Blake—who heads the WCC’s twice-a-year talks with the Vatican unity agency—said the Church needs a “united voice in international affairs.”

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WCC staffer Tatiana Athanasiadis said recently in the WCC press service that Catholic membership in the WCC was considered a “premature” question only a matter of months ago, but not since Uppsala. He finds no legal or theological “obstacles” to membership, but says there may be “practical and psychological” ones. The most obvious is the WCC’s proportionate representation based on membership, which would give Catholics half the chairs in administrative offices. Athanasiadis says the WCC view is that “viable solutions can be found only if both sides are willing to exercise considerable imagination.”

In the July issue of the WCC’s Ecumenical Review, Vischer cautiously urged further talks on the matter, and Father Thomas Stransky of the Vatican secretariat said Catholics may feel “uncomfortable” amid the predominant “Protestant thought-patterns” in the World Council.

Meanwhile, the Vatican secretariat has been polling the national hierarchies on ideas for common action with non-Catholics, based on proposals from a meeting with Anglicans earlier this year. Comments were generally favorable except on sharing of churches and seminary education. Officials said several U. S. experiments in the latter direction are permissible as long as they stop short of cross-registration.


The Prague-based Christian Peace Conference is confronting its most serious crisis because member churches take opposite sides over Soviet interference in Czechoslovak affairs. The rift within CPC is as big as the East-West rift used to be, says President Josef Hromádka.

After the Prague occupation, CPC executives met behind closed doors in Paris and issued a statement that all but covered up differences. But during a recent trip to Geneva, Hromádka admitted CPC’s future is in danger.

The CPC office had protested “the injustice of the invasion” but Russian Patriarch Alexei rebuked the statement, said staffers had no right to issue it, and wants the executive committee to condemn them.

Meanwhile the World Council of Churches is also in hot water for criticizing the Soviet action. East Germany’s Professor Gerhard Bassarak said that Eugene Carson Blake acted “irresponsibly” and that it’s time to face the “problem of anti-Communism” within the WCC.

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Ecclesiastical Espionage?

A designer of “urban church models” on the New York City staff of a major denomination says the “Christological model” has no relevance to today’s church.

The official, wary of being quoted by name because of church reaction, made the comments to a CHRISTIANITY TODAY reporter at a recent black-power meeting. He admits he is working “from the inside for the destruction of the church … in order to resurrect something better. Traditional theological and institutional forms don’t work anymore.”

In response to a question, he said, “A personal relationship with Christ never occurred to me,” but rebounded with, “I’ve heard those terms all my life and they are meaningless to me. I see no relevance of a personal relationship to Christ in a world filled with systems and structures.”

“I never go to church except when I preach,” he said. “Preaching does something to me. I’m pretty good with the spoken word.… I don’t think that’s hypocritical, do you?”

Chastising An Orthodox Critic

A scholarly Greek Orthodox priest was found guilty last month of rocking the ecclesiastical boat. Eusebius Stephanou, 44, was barred from priestly functions for six months after a “spiritual court” determined he had undermined the authority of the archdiocese in a new magazine he edits (See March 1 issue, page 46).

The monthly Logos has criticized Archbishop Iakovos, the top Greek Orthodox prelate for North and South America. Its published aim is to promote “Orthodox re-awakening.” As late as October it carried an advertisement for a book in which the Archbishop called Stephanou “one of the most learned and enlightened ordained theologians of our Church.”

Stephanou’s suspension temporarily removes him from his small parish in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Iakovos could overrule the court and reinstate Stephanou, but the priest said he had no immediate plans to appeal. The court, composed of three bishops, made no attempt to silence Logos, and Stephanou plans to keep it going.

During a hearing with the three bishops, Stephanou was asked to recant uncomplimentary statements directed at Iakovos in Logos, and to plead for forgiveness. He refused to do either.

Stephanou told Religious News Service the quotes in question dealt with decentralizing of the archdiocese; the archbishop‘s “inconsistent” civil-rights marching in Selma when his church needs ethnic integration; the wisdom of holding the archdiocesan congress in Greece last summer; and a charge that archdiocesan subsidies to private U. S. publishers amounted to a plan to “silence the press and criticism.”

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‘Beatitudes’ Benefit

Black ties and furs were in abundance as the American Bible Society’s social season occurred November 19 at New York City’s Lincoln Center. Moneyed lovers of both music and Word attended the first U. S. performance of Sir Arthur Bliss’s The Beatitudes, composed for the rededication of Coventry Cathedral after World War II.

Sir Arthur, 77, who holds the title “Master of the Queen’s Musick,” directed members of the New York Philharmonic and the Westminster Choir. He conducted with love and strength, revealing his work as an affirmation of Christian reconciliation.

The Beatitudes is an intermixing of Scripture and poetry set to a triumphant tonal score. He composes in early twentieth-century style: modern enough to be understood by industrialized man, yet tonal enough to be understood at all.

The work is very descriptive. The ravages of war, the hatred of man for fellow man, and the joyous calm of faith in Christ are all expressed with maturity and dignity. But most of all, it is a festival piece, composed for a ceremonial occasion by a man steeped in the history of his church and his homeland.

Those who attended the benefit concert not only contributed to the work of the Bible Society but also helped to encourage the performance of sacred music in the concert hall.


Missions: The 32 Percenters

Even though the paying/praying man in the pew, that silent partner in missions, had no part on the program, participants in the second triennial assembly of the National Council of Churches Division of Overseas Ministries (DOM) were reminded that he is still important.

The layman stood in the background as new missionary statistics were revealed. David Stowe, the top DOM executive, noted that the just published 1968 Directory of North American Protestant Ministries Overseas reported boards related to DOM and the Canadian Council of Churches barely holding their own in personnel and income, while unaffiliated and evangelical boards showed large gains.

Ecumenically oriented agencies now send only 32 per cent of the North American Protestant missionaries. In 1960 they sent 38 per cent; four years earlier, 43.5 per cent.

Said Stowe: “There is apparently going to be a rather massive continuation of missionary sending by at least some sectors of the church. Even if ecumenically related denominations dropped their personnel levels, others will almost surely continue or increase theirs.”

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United Church of Chirst relief executive Reginald H. Helfferich humorously prophesied that by 1980 the entire overseas-relief operation of the churches will be outside DOM because of the “revolt of the layman” and the success of the Consultation on Church Union.

On the final day of the assembly, a participant suggested from the floor one reason why the laymen are throwing their support to the unaffiliated evangelical agencies: a credibility gap. He begged NCC-related board officials to “tell our churches what we’re doing.”

Evangelical missions are “doing what they say they’re doing,” he said, while most laymen in churches supporting NCC-related boards still think their missionary offerings are going into evangelically oriented work.

A speaker from the floor suggested to the panel that if the man in the pew knew more of the actual work (other than evangelistic) of the ecumenically oriented missionaries, he would support it.

Also in the minds of the more than 300 agency staffers at the New Haven, Connecticut, assembly were missionary support records of such evangelical congregations as Park Street Church, Boston. Harold John Ockenga, Park Street’s pastor, participated in a dialogue on conversion, and presented several cases of individual conversions that resulted in social benefits for the community.

Emphasizing group change in the dialogue, Philip Potter, top executive of the World Council of Churches’ Division of World Mission and Evangelism, held that the biblical appeal “to turn” was addressed to whole communities and not just to individuals. It still applies today, Potter insisted.

Had the man in the pew been there, he might have had something to say about the address of a Jesuit from India. Father Theophane Mathias labeled as “wrong” and “brutal” the theology that sends a missionary to save souls from eternal damnation. He called for mission activity that will identify the “anonymous Christ” and non-Christian religions. Other Roman Catholics had prominent spots on the program, and the DOM approved affiliation of its first Catholic unit, the Medical Mission Sisters.



America’s best-known Roman Catholic nun, Sister Mary Corita, has joined the rising exodus from the sisterhood.

“My reasons are very personal and very hard to explain,” said the petite, 50-year-old artist whose serigraphs (see a sample in accompanying drawing) have been acclaimed by Christians of all faiths. “It seems to be the right thing for me to do now” after thirty-two years in the Immaculate Heart of Mary order. She has resumed her previous name, Corita Kent.

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Acknowledging that she had become a public symbol of the “new nun,” Miss Kent said, “I don’t want my action to stand as an example—only in the sense that each person should do what he thinks he should do.”

She said the dispute last spring between her order and Los Angeles Cardinal McIntyre had little to do with her decision. Despite McIntyre’s opposition, Vatican mediators allowed IHM reformers to separate from traditionalists and modernize their dress and lifestyle.

Miss Kent’s brother, Father Mark L. Kent, has not been active in his order, the Maryknoll Fathers, for five months. He was ordered to leave the Maryknoll house in Los Angeles in June after he was suspended by the New York headquarters for refusing an assignment.

Miss Kent is in Boston on sabbatical leave from her post as chairman of the art department at Immaculate Heart College, Los Angeles. She will return as a faculty member after a leave of uncertain length.

Southern Baptists: Both/And

The both/and approach to evangelism and social action (in contrast to either/or) appears to be gaining ground among Southern Baptists, judging from the twenty-nine annual state conventions held in recent weeks.

Evangelism and social action have rubbed shoulders among Baptists more than ever this year—sparking both heat and light—because of the coincidence of the Crusade of the Americas, a hemisphere—wide Baptist evangelism campaign, and the “Statement Concerning the Crisis in the Nation” adopted by the SBC last June.

Eight conventions adopted the “Crisis” statement, which declared commitment to obtain equal rights for all, refusal to be part of racism, and acceptance of every Christian, regardless of race, in church fellowship.

The Alabama convention, though it didn’t accept the “Crisis” statement, derailed one pastor’s push for an attack on Southern Baptist trends toward “social and political involvements” and substituted a call for “proper balance” between evangelism and missions, and social-political issues.

The Texas convention affirmed a statement that “in reality these challenges are one. Personal redemption and Christian social action belong together.” Virginia Baptists passed the strongest statement on race relations, condemning racism as unchristian and supporting firm open-housing laws.

A big doctrinal debate erupted at the Arkansas convention, where four churches were ejected for practicing “alien immersion” and “open communion.” The Kentucky convention censured Georgetown College trustees for permitting on-campus dancing.

Four state groups pledged prayer for an end to the Viet Nam war. Five took various actions regarding federal aid. And five sent congratulations or assurances of prayer to President—elect Nixon.

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