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Talbert leads Churches Uniting in Christ council

5/6/2002 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York

NOTE: Photographs of Bishop Melvin Talbert and the Rev. Bertrice Wood are available at online.

By United Methodist News Service

Members of the nine communions that recently formed Churches Uniting in Christ are in the process of understanding the implications of their new relationship, according to United Methodist Bishop Melvin Talbert.

Talbert was elected to a two-year term as president of the group's coordinating council in April. The council includes a voting member from each communion, as well as ecumenical officers who are nonvoting observers. Talbert is the ecumenical officer for the United Methodist Council of Bishops.

The coordinating council's immediate work "is to get the information out to our respective churches, letting them know that this commitment has taken place," he told United Methodist News Service in a May 6 interview.

One small but significant action is to encourage local churches of each communion to post their CUIC membership on their outdoor signs or marquees. If churches from all nine communions did so, "it would be a strong signal indicating the special relationship that we have with each other," Talbert said.

In addition to the United Methodist Church, the organization includes the African Methodist Episcopal Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, International Council of Community Churches, Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (USA) and United Church of Christ.

Originally part of the Consultation on Church Union, the denominations, representing some 22 million believers worldwide, reformed themselves into the new group during a January meeting in Memphis, Tenn. Their top moral agenda item is the elimination of racism.

"One reason we came together is we made the commitment to address a tough issue facing our church and our society, and that's racism," Talbert explained.

A task force on racism will consider how to do that. Two other task forces will focus on ministry and local and regional connections. The ministry task force will address the reconciliation of ministries among the member communions by 2007, while the local and regional task force will offer suggestions on how the various churches "can act out these new relationships."

Talbert, who has had extensive experience with other ecumenical bodies, such as the National and World councils of churches, said he does not believe that Churches Uniting in Christ is in conflict with these organizations. CUIC, he explained, represents a more specialized relationship of denominations that have much in common. "Hopefully, working together, we can be a sign to the rest of the churches," he added.

Talbert said he was excited about the selection of the Rev. Bertrice Y. Wood as the organization's first director. Wood was the first woman pastor of the historic and predominantly African-American Mt. Zion Congregational United Church of Christ in Cleveland and also has worked as associate to the executive vice president of the United Church Board for World Ministries in New York and Cleveland. She will be based in Cleveland.

Wood currently is vice president at large of the National Council of Churches and serves on the board of trustees of several United Church of Christ organizations. "She's eminently qualified for this job," Talbert added, noting that she recently finished work for a doctorate in ecumenics.

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