Michigan Ecumenical Forum records, 1916-2002
Using These Materials
- The record group is open to research.
- Michigan Ecumenical Forum.
- Church organization, successor to the Michigan Council of Churches; established to facilitate interfaith cooperation and to promote ecumenical action on issues of social concern. Administrative and topical files relating to special projects and general activities, notably in the areas of Christian education, missions, and seminal issues such as world peace, environmentalism, and social justice.
- 27 linear feet
- Call Number:
- 88326 Ba 2
- Finding aid created by Matthew T. Schaefer (1988) and Michael J. Shallcross (2010)
- Scope and Content:
The records of the Michigan Ecumenical Forum (MEF) reflect the large-scale cooperation between various Christian denominations as well as ecumenical activities in relation to evangelical missions, Christian education, and pressing social issues. Administrative records and correspondence of governing bodies and committees document the regular operation of the MCC and MEF and materials related to activities such as Vietnam War protests, peace education, and ministry for migrant workers reveal the organization to be intimately involved in its community and a strong proponent for social justice. This collection will be of value to those interested in the history of Christian education and interfaith cooperation in Michigan as well as the role played by the church in the social activism of the 1960s and beyond. Upon their initial accession to the Bentley Historical Library, record series were constructed according to constitutional revisions; the present arrangement seeks a more organic coherence by uniting materials based upon function and the office of the creator. The Michigan Ecumenical Forum records are divided into three series: Administration, Organizational Activities and Units, and Visual Materials.
- Biographical / Historical:
The History of the Michigan Ecumenical Forum (MEF) was one of evolution and growth. The organization's roots may be traced to 1860 when Sunday School advocates in Monroe, Kent, and Kalamazoo counties (and elsewhere across the state) coalesced to form the Michigan Sabbath School Association. Devoted to interchurch cooperation and as well as innovation and formalization in the Christian education of children and youths, the organization rapidly grew and by 1910 it reported having 518,000 Sunday school attendees statewide. It was formally incorporated as the Michigan Sunday School Association in 1916, appointed a general secretary I 1921, and in the following year changed its name the to the Michigan Sunday School Council of Religious Education (shortened in 1926 to the Michigan Council of Religious Education).
The Michigan Council of Churches (MCC) itself was not organized until 1928 and held its first annual conference in 1930. The impetus for this new organization came from the Detroit Council of Churches, which in collaboration with the New York-based Home Missions Council, gathered various denominational officials from the state with the stated purpose: "(1) to realize essential unity among the Christian forces of the State on a basis of mutual respect; (2) to develop an aggressive cooperative program for the churches in the interest of the Kingdom of God; (3) to encourage and assist in the formation and development of local councils" ("The Bylaws of the Michigan Council of Churches, 1928). Original members of the MCC represented exclusively Protestant communions and included Baptist, Congregational, Disciples, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Reformed in U.S.A. congregations. In addition to Executive and Finance Committees, the MCC's main units focused on evangelism, comity and interchurch cooperation, religious education, and public welfare.
On June 4, 1934, a 'Committee of Fourteen' comprised of seven appointees from both the MCC and the Michigan Council of Religious Education met to explore how the two organizations could work more efficiently in a broader range of fields. The meeting resulted in a recommendation that the two councils merge under the MCC banner, with tentative officers installed by January 1936 and the permanent organization established by January 1937 (a feat actually accomplished in October 1936).
As it matured, the MCC's overall purpose became "to exert spiritual and Christian leadership and to bring churches into living contact with one another for fellowship, study and cooperative action." Over time, this open-ended statement of purpose enabled the MCC to serve as a clearinghouse for ecumenical action on social reform. Issues such as church location, world hunger, Christian education, protest against the Vietnam War, Indian and migrant missions, criminal justice, pastoral education, and race relations found their way onto the MCC agenda from 1957 through 1986. In theory, the organizational structure of the MCC provided a framework within which social reform and ecumenical concerns could be addressed. This structure established a neat hierarchy of an annual General Assembly overseeing a board of directors and executive committee, which, in turn, presided over the various departments and divisions.
In practice, this hierarchical structure did not conform to the reality of changing social concerns. For example, the Council's opposition to the war in Vietnam saw a surge of activism that did not fit existing categories. When faced with such situations, the MCC modified its constitution and altered its organizational structure, usually at the division level, to accommodate the new reform impulse. Between 1957 and 1986 there were four such restructurings, a clear indication of the flexibility and changing sense of mission of the MCC. The 1957 constitution called for four divisions: Education, Life and Work, Missions, and Strategy and Church Planning. The 1964 version replaced the Life and Work Division with Church in Society, and it added the Christian Unity Division. The MCC devoted efforts to Christian education, missions, and development of churches, but it soon became apparent that two Church in Society subcommittees: Citizens Concerned About Vietnam and the Peace Education Program, commanded much of the MCC's attention and resources. This reality led to a twenty-eight month experiment, "MCC-28" during which a Program Development Table identified issues of concern and allocated resources to task forces formed to deal with specific problems. In this way the MCC was able to bring constitutionally-defined structures more in line with its actual activities. The flexible response allowed the Program Development Table to treat anti-Vietnam protest as program units of the MCC. The 1977 constitution reflected a similar issue-oriented organization functioning via task forces.
