News & Announcements

Swedenborgian Church Participates in National Council of Churches Retreat in Montgomery, Alabama

Written by Rich Tafel

The National Council of Churches (NCC) held their governing board retreat in Montgomery, Alabama, in May, followed by a board meeting the next week. This meeting was planned with a focus on addressing racism. The Swedenborgian Church was represented both in the retreat and board meeting.

A tour of the Equal Justice Legacy Museum and memorial to victims of lynching were part of the event. The museum is outstanding in its use of cutting-edge technology and presentation to tell the story of slavery through mass incarceration. It also is overwhelmingly sad and at times, deeply depressing. As our faith teaches, sin needs to be fully seen to be addressed, and the museum provides an excellent space to focus on that. I would highly recommend a visit as it is one of the best museums of history I’ve been to.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice is set on a six-acre site, and uses sculpture, art, and design to contextualize racial terror.

The board retreat was well facilitated and focused on racism in the church and on the council. It was probably one of the most honest discussions I’ve experienced in my nine years representing our denomination. As a board we’ve developed great fellowship, and I particularly enjoyed our worship time together. The sermons by our board chair and new president were high points in the time together.

The following week, the NCC gather in a business meeting to make some major changes that we’ve been working for some time. 

The NCC was proud to announce that it has hired a new interim President and General Secretary in the person of Bishop Vashti McKenzie who had recently retired from the AME (African Methodist Episcopal) Church. She has agreed to take on this interim role for two years. I had a chance to get to know her better, and I’m very excited by her combination of business acumen and spiritual compassion—love and truth.

Rev. Tafel with Bishop Teresa Jefferson-Snorton 

Last year, the NCC elected its first all-female executive board, and the new board chair is Bishop Teresa Jefferson-Snorton, who is also the Presiding Bishop of the Fifth Episcopal District of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. She has inherited a host of administrative challenges that appear to face all faith communities and she’s navigated through them impressively. Keep her in your prayers. She praised the hire of the new President saying,

The National Council of Churches is blessed to have Bishop McKenzie in this key leadership role. She brings the necessary insight, expertise, and ecumenical commitment to the Council” said Board Chair, Bishop Teresa Jefferson-Snorton, who is also the Presiding Bishop of the Fifth Episcopal District of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.

It’s quite a statement that the NCC now has two African American women leaders. You can only imagine what these two women have done to attain their leadership positions and the NCC is blessed to have them on board.

Rev. Tafel with interim President Bishop Vashti McKenzie

There isn’t a meeting where someone doesn’t ask about our church and what we believe and do. We are far below in membership compared to our partners, but we are deeply involved and participatory. In my nine years we’ve never missed a meeting.

As the NCC moves forward, I’ve been asked to chair the bylaws committee and draft up a new document that better represents our current time and needs. I’m grateful that our church has asked me to represent us, and I believe the time invested in this type of ecumenical work is important and that our denomination uniquely can play a leadership role in respecting all faith paths.

If any churches have questions about the business or work to combat racism at the NCC, please contact me at for more details. 

Read the full issue of the June 2022 Messenger

Meet Rich Tafel

Rev. Rich Tafel is deeply involved in the intersection of faith and the public square. He has been the pastor of the Church of the Holy City in Washington, D.C. for the past six years.