The National Council of Churches confirmed today that the ecumenical council will shut down its historic office on New York’s Riverside Drive, transitioning to a single office in Washington, D.C. A decision to consolidate into a single office has been expected since a report last year by an NCC Governing Board Task Force on Revisioning and Restructuring.
The NCC, once numbering hundreds of staffers, occupied three floors at the Interchurch Center in New York. Completed in 1960, the imposing granite-clad structure was nicknamed the “God Box” and dubbed the “Protestant Vatican on the Hudson” when President Dwight D. Eisenhower laid the cornerstone in 1958. John D. Rockefeller funded the project, along with the neighboring gothic Riverside Church.
The NCC has faced budget difficulties for many years due to declining revenue from participating denominations, known officially as “member communions.” One-third of the council’s member communions are not contributing financially to its work, while another third are giving only token financial support.
A brief period in the mid-2000s saw the council increase support from secular political foundations that were attracted to the NCC’s liberal issues advocacy. The council suffered during the 2008 financial crisis when much of the outside funding dried up.
The ecumenical body, which counts 37 oldline Protestant, Orthodox, and historically African-American denominations among its members, is also eliminating six positions as part of the “ongoing” reorganization. Transitional General Secretary Peg Birk will now be based in the existing NCC office at the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill, while three senior staff will remain in New York at what are described in a press release as “satellite offices” – one of which will be at nearby Union Seminary.
The cuts follow another round that reduced the council to a dozen full-time and a handful of part-time and contract staff between May and September of 2012. It is unclear which staff will be departing, but longtime Deputy General Secretary Clare Chapman’s biography page has disappeared from the NCC website, and she is now listed as “senior advisor” on the staff roster. Additionally, a Washington, D.C. based office staffer tasked with development and “Eco-Justice” responsibilities is no longer listed. Many of the remaining staff appear to be supported by grants related to the council’s anti-poverty initiative and “Eco-Justice” programs.
“It is important that we honor this moment with reverence and respect for the Council’s history as an iconic presence in the beloved ‘God Box,’” said NCC President Kathryn Lohre in a press release. “It is equally important that we look with hope upon this new chapter in the Council’s life.”
The NCC Governing Board is next scheduled to meet May 20-21 at a location to be announced.
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