Throughout the 1970s, MCC task forces dealt with an increasingly broad array of issues that included criminal justice, living and working conditions of migrant farm workers, world hunger, welfare reform, and peace. Faced with limited funds during Michigan's lean years in the early 1980s, the MCC realized that it could not be all things to all people. Mindful of a need to adapt in light of changes to itself and society, the MCC initiated a discussion of its future as early as 1978. By 1980, the organization realized that its vision for Christian unity needed an ecumenical vehicle more far-reaching and inclusive and so it opted to focus its efforts on developing a more extensive ecumenical presence in Michigan and at the same time downplay the role of its task forces. The result was an extensive Consultation on the Future of Ecumenism that stretched from 1980 to 1985 and was guided by a steering committee of MCC officials and denominational heads.
The first phase of this Consultation (1980-1982) sought to articulate the changing ecumenical landscape in Michigan and how the MCC could respond while the second (1982-1984) developed plans to implement this vision. The final phase (1985) garnered support for a new ecumenical organization through the adoption of basic principles and Articles of Agreement by interested congregations and communions. 1985 and 1986 saw further work by the transition committee as well as three State Ecumenical Forums that paved the way for the commemoration of MCC's 'death'on October 23, 1986 and its rebirth as the Michigan Ecumenical Forum (MEF) on the following day.
The MEF was officially constituted on January 1, 1987 and, as an inclusive interfaith group, welcomed Roman Catholic and Orthodox denominations. The organization preserved the MCC's tradition of holding General Assemblies; these State Ecumenical Forums provided delegates the opportunity to vote on programs and projects as well as members of the State Ecumenical Coordinating Committee (SECC, the successor to the MCC Board of Directors). Between General Assemblies, the SECC was the main decision-making body of the MEF; it was comprised of up to 39 individuals from a diversity of participating denominations and was headed by the MEF Chair. The MEF Executive Director also held a non-voting seat on the SECC and was the head of the Executive Committee, a body that provided general organizational oversight and was empowered to make decisions when the SECC was unable to meet.
Although it represented a new start for the ecumenical movement in Michigan, the MEF carried on important objectives of its predecessor, including continued support for the development of Regional Ecumenical Forums. At the same time, the MEF consolidated its committees to address issues related to personnel, budget and finance, ecumenical mission, assembly planning, and Coordinating Committee nominations. The revised constitution also permitted the creation of ad hoc action committees and task teams to address specific issues or areas of concern as they emerged.
The MEF last filed an annual report in 2001; after Executive Director Candyce Williams' untimely death on April 26, 2002, the organization appears to have fallen rapidly into decline. According to the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor, and Economic Growth, the MEF was slated for automatic dissolution on October 1, 2004.
- Acquisition Information:
- The record group was donated by the Forum (donor no. 7524 ) in February 1988.
- Rules or Conventions:
- Finding aid prepared using Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS)
- Additional Descriptive Data:
Additional materials related to the MCC/MEF are located with the Michigan Historical Commission in the Michigan State Archives in Lansing. An item list of these materials (which include meeting minutes, correspondence, and publications spanning 1886-1960) is available among the "Early Records and Predecessor Organizations" in Box 6 of the collection.
Click on terms below to find any related finding aids on this site.
Anti-racism -- Michigan.
Christian education -- Michigan -- History.
Ecumenical movement -- Michigan.
Interdenominational cooperation -- Michigan.
Missions -- Michigan.
Migrant workers -- Missions -- Michigan.
Native Americans -- Missions -- Michigan.
Vietnam War, 1961-1975 -- Protest movements -- Michigan.
Peace education -- Michigan.
Rural missions -- Michigan.
Michigan Council of Churches.
Michigan Ecumenical Forum.
Michigan Sunday School Association.
Michigan Council of Religious Education.
- Michigan -- Church history.
Using These Materials
The record group is open to research.
- USE & PERMISSIONS:
Copyright is held by the Regents of the University of Michigan but the collection may contain third-party materials for which copyright is not held. Patrons are responsible for determining the appropriate use or reuse of materials.
- PREFERRED CITATION:
[item], folder, box, Michigan Ecumenical Forum records, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan