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Millennium Fund Honors Elenie Huszagh's Legacy as NCC President 2002-2003

November 4, 2003, JACKSON, Miss. -- The National Council of Churches announced today that it has launched the Millennium Fund to honor Dr. Elenie K. Huszagh, Esq., who, as NCC president for the 2002-2003 term of office, has given leadership during a remarkable period of turnaround in the organization’s life. The Fund, which will undergird the Council’s work into the future, was announced here as the NCC’s annual General Assembly, meeting through Nov. 6, got underway.

Dr. Huszagh, an attorney and a prominent lay member of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, took office at a time when the Council was beginning to recover from a period of crisis. Long plagued by financial woes that reached the breaking point in 1999, the Council had taken firm steps to stabilize its finances. During Dr. Huszagh’s term, the Council balanced its budget, while rebuilding its long-term reserves from approximately $2.5 million to nearly $10 million.

To strengthen other dimensions of the organization’s life, Dr. Huszagh organized a special Council-wide look at its basic nature and purpose. At her initiative, a Substantive Reflection Task Group (SRTG) met throughout the past two years to stimulate conversation on this topic among representatives of the NCC’s 36 Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox member communions. In-depth discussion occurred at the annual General Assembly, the NCC’s highest policymaking body, which is composed of 280 delegates chosen by their respective communions, and at the Assembly’s Executive Board. Together, delegates tested each other’s understanding of “what the NCC is, why they come together in the Council, and what they should be doing,” Huszagh says.

She has likened this conversation to the healing that might take place in a family that had been stressed and fractured by financial difficulties. “Fiscal recovery was not an end in itself,” she says, “but leads, if you will, to an ‘emotional recovery’ as a Council, a reconnecting of communions around the faith and a sense of ecumenical purpose and commitment.” The conversation was unusual in that “it was not tied to a context of reorganization or structural change,” she says, “but was a ‘stand-alone’ issue that brought our relationships into focus.”

The Rev. Dr. Robert Welsh, top ecumenical officer of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), who chaired the SRTG, says, “Unexpectedly, it was an Orthodox laywoman who, in coming to be president of the Council, named the urgency for us to engage in substantive conversation around foundational issues in our ecumenical life together.” Among these issues, Welsh includes “understanding the relationship of the Council to its member communions, exploring the goal of the Council and the nature of the unity we seek, and seeking to clarify both the character and components of being and living as a ‘community of Christian communions.’ ”

A legacy of Elenie Huszagh’s presidency is a Council “that better understands its core values in shaping its future as a community of faith and faithfulness-to the Gospel and to each other as Christian communions,” Welsh says.

Dr. Huszagh also carried this message of unity widely in the United States, frequently speaking at assemblies of the Council’s member communions. She was delighted with the “uniformly warm and responsive reception” she received, and with “the serious questions and serious listening” about the theme of Christian unity that was at the center of her visits. She often made a point of reminding communions that the Council is not an independent entity; rather it is 36 communions in a relationship of community. “So in bringing greetings to them from the Council, I was really bringing greetings from themselves,” Dr. Huszagh says.

Occasionally she was called upon to preach, a novel experience for Dr. Huszagh, who, as an attorney, has been more accustomed to making legal arguments in the courtroom than theological points in the pulpit. In remarks that convey her trademark self-deprecating humor, she has said, “I quite enjoyed it. Congregations can’t rule you out of order as a judge in a courtroom might. And they generally don’t walk out. If they didn’t fall asleep, that was my measure of success.”

During her tenure as president, Dr. Huszagh also represented the Council internationally. She co-led a major ecumenical delegation to the Middle East in the spring of 2002. At the invitation of the Middle East Council of Churches, the group visited Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Israel and Palestine, consulting with high-level church and political leaders. Earlier she visited with the Cuban Council of Churches while in Havana as a guest of the Greek Orthodox Church and Greek Embassy there.

In an increasingly turbulent and distressed world, it is important to connect with ecumenical partners around the globe, “to understand and be understood, to reassure church partners that someone out there cares, and to determine what if anything we can do to be helpful,” she says. The knowledge that “so much is expected of us in so many places,” poses a formidable challenge to the Council, she notes.

Dr. Huszagh received several honors during the past two years, partly in recognition of her leadership at the NCC. They include an Honorary Doctor of Humanities degree from Hellenic College/Greek Orthodox Holy Cross School of Theology, Brookline, Mass; appointment to the Speakers Bureau of the Senate Democratic Leadership Conference on the issues of civil rights and diversity initiatives; being named 2002 Ecumenist of the Year by Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon; and receiving the University of Chicago 2002 Alumni Award for Professional Achievement.

Dr. Huszagh has represented her communion at the NCC in many capacities over the past 24 years, culminating in her service as president. She has served as a Greek Orthodox delegate to the NCC since 1979, except for the years 1989-1992. She also has served on many NCC committees and task groups, including the Nominations Committee (1996 - 1999), Constitution and Bylaws Committee (1983-1985), and the NCC committee that from 1986-1987 helped resolve a conflict between the Campbell Soup Company and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee. She first became an officer in 1985 when she served a four-year term as recording secretary, and was installed as president-elect in 1999.

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