CHICAGO – “CWS is about our members, partners, and a myriad of colleagues working together, as institutions and as coalitions, but even more, as people. That is the vision of our faith and our values.”
With those words, CWS President and CEO the Rev. John McCullough, described the relationship between CWS and its member communions as representatives from the various mainline Protestant and Orthodox communions gathered in Chicago to discuss their work together at the humanitarian agency’s first annual members meeting (April 29-30).
In welcoming participants, Kathryn Lohre of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America stressed the importance of her communion’s connection to CWS as a member: “We are deeply invested in the work of CWS. We are church. We are Lutheran. We are church together. Members of the ELCA live out and deepen their faith through community involvement and involvement with CWS.”
Representatives from sixteen CWS member communions braved bad weather or participated remotely via the Web in discussions and presentations about the agency’s work. A consistent theme: Through CWS communions come together to do in partnership what none could do alone.
Throughout the gathering participants also focused on the history and importance of the agency’s ecumenical, interfaithCROP Hunger Walks. The Walks help support CWS work, especially grassroots, hunger-fighting development efforts around the world, and hunger-fighting programs in United States communities where Walks are held.
“We do the CROP Hunger Walk because we are people of faith, said Ruth Farrell of the Presbyterian Hunger Program. “It is part of who we are as Presbyterians and as Christians. Presbyterians want to be in relationship. They want to be in mission. We walk to fight hunger together with our partners in CWS.”
In a remote video address, Erol Kekic, who directs the CWS immigration and refugee program, emphasized the importance of CWS’ ecumenical ties with member communions to the agency’s extensive work resettling refugees.
“Refugee resettlement is at its best when it has the support of the local church. When refugees arrive in the U.S. they are beginning a new life and the local church can make all the difference,” Kekic said. Local congregations working with CWS assist refugees in adjusting to life in their new communities in a number of ways, from accompanying them to meetings to helping them find employment or enroll children in school.
The involvement of the local church – in all its forms – as part of the CWS family was lifted up by voices in Chicago and from around the globe. When the members meeting concludes today, participants will return home and share with others in their faith communities how CWS works with member communions in countless ways to end hunger and to promote peace and justice throughout the world.
CWS presented the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America with the 2014 CWS Ecumenical Award. The communion was honored for its significant contributions to the governance of CWS, visionary leadership and for its witness on matters of public policy.”
In accepting the award on behalf of the communion, John Paterakis, a member of the Greek Orthodox Church and a former member of the CWS Board of Directors, called the honor “a great tribute to American Orthodoxy.” Paterakis described old perceptions of the communion and expressed the hope that those perceptions will evolve to reflect the Church’s robust outreach ministry.
“Thirty years ago, if someone mentioned the Orthodox Church, people would say, ‘Oh, those are the people with the great festivals.’ Today, most people recognize us for our beautiful churches and worship ceremony. Thirty years from now, I want people to say, ‘Oh, The Orthodox Church are the ones who clothe the naked, feed the hungry and fight poverty!’
In summing up the gathering, former CWS Board Chair Bishop Johncy Itty of the Episcopal Church said, “This is a wonderful reminder of how important we are as a faith community working together as CWS. I am appreciative of the opportunity to hear the story of the people who have sacrificed to get us here and to listen and hear what is happening with our member communions.”