Kessler shines among all denominations

 — Feb. 15, 200715 févr. 2007
By Marlene Gasdia-Cochrane, United Church of Christ News

The Massachusetts Council of Churches executive director Diane Kessler “stunned” the Council with her announcement of retirement at the end of June 2007.  What was more stunning was the legacy she has left after thirty-two years of service.

As Director of the Council, Kessler was responsible for direction and public presentation of the Council’s work in areas such as education and evangelism for Christian unity, ecumenical worship, cooperation with local councils of churches, ecumenical and interfaith dialogue, and social mission and prophetic witness.

Kessler, an Andover Newton graduate and ordained United Church of Christ minister, started with the Council in 1975 as an associate director, and became director in 1988. In those three decades she was able to help the 17 member denominations take ideas and transfer them into action, for example, by fostering an atmosphere of openness in ecumenical and interfaith relations, by developing a legislative campaign against casino gambling, and by founding the Ecumenical Institute of New England which has currently educated  500 people.  She has done this while ensuring responsible stewardship of the Council’s resources, which come primarily from its member denominations.  Kessler served as diplomatic liaison among religious leaders and denominations. “I have always thought it important to treat all churches with appreciation and respect,” she said.  “Their diverse spiritual traditions enrich all of us.”

During her tenure as director, the Council’s membership expanded to include two Orthodox Churches – Greek and Armenian – and the Board of Directors invited representatives from all four Roman Catholic dioceses to designate a representative to work with them.

As chairperson of the United Church of Christ’s national Council on Ecumenism, Kessler was involved in helping to  create a national staff position on ecumenism, first occupied by the Rev. John Thomas and currently by Lydia Veliko.

Baptized in a German Evangelical and Reform Church and raised in a First Congregational Church in Ohio, Kessler embodies both strands of the two historic denominations that formed the United Church of Christ.

“My denominational roots and my ecumenical conviction are grounded in the United Church of Christ’s formative commitments as a united and uniting church,” she said.  “In echoing John 17:21 ‘that they may all be one,’ we need to remember this history and continue to find ways to make the prayer of Jesus Christ real in contemporary settings.  At its heart, the Gospel is all about reconciliation, and that is the essense of the ecumenical message.”

Ecumenical mission is where this minister shines.

The Massachusetts Council of Churches is the statewide organization enabling Christian churches to break down barriers and build bridges in the commonwealth, consistent with the aims of the global ecumenical movement.  The predecessor body of the Massachusetts Conference – United Church of Christ was one of the founding members in 1902.  The Massachusetts Conference continues to be a strong and active supporter of the Council, under the leadership of the Rev. Jim Antal, who serves on the Council’s Board of Directors.

Posted: Feb. 15, 2007 • Permanent link:
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