By PAUL A. BARRA
CHARLESTON The South Carolina Christian Action Council held its 66th annual meeting on Jan. 21 at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. It was a day of memories and of looking forward to a changed future.
“In the beginning, Catholics weren’t invited into the council,” said the Rev. Dr. Howard G. McClain, a Baptist who was executive minister of the SCCAC from 1950-85. “Today, we are having our annual meeting in a Catholic church.”
Dr. McClain said that race issues were the most important for the organization of Christian churches when it was formed in 1933; they remain so today. According to Betty Park, chair of the recently concluded strategic planning session for the SCCAC, social justice, the family, violence and healing were the key issues that surfaced during the year-long effort, but the race issue was “lifted out” from the rest.
“In the ’50s, the Christian Action Council was the only religious organization in the state that had both black and white members. Today we are going through a transition period and among our goals is a specific emphasis on race relations,” Park said.
One of the transitional topics is the announced retirement of the Rev. Dr. L. Wayne Bryan, who will complete 10 years as executive minister in Dec. 1999.
A search committee has been formed to find a successor.
Another transition has been the pull-out of the Southern Baptist Convention as one of the 16 member bodies of the Christian Action Council. Members at the annual meeting seemed unaffected by the withdrawal of a denomination that numbered more than 20 percent of its membership; although Rev. Dr. Lewis Galloway, president of the SCCAC, stated that one of the talking points for the immediate future of the organization was to redefine membership.
“In addition to adjudications, we will consider congregations, individuals and religious organizations… as we continue to search for the Kairos moment,” Galloway said. “We’re looking for what God’s mission is for us.”
Rev. Dr. Fred Reisz, president of the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, defined mission as “Messiah-motivated ministry.” He said that the Christian Action Council can aid South Carolinians to be the people of God. In his keynote speech, he said that we all have to live out our lives before the face of God.
“Looking through the nail prints on the hands of Christ, we can see our own hammers…. We must be planning with intelligence, but not without prayer,” Reisz said. “We have lots to do in the Christian Action Council and lots to be; we are always called to get out of the way of God.”
Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley called the organization instrumental in helping race relations and said that he was proud that his own Catholic parish was hosting the annual meeting.
During a midday worship break, Bishop David B. Thompson of Charleston gave the homily in a liturgy of the word. He spoke of the work of the Holy Spirit as helping the faithful to remember the promises of the Lord; he said that we have churches because we do forget sometimes. Bishop Thompson said: “We dare never to cease to be disciples, to be open to the Spirit of the Lord God.”
He and presider Father Chet Moczydlowski, pastor of the Cathedral, talked about the ecumenical fruits of the council’s work.
“Our vision is that we may all be one in Christ. That’s Christ’s prayer,” the Bishop said. “It’s unthinkable that Christ’s prayer will go unanswered.”
The Fatherhood Initiative of the Sisters of Charity Foundation won the Howard G. McClain Christian Action in Public Policy Award. The foundation was nominated by Sister Susan Schorsten of the Diocese of Charleston and presented with its plaque by Bishop Thompson.
Other award winners included the Rev. Joseph A. Darby, Sr. Katherine Pettit, Rev. William Bishop, Operation Adventure of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina and the Chabad Academy of Myrtle Beach.
The South Carolina Christian Action Council was organized to “bring focus to Christian communities in the struggle for the common good.” In the aftermath of the planning session, its strategy for the future will be divided into four ministries: administration, Christian unity, health and peace, justice and reconciliation. These ministries will carry out the goals of the strategic planning committee as adopted by the board of directors, according to Bryan.
“The philosophy’s in place. I’m optimistic about the future,” the executive minister said.