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General Assembly honors church leaders
for their years of ecumenical service

Denver, November 18, 2008Humanitarian and ecumenical leaders with deep roots in the Christian unity movement were feted during the 2008 General Assembly of the National Council of Churches and Church World Service. 

The annual J. Irwin Miller Award was given to Byrd Bonner, a United Methodist layman and executive director of the United Methodist Church Foundation. An activist on racial justice issues, Bonner, of San Antonio, Tex., has served on a number of UMC committees and commissions, including the General Commission on Christian Unity and Inter-religious Concerns. The J. Irwin 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, who was the first layman to serve as president of the NCC. 

Also honored was Ramzi Zananiri, winner of the Eugene Carson Blake Award for Ecumenism, an honor that commemorates the late president of the National Council of Churches and general secretary of the World Council of Churches. The award, given for "welcoming outreach to those beyond the common bounds of ecumenism," was given to Zananiri, executive director of the International Christian Committee-Jerusalem, a Church World Service partner providing emergency and development assistance to the Palestinian community.  

The Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Award for Christian Unity, an annual award given to a clergy person whose life and work have significantly advanced the cause of unity among the churches in the United States and internationally, was given to the Rev. Dr. O.C. Edwards Jr., an Episcopal priest and author; who has served as member of the NCC's executive committee, and as co-chair of Faith and Order, USA; past president of the Academy of Homiletics; and past treasurer of the Societas Homiletica. 

Among those honored during a November 12 awards dinner during the Nov. 11-13 assembly in Denver were winners of General Assembly Awards of Excellence – those  "individuals whose life and work demonstrate extraordinary achievement in furthering the ecumenical movement, meeting human needs, advocating for peace and justice, and/or providing a strong prophetic voice in the Christian community." 

Suzanne Dysard was honored for her long commitment to CWS CROP Walk fundraising. She has been the coordinator of the Boulder, Colo., Walk since 2000. Under her leadership, the Walk has more than doubled the amount of money raised annually. Dysard has personally raised more than $10,000 during the last two years. 

Also honored with an award of excellence was Dr. Paul Eppinger, for his long commitment to ecumenical and interfaith work, including his successful work as the statewide director of the “Victory Together” campaign to establish a state Martin Luther King holiday. For eight years he was the executive director of the Arizona Ecumenical Council and is the founder and executive director of the Arizona Interfaith Movement, which is composed of 24 different major religious groups. 

Another award of excellence honoree was The Rev. Dr. Nancy Jo Kemper, feted for her work for both church and society, including serving as the fifth executive director of the Kentucky Council of Churches in 1991, after having served as the minister of congregations of the United Church of Christ in locations across the Midwest.  

The Rev. Fr. Alexander Veronis, a Greek Orthodox priest, has chaired the annual CROP Hunger Walk in Lancaster, Pa., since 1972, raising $4 million to help end hunger locally and globally. In honor of that accomplishment, Church World Service has created "The Father Alexander and Pearl Veronis Hunger Fund,” named after Father Veronis and his wife, Pearl. 

Carol Young was feted for her work as executive director of Kentucky Refugee Ministries, a CWS refugee resettlement affiliate. Congregations of a number of denominations share in the group's welcoming ministry; under Young's leadership, Kentucky Refugee Ministries has made refugee resettlement a respected ecumenical venture. 

The CWS-supported ICC Water Cistern Program employs local laborers to construct cisterns to capture rainwater, which provides a critical resource for some of the most vulnerable families in the region. CWS and ICC also collaborate together under the CWS Water for All campaign. 

The Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance received an Award of Excellence for its seven-decades-long work in bringing hope and change to the Greater Denver area. It has been on the cutting edge in the fight for equality in housing, education, politics, business and industry and crime and justice. The award was received by Alliance President Pastor Ralph Beechum.

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

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