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Deaths of William Lazareth and Lukas Vischer
remove two early leaders of Faith and Order

New York, March 12, 2008 – Professor Dr. Lukas Vischer, 81, a Presbyterian scholar and early leader in the worldwide Faith and Order movement, died March 11.

Dr. Vischer was director of the World Council of Churches' Faith and Order office from 1965 to 1979. His death comes 19 days after the passing of his successor at WCC Faith and Order, the Rev. Dr. William Lazareth.

"In a short span of time we have lost two giants in the international Faith and Order movement," said the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches USA who knew both men when he served on the WCC Faith and Order staff in Geneva.

"The driving force in their lives was the vision of visible church unity," Kinnamon said. "There can be no greater honor to their memory than for the 35 member communions of the National Council of Churches to recommit themselves to this vision, and to the prayer of Jesus that all Christians may be one."

Dr. Antonios Kireopoulos, NCC Senior Program Director for Faith and Order, affirmed Kinnamon's tribute. "So much of the history of the modern ecumenical movement was written by the way these two leaders lived their lives," he said. "They were there at a time when the churches felt profoundly God's call to unity, and they provided theological grounding, inspiration, research and resources to help the movement along its way."

Vischer was the WCC's representative at the Second Vatican Council in Rome from 1962 to 1965, a post that led to the founding of the Joint Working Group between the Roman Catholic Church and the WCC. He served as its first co-secretary.

As director of Faith and Order, Professor Vischer initiated the study process that led to the publication of Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, widely recognized as a milestone in the modern ecumenical movement. Lazareth and others continued the process and the BEM document is the preeminent guide for Christian churches striving to understand each other.

BEM's famous text, adopted by WCC's Faith and Order at its plenary commission meeting in Lima, Peru in 1982, explores the growing agreement – and remaining differences – in fundamental areas of the churches’ faith and life. It remains the most widely-distributed and studied ecumenical document, and has been a basis for many “mutual recognition” agreements among churches and remains a reference today.

During his life, Lukas Vischer built relationships of friendship and trust with many theologians and church leaders around the world. They will mourn with us this loss of a theologian and ecumenist of such a great stature.

Lazareth was former bishop of the ELCA's Metropolitan New York Synod. He had a distinguished career as a college and seminary professor, author and leader with the ELCA, the former Lutheran Church in America (LCA) the WCC. At the time of his death, Lazareth was a faculty member at Carthage College, Kenosha, Wis., serving as Jerald C. Brauer Distinguished Professor of Lutheran Studies.  He was also founding co-director of the online Augustine Institute at Carthage.

NCC News contact:  Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2228,


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