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Award winners highlight
NCC General Assembly

Hunt Valley, Md., November 21, 2005 -- A year of wars, natural disasters and religious debate gave added meaning to the annual awards ceremony of National Council of Churches USA and Church World Service General Assembly.

The awardees, without exception, were persons of faith who took extraordinary steps to bring peace, healing and understanding to their society.

The J. Irwin Miller Award was presented to Dr. Cynthia B. Cohen, an Episcopal laywoman and professor of ethics at Georgetown University. The Miller award is given to a lay person who has been a witness, through action in the world, to justice and other values affirmed by Christian faith, and who has demonstrated a commitment to church unity.  The award is a tribute to the memory of J. Irwin Miller, a president of the NCC, who worked tirelessly to support the ecumenical movement in the United States and around the world, and who contributed greatly to racial justice and civil rights for all.

Cohen, who was one of the "sages" guiding the work of the NCC's Committee on the Biotechnologies Resolution, said astounding developments in the field will force the world to choose whether it wants to preserve humanity as God created it or create a species of non-humans.

The citation on the 2005 award read: Dr. Cohen has exemplified the ministry of the laity by: Utilizing her wide knowledge of Christian ethics, genetic science and the law to promote understanding of issues related to human life and death; Through her teaching and publications she has taught others in emerging fields of inquiry; In service to the Episcopal Church and St. Alban's Parish, she has modeled for all churches the possibilities of developing texts which equip Christians to enter into public debate in the interest of the common good; As a "Senior Sage" she has offered wisdom, encouragement and counsel as the National Council of Churches developed an ecumenical policy. As a member of the Episcopal Church's Standing Commission on National Concerns she brings heart and mind to the search for faithful ministry in our nation and age. (Pictured: Clare Chapman, Dr. Cohen, Bishop Thomas L. Hoyt, Jr., NCC President)

The Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Award, given to Dr. Walter Harrelson,,Professor Emeritus at Wake Forest University Divinity School and Vanderbilt University and editor of the New Interpreters' Study Bible for the NRSV, is given to a clergy person whose life and work have significantly advanced the cause of unity among the churches in the U.S.A. and internationally by: fostering dialogue and understanding among the Christian churches; demonstrating a commitment to other churches for common service, witness, worship, and study; challenging churches to give visible witness to their covenant with one another to manifest ever more fully the unity of the church; and offering a strong prophetic voice to the Christian community. Professor Harrelson was unable to attend the awards dinner so the award will be presented to him in November 2006.

Also presented at the General Assembly Awards banquet were four Awards of Excellence.

Annie Griffiths Belt, an internationally known photographer whose work has appeared in National Geographic, was cited for  "enlarging our world as a photographer, educator, and bridge builder.  During your 25-year career at the National Geographic you have traveled the world and brought that world home to millions though your articles, books, and extraordinary photographs. 

Belt's photographs have also documented the ministry of Church World Service. "Your photos, which grace our annual calendar, vividly portrayt he courage and resilience of those assisted by CWS," the citation said. "We happily add our voice to the chorus of praise you have received from many organizations, including awards from the White House News Photographers Association and the National Press Photographers Association." (Pictured: Belt, Bishop Hoyt, Betty Voskuil)

Senior Bishop Marshall Gilmore of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, was cited for "being a pioneer in the formation of the Commission on Pan Methodist Cooperation and Union, which represents five strands of American Methodism – the African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion, Christian Methodist Episcopal, Union American Methodist Episcopal and United Methodist Churches."

Bishop Gilmore, a mentor of NCC President Thomas L. Hoyt, was also cited for "providing a compelling vision that recognizes and lifts up genuine spirituality, the gifts and talents of the community, and mutual respect for others – lay and clergy - as the Presiding Senior Bishop of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church." and for "mentoring men and women who have been called to the ministry as a new generation of church leaders, lay and ordained. Bishop Gilmore was praised for his "leadership and tireless effort with and on behalf of Texas College, Paine College, Phillips School of Theology, and many other seminaries and institutions of higher education.

Akok Deng was cited for "working tirelessly as Maryland Program Coordinator of the Virginia Council of Churches’ Refugee Resettlement Program, a Church World Service affiliate, to welcome refugees who have fled persecution in their home countries and who now are beginning new lives in Maryland" and "Building on your recent personal experience as a refugee from Southern Sudan to provide compassionate accompaniment to other refugees and to help them succeed in their new communities."

The citation noted Mr. Deng has lived out his personal dedication to serving others, "  first as a hospital volunteer while still a child, then as a medical student, and now in refugee resettlement – all the while guarding your aspirations to become a doctor." Mr. Deng has modeled "perseverance in your own life journey as you sustained yourself while a refugee in Egypt and then upon arrival in the United States in 1999 by working as a dishwasher, cabinet maker and salesperson before joining the Virginia Council of Churches Refugee Resettlement Program in 2001 as a caseworker and, since 2004, as head of the Maryland Office. Presenting the award above are Bishop Hoyt and David A. Leslie.

The Virginia Council of Churches received a General Assembly Award of Excellence for its work in refugee resettlement and rural family development. The work includes "serving refugees since 1962 in an effective 'hands-on' mission partnership among the Council’s Refugee Resettlement Program, Church World Service, and cosponsoring faith communities in Virginia and Maryland, ensuring that new arrivals are welcomed by a caring community and provided with their basic needs during their initial resettlement.

The Virginia Council of Churches was also praised for "helping between 500 and 600 refugees a year begin new lives in the United States, making the Virginia Council of Churches the largest resettlement provider in Virginia in Fiscal Years 2004 and 2005; Empowering former refugees to achieve their potential as business and community leaders who, in turn, become part of a strong, growing network of support for newly arriving refugees; Employing former refugees and asylees in leadership positions, including as program coordinators of sub-offices in New Windsor, Md., and Harrisonburg, Va., and as director of the Cuban-Haitian resettlement program in Newport News, Va., among the largest Cuban-Haitian sites in the Church World Service Immigration and Refugee Program.

Also, for "enabling children and adults in migrant farm worker and other rural households to achieve their potential through its Rural Family Development program, a 50-year-old program begun in partnership with the National Council of Churches USA, which establishes relationships of trust with family members as a basis for providing comprehensive family and child development services, including 'Head Start' for migrant farm workers’ children through age five. The program currently serves 300 families."

Accepting the award for the VCC was General Minister Jonathon M. Barton.

NCC Photographs by Kathleen Cameron.

Contact NCC News,  Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2258, or Leslie Tune, 202-544-2350.


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