The place was Denver. The occasion was the February business meeting of the policy-making General Board of the National Council of Churches. On opening day a block away from the meeting site, the barbershop gossip went something like this:
BARBER: “New in town?”
REPORTER: “Yes [edited from ‘yeah’], here to report the National Council meeting at the Brown Palace Hotel.”
BARBER: “I read where some Russians are coming to the meeting.”
REPORTER: “That’s right. Sixteen Soviet church leaders are returning a visit of American churchmen sponsored last year by the National Council.”
MANICURIST (working on someone else): “I didn’t know they had churches in Russia.”
REPORTER: “They do, but their activities are pretty limited.”
BARBER: “I see that some fella from New Jersey is coming out here to protest the visit.”
REPORTER: “Oh? First I’ve heard of it.”
So much for the tonsorial topography of the NCC meeting. Yet, in this humble session of mutual hairline education were sketched the rudiments of a situation which would involve in some way all three of the major U. S. church councils and/or associations and would reveal something of the political and emotional posture of each.
Despite Republican Governor John Love’s plea for hospitality toward the Soviet churchmen, their arrival at the Denver airport provoked a picket-line response which included signs like “Wolves in Sheeps’ Clothing.”
Soon after, black beards glistening under flashbulbs, the clerics sat patiently in the Silver Plume room of the Brown Palace, awaiting their initial press conference. Beginning a three-week tour of the U. S. by observing NCC sessions, they represented the Russian Orthodox Church, Georgian Orthodox Church, Armenian Church, Evangelical Lutheran Churches from Estonia ...1
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