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Early History

The “Human Factor” in World Development

If the Ecumenical Institute constituted the spirit movement of revitalizing the church, the Institute of Cultural Affairs represents the engagement of the broader, secular society: that is, the “human factor.” 


Since its incorporation in 1973, the ICA was conceived as a more secular programmatic direction for the Ecumenical Institute. In the postwar era, the Ecumenical Institute had been dedicated to responding to the issues of urban society in a way that rearticulated and updated the mission of the church for a modern era. By this decade, the Institute’s programs had spread across North America and the globe in the form of religious houses, layman training and community-development curriculum. 


It became apparent, however, that the Institute’s efforts were being split between facing the church and the secular world in which the church operates. After all, government agencies, corporations, schools, and social agencies, among other institutions outside of the church, were clients to many of the Institute’s training and leadership programs. (ICA Wiegel History) In addition, in many of the countries the Institute served, the staff and program participants were mostly indigenous and followed other faiths. (ICA Twenty-Five Year Profile)


Consequently, the decision was made to take the ICA program arm of the Ecumenical Institute and incorporate it separately as a secular institution. On September 26, 1973, the ICA incorporated and officially came into being. 


The timing proved serendipitous for the newborn organization. The year before, the Ecumenical Institute had moved from Fifth City to the Kemper Insurance Building in Uptown. More specifically, as the local press reported, the Kemper Building was to be used as headquarters for the ICA’s Urban Research and Training Center. (Kemper Building Plans) Furthermore, both the ICA and its new home came into being at a time when new issues and obstacles were identified in the communities the organization sought to serve. A Community Recovery and Preservation report from the Ecumenical Institute, for instance, cited the “jelling” of the social movements of the 60s into localized concerns with recovering “human values often lost in urban living.” Community action, according to the Institute, was frustrated by a lack of direction, factional division, and a short-term emphasis that failed to take into account the national or global dimensions of localized issues. (“Community Recovery and Preservation”) 


The new space proved a valuable investment for the ICA and the Ecumenical Institute, as it became a global center for significant initiatives such as the Global Summer Research Assemblies, Local Church Experiment, and more. The assemblies were significant in that they attracted almost 1,000 participants across the decade for leadership training and forum-style meetings designed to help participants realize and plan towards shared concerns.