Christians United In Mission (CUM) was founded in the early 1970’s as a regional ecumenical outreach agency composed of eight mainline Christian denominations serving a twenty county region of Upstate New York. Its primary directive was to serve the more than 500,000 members of those denominations by demonstrating and promoting the ideal of Christian unity through ecumenism. CUM was long recognized as a leading advocate for criminal justice in New York State, was instrumental in the establishment of Horizon House, a transition home for ex-offenders, in the founding of the Regional Food Bank and in Support Ministries for Persons with AIDS as well as support for a variety of ministries and programs. CUM had a budget allowing for paid staff, mission projects, grants to community organizations and media outreach.
But financial support was diminishing by 1990, and in that year, CUM along with the Capital Area Council of Churches (CACC), Schenectady Inner City Ministries (SICM), and Troy Area United Ministries (TAUM) participated in the Capital Region Ecumenical Organization’s (CREO) dialogue to explore the possibility for cooperative efforts and activities in 1991 and thereafter. (Prior to, simultaneously to and subsequent to this, CREO [Spanish for “I believe”] was used as an acronym for Capital Region Ecumenical Officers.) Meetings were held with the help of a facilitator (Rev. Fred Schilling) to identify representatives from these four ecumenical organizations and to brainstorm future vision and purpose. Some thought was given to a merger of CUM and CACC.
By early 1991, the basic assumptions for the new organization that would become the new CREO were established. SICM, TAUM and CACC would continue in their respective regions; Judicatory and Ecumenical Officers would have regular meetings, to be staffed by a part-time ecumenical person; there would be an annual gathering of all parties for worship and work on a common agenda. Funding for continuing programs or new initiatives would be provided by member organizations and congregations. CUM remained a separate entity as the discernment process continued for several more years before a new structure was established.
In the June 3, 1992 CUM minutes the following was recorded: “Cooperative Mission Forum – Because CREO (Capital Region Ecumenical Organization – SICM, TAUM, CACC, AUMS, CUM & FOCUS) has been functioning for 3-4 years, we must not give the appearance that we are absorbing that group. It was decided that we propose to CREO that they become a part of the Cooperative Mission Forum apart from their regular meeting structure. It was also decided that the Ecumenical Officers of the four denominations with such a designation be invited to participate, as well as one or more representatives of COPESA (Committee on Prayer, Evangelism and Social Action) and the Interdenominational Ministers Conference be asked to attend. There is also to be a member from each judicatory of the Governing Board. Jim Kane and Jim Murphy will work out how to handle any issues with CREO. They will attend the June 17, 1992 meeting of CREO. Any meeting of the CMF will be scheduled after this date.”
(I wasn’t able to discover minutes of the subsequent meetings (What became of CMF, anyway?) but found this proliferation of organizations an interesting snapshot of the developing ecumenical community and relationships! I would not be surprised to find that there was a considerable overlap of people involved in each organization and that the issues of time, money and commitment of those folks was as complicated as what we face today.)
In 1992, Jim Murphy, CUM Coordinator, shared some reflections with CUM related to an upcoming Cooperative Mission Forum. “There seems to be agreement that CUM’s role clearly seems to be as catalyst for common action. The question is what action? Education/training? As a facilitator for common projects? As a clearinghouse for information sharing?”
In 1996, Murphy outlined the goals and objectives for 1996-97 and stated they “remain the same” as in the past:
To serve as staff for the Judicatory Executives;
· to be co-convener of the Capital Region Ecumenical Officers;
· to work in the development of Corporate Sponsorship for the annual CROP Walks;
· to serve as a liaison and facilitator for action on agreed upon social policy;
· to foster common urban ministry strategy and action; to serve on the Boards of specific organizations; and
· to be a resource for individual congregations and groups.
On September 12, 1997, a constitution was adopted for the Capital Region Ecumenical Organization by the Board of CUM to adopt the new name and to expand its membership. The membership was open to include regional ecumenical organizations as well as the then-current member judicatories, in order to more accurately reflect the work of the prior few years. The “three legged stool” configuration of CREO’s Board as an ecumenical “umbrella” with representatives from denominations and regional religious organizations, Judicatory Executives and ecumenical officers was established.
The departure of our decade-long coordinator, Misha Marvel, accelerated an impetus to spend time once again considering what our future should be. In 2012, we faced many of the same issues that CUM /CREO was struggling with a decade ago: diminished funding, over-extension of active participants involved in multiple organizations, concerns about focus and vision, and the 21st century’s ever evolving technological and communication vehicles. Board members, Ecumenical Officers and Judicatory Executives are working together to discern the path we will take.