Sunday, 13 December 2015 10:34

Christians interact through state Conference of Churches

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As of Wednesday, Dec. 9, Catholics worldwide have entered the second half-century since the close of the Second Vatican Council. Vatican II gave us a vision of the church, the People of God, in its role of transforming humanity in accord with the gift of Jesus Christ.

As of Wednesday, Dec. 9, Catholics worldwide have entered the second half-century since the close of the Second Vatican Council. Vatican II gave us a vision of the church, the People of God, in its role of transforming humanity in accord with the gift of Jesus Christ.

The Council left us Catholics plenty of work to do. This column, as you know, concentrates on Catholic relationships with other Christians and with people of other religions. It should be clear to all of us that, in our personal relationships, we have numerous opportunities to fulfill the mandates of the documents on Christian unity and on respect for people of non-Christian religions. We are mandated to develop relationships for the sake of harmony with non-Christians and for the sake of unity with non-Catholic Christians.

In the realm of Christian unity, we need to make sure that we are cultivating the means by which we interact with other Christians. And so we must consider the Illinois Conference of Churches.

The ICC was established in Springfield in 1930, and for the past 85 years it has been the official means in our state by which Christians of various communions meet and work together. At the end of Vatican II, the Catholic dioceses of Illinois joined the ICC. I have been representing our diocese at the ICC since 2001, and I currently serve on its Leadership Team.

The ICC offers opportunities for Christians of various communions to get to know one another and to collaborate. The Annual Assembly each September provides a "forum" which often treats questions of how Christians of diverse traditions understand one another's teachings. The Public Policy Team provides the chance for Christians to work together on issues of common concern. We are especially proud that many years of collaboration paid off when capital punishment was abolished in Illinois in 2011. Our anti-racism team, Illinois Christians Encountering Racism, provides training for Christians who feel the urge to explore the ironies of that strange American topic, race, as it impacts our society. We have just begun to look beyond the confines of Christianity as we contemplate official activity with non-Christians.

The ICC constantly has its finger on the pulse of the national and state social justice scene and related legislation. We are frequently called by the press for statements. We are a valuable communication conduit among Christian denominations in Illinois. The ICC, by employing its database, can quickly communicate with the leaders of all member judicatories to quickly respond to issues. We recently became a partner with Faith in Place to address environmental concerns of faith-based organizations. We are working on a database of college chaplains in order to facilitate a one-day retreat for them.

In recent years, the ICC has found it more and more challenging to provide this necessary Christian interaction. The budgets of many judicatories (administrative units analogous to Catholic dioceses) have been severely cut in recent years, and the ICC has felt the effects of the budget cuts. In response, we have made difficult adjustments. In recent years, the ICC has had very few people on the payroll; currently, there is one full-time paid executive director. Not long ago, the ICC was renting office space; now, the office is in the executive director's residence. To keep the budget balanced, we have recently drawn upon investments but, if the current state of affairs continues, the ICC will stop functioning within two years.

I am happy to report, however, that our diocese has been faithful for many years in meeting its annual assessment. So, in accord with the current expression, collectively, we're "good." It may well be, however, that parishes, groups, and individuals will want to make a special effort to support the ICC financially.

If you feel moved to support the work of the ICC by becoming an Ecumenical Partner, you may go to their website www.illinoisconferenceofchurches.org and click on donations and scroll down to the bottom to donate with your credit card through PayPal, even you are not a PayPal member. Or drop a check in the mail made out to the ICC. The address is 1608 W. Church St., Champaign, IL 61821. The ICC is a 501(c)(3) and therefore all donations are tax deductible.

We keep in mind the mandates of Vatican II and we prayerfully consider how each of us may be called to invest ourselves in coordinated Christian work in our state.