Information about this center is no longer updated. This data was last updated on 25 July 2014.Phone: 617-523-2771
Founded in 1902, the Massachusetts Council of Churches (MCC) was created by mainline Protestant churches as part of a national movement to share mutual mission objectives amongst denominations. Originally called the Massachusetts Federation of Churches, the group experienced economic hardship during the Depression and, in 1934, merged with the Massachusetts Council of Religious Education. By the early 1950s, the MCC’s finances had stabilized and it became the epicenter of Boston’s ecumenical movement, which peaked in the 1960s. At this point, the MCC had 5-6 full-time staff members. The Second Vatican Council greatly affected the landscape of Boston-area ecumenism because it brought the Catholic Church into dialogue with Protestant groups. The Catholic Archdiocese of Boston remains affiliated with the MCC and works closely with it on issues of mutual interest. In the 1960s, the MCC also became deeply involved with Civil Rights, even flying 95 members down to participate in Martin Luther King’s 1965 Montgomery March. The 1970s was a time of upheaval and financial difficulties. Mainline Protestant attendance was dropping and the MCC was deeply in debt. It was not until the 1980s that the growing pains of this period began to subside and a new, more diverse MCC emerged. Dialogue with Jewish, Muslim and evangelical groups became central to the MCC and, in 2002, membership expanded to encompass the Greek and Armenian Orthodox churches.
The MCC is housed on the fourth floor of Congregational House, an eight-story building constructed by the American Congregational Association in 1897. The front of the building is made of Knoxville marble and is distinguished by four large bas-reliefs, carved to reflect the “lasting ideals” of Congregationalism: Law, Faith, Education and Philanthropy. In the last 50 years, the Congregational organizations and presses have largely moved and a variety of non-profit organizations now rent the space.
The MCC has broadened its focus over the century to include the work of ecumenism and interfaith dialogue. Broadly, the MCC works in two major areas: public policy and "faith and order." First, the MCC engages policy issues upon which all member denominations agree. Major issues include gambling, capital punishment and environmental concerns. The second goal, “faith and order" work, is by far the more challenging; it is an ongoing dialogue to promote mutual understanding of one another’s theologies and doctrine. The goal is to promote Christian unity while honoring diversity. Issues such as the meaning of communion, women’s ordination, and same-sex marriage continue to pose major challenges. What the MCC has accomplished, however, is an open space for dialogue and a sharing of opinions.
Organizational Structure and Finances
Heading the MCC is a Board of Directors made up of about 40 clerical and lay representatives from the member denominations. The Board also contains some members-at-large and representatives of faith-based organizations such as Church Women United and Church World Service. The Board meets four times a year. There is also an executive committee and 3 full-time staff members, including the Reverend Jack Johnson, executive director. Sub-groups of the board, like the Commission on Christian Unity, meet throughout the year. These sub-groups create documents, curricula, and policy papers that are then sent to the 4000 affiliates in the MCC network. Staff members also attend annual denominational gatherings as a way to publicize MCC projects. The Council has an annual budget of about $300,000, funded mainly by its member denominations. It also receives individual donations and, recently, some outside grants for specific projects.
The MCC is involved in a myriad of programs and activities. It conducts public policy advocacy on issues such as opposition to the death penalty, affordable housing and gambling prevention. A major issue on the MCC agenda is the environment and it has recently created an adult curriculum called Healthy Kids, Healthy Churches, Healthy Communities. It is also promoting a state bill for safer alternatives to toxic chemicals. To further these goals, the MCC works with groups such as Clean Water Action and the Coalition Against Capital Punishment. The MCC hosts a number of groups, including the Ecumenical Working Group to Counter Racism. It also publishes various ecumenical resources, directories and a media guide. It has been increasingly involved with interfaith dialogue and has run Jewish-Christian and Muslim-Christian dialogue groups. It also has a “liberal”-“evangelical” dialogue group. The MCC was central to organizing post-9/11 services of remembrance and in mediating disputes concerning the building of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center. It has also mediated dialogue with Jewish, Muslim, and Christian groups regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The MCC is at an exciting crossroads; Rev. Jack Johnson was appointed Director in June 2007, after his predecessor occupied the position for nearly three decades. In the future, the MCC wants to further emphasize environmental concerns, especially engaging issues such as environmental racism and the CORI laws that are important to communities of color, in order to further partnerships with these groups. Although two Black denominations are members of the MCC, there is still little collaboration with congregations. Rev. Johnson has begun the process by attending Black Ministers Alliance (BMA) meetings and inviting the BMA head to sit on the MCC board. Another challenge is to change the perception "in the media in particular" that Catholicism in Boston represents all Christians. Much of the coverage of faith in Boston is actually about Catholic organizations, festivals, etc. A final major challenge will be to further a relationship with the evangelical community and, in particular, with independent, non-denominational churches.
The MCC is not a member of any other organizations, although their denominational members are. It works in relationship with the National Council of Churches, for example inviting their executive members to speak at MCC events. For the future, the MCC is considering becoming a member of the Black Ministerial Alliance and the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization.