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The NCC Honors the Memory of Two Great Ecumenists

May 2002 -- The ecumenical community mourns the recent death of two of its most prominent and beloved members. Bishop J. Clinton Hoggard, 85, of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, a spiritual leader of his communion and a lifelong ecumenist, died on May 5, 2002. The Rev. Will L. Herzfeld, 64, a civil rights activist, ecumenist, and mission executive with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, died on May 9, 2002.

As a young man, Bishop J. Clinton Hoggard participated both in the 1948 Organizing Convention of the World Council of Churches and the 1950 Constituting Convention of the NCC-and was a force in lifting up the importance of the historic Black churches to the ecumenical movement and to the life of the nation. Among many ecumenical commitments, he served on the AME Zion delegation to the NCC’s board for a remarkable 42 years, from the NCC’s founding until 1992.

At its 50th anniversary celebration in 1999, the NCC honored Bishop Hoggard for a lifetime of contributions. Hoggard, whose career began when the Civil Rights Movement was developing, was especially remembered for his work with Andy Young and the late Al Cox in involving the NCC Youth Department in efforts for civil rights.

At the 1999 event, he said, "I have hope in the life of the NCC. I’ve stayed with it in the face of many frustrations, and surely, in return, I have found a refuge for association with the larger community of believers in Christ. Out of it has come good fellowship and also an opportunity for enunciating the concerns about our larger society."

Consecrated as a bishop in 1972, Hoggard actively served in that office until 1992, and was a former president of the AME Zion’s board of bishops. From 1952-1972, he served as secretary-treasurer of the denomination’s Department of Foreign Missions (now the Department of Overseas Mission). He also held pastorates in New York, Washington, DC, and North Carolina.

In retirement, he edited The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church: A Bicentennial Commemorative History 1972-1996, which updated the communion’s history to the time of its 1996 bicentennial celebration.

The Rev. Will L. Herzfeld "has touched and inspired lives all over the world," said the Rev. John L. McCullough, executive director of Church World Service, speaking of Herzfeld’s role both ecumenically and in his communion. At the time of his death, Herzfeld was associate executive director, ELCA Division for Global Mission, and he was a member of the Church World Service Board of Directors, a body that he chaired from 1996-1999.

He also served on the NCC Executive Board and was a former vice president of the General Assembly. Both NCC President Elenie Huszagh and General Secretary Bob Edgar have hailed Herzfeld for the spiritual quality of his leadership. "We nicknamed him ‘the Chaplain,’ " said Edgar, "and appreciated the insights and wisdom born of deep faith that he shared with us." Elenie Huszagh recalled especially "his sense of Christian compassion, love and humor."

In his communion, Herzfeld was best known for his role as presiding bishop of the former Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches. Holding that position from 1984-1987, he was the first African American to serve as the national leader of a Lutheran church body. He also played a leading role in the process that led to the merger of his and two other Lutheran denominations to form the ELCA in 1987.

The leadership positions that he held in communities and in churches from Alabama to California and Illinois were numerous and varied. His work included achievements in urban ministry, human relations and civil rights. While serving his first pastorate, in Tuscaloosa, Ala., he organized the local chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and became a close associate of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Photo images of the Rev. Herzfeld are available at www.elca.org/co/news/herzfeld.html.   From that page, click the "Releases" link and then "May 2002" to read more about the Rev. Herzfeld.


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