WASHINGTON, June 15 (RNS)--The Reformed Church in America has voted to become the first denomination to seek membership in both the National Council of Churches (NCC) and the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), signaling what the NAE hopes will be a new era in ecumenical cooperation.

Until a decision earlier this year, the NAE had prohibited itsmembers from also holding membership in the NCC, which is comprisedmostly of mainline Protestant churches. After a NAE bylaw change,churches can now hold membership in both bodies.

Meeting in Hempstead, N.Y., June 9-15 for its annual General Synod, the259,651-member church voted to seek membership in the NAE as a way ofmaintaining ecumenical relations while also stressing its evangelicalnature.

If the NAE accepts the church as a member, it would become the firstchurch to be duly aligned in both organizations.

"The Reformed Church has historically been both ecumenical andevangelical," said the Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, generalsecretary of the church. "I trust that we can build bridges betweendivided parts of the Christian community for the sake of our commonwitness to the world."

The church also agreed to circulate a letter between localcongregations about the church's relationship with the more progressiveUnited Church of Christ. Under a 1997 agreement, the UCC, RCA,Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Presbyterian Church (USA)signed a sweeping agreement allowing the churches to share clergy,sacraments and mission projects.

Some conservatives in the RCA said the UCC's open policy onhomosexuality was too radical for the more conservative RCA policy. Theletter said the RCA's position on homosexuality was contrary to the UCC,and that the two churches should not pursue further ecumenicalrelationships beyond the local level.