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The ecumenical and interreligious family is richly diverse and populated with sisters and brothers whose lives were models of faith, fortitude and courage. Some made powerful impacts on the world stage while others lived out God's call in humbler settings. All of them, when they are gone, leave an enormous void. In this page we pause to remember some of them with gratitude and love.

NCC News contact:  Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2228 (office), 646-853-4212 (cell)

 


James Samuel Thomas, d. October 10, 2010

James Samuel Thomas, the United Methodist bishop who broke racial barriers when he was assigned to an all-white annual (regional) conference in 1964, died Oct. 10.He was 91. “In the loss of Bishop James Samuel Thomas, the church has lost a truly great leader. He was a leader and a bishop without peer,” said Bishop Gregory Vaughn Palmer, Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference. “For me he was the perfect integration of dignity, grace and passion for the gospel that anyone would want to aspire to be no matter how they were serving Jesus Christ.… He will be missed dearly but there will not be a moment in the next days or weeks that will go by that his memory and his teaching will not be evoked. I am grateful for who he was and who he will continue to be as he lives in our hearts.” Bishop Sally Dyck, Minnesota area, said she was one of many clergy that benefited from Thomas’ “gracious way.” She received a doctor of ministry from United Theological School, Dayton, Ohio, in Black Church Studies as a Bishop James S. Thomas fellow. “I am one of a gazillion … one of many clergy that he saw something in along the way and set up opportunities all along the way that were appropriate for stretching my skills and experience and vision of the church … and just allowed doors to be open for me. I am just deeply grateful,” she said. 

Robert W. Huston, d. October 6, 2010

The Rev. Robert W. Huston, 90, is remembered as a devout Christian with a fierce passion for the unity of the church and a humble man who championed the gifts of women and young adults. “There was no one in the whole world more knowledgeable about the ecumenical and interreligious scene than Rob Huston,” declared retired United Methodist Bishop Jack Tuell. An official Protestant Observer at the Roman Catholic Second Vatican Council in 1965, he was instrumental in official dialogues with Roman Catholics and Lutherans and called ecumenism a “tough job” but not a lost cause “because it is not ours to lose — it is God’s.” Huston, who had suffered a stroke in January, died Oct. 6 at the Peconic Landing retirement community in Greenport, Long Island, N.Y. The Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches and a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) minister, served on the commission during Huston’s tenure and remembered him as a bridge-builder. “It was notable that Rob Huston — one of the great United Methodist ecumenical pioneers —made everyone around the table feel like a member of the family," Kinnamon said. “Few leaders had a greater understanding of the theological distinctions of the many groups with whom he worked.” 

Clinton A. McCoy, Jr., d. September 12, 2010

The Rev. Clinton A. McCoy Jr., executive for partnerships of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s Synod of the Northeast, died suddenly Sept. 12 of a massive heart attack. McCoy collapsed while at his lakefront cottage near Potsdam, N.Y. He lived in nearby Canton. McCoy had served the Synod of the Northeast since 2006. He was pastor emeritus of Western Presbyterian Church in Palmyra, NY, where he served from 1979-1994. For 12 years before his synod position, McCoy served as executive presbyter for the Presbytery of Northern New York. While in Palmyra, McCoy served as a director of the Newark-Wayne Community Hospital and was instrumental in the creation of the chaplain’s position there. He was the founding president of Habitat for Humanity of Wayne County, N.Y. In his role at the synod, McCoy served as co-executive and was given the tongue-in-cheek description of “Executive for Loose Ends.” He staffed programmatic ministries such as the Early Ministry Institute, the synod’s international fellowship with the Church of Jesus Chris in Madagascar, the African American Caucus and Church Growth Strategy Steering Committee and the Tri-Synod Latino Leadership Development project. At the time of his death, McCoy was also president of the New York State Council of Churches.  

 

John Ulman Miller, d. September 11, 2010

The Rev. John Ulman Miller, 71, died on September 11th after a long battle with cancer. He was pastor of the Evangelical Protestant United Church of Christ in Albany's South End, and was active in the NYS Council of Churches Public Policy Commission. During his quarter of a century in Albany he became a fixture in the South End, helping residents in in many ways, notably assisting hundreds of people charged with crimes in the city through his Incarceration Prevention program. He was diector of the Capital Area Council of Churches, serving as executive director from 2001 until this June. A service was held at 9 a.m. Sept. 24 at Evangelical Protestant United Church of Christ, followed by a celebration of his life from noon to 4 p.m. at the Palace Theater in Albany. The latter event had already been set to honor him with the dedication of the John U. Miller Community Justice Outreach Center in Albany.

 


James K. Matthews, d. September 8, 2010

James K. Mathews, one of the longest-serving bishops in the United Methodist Church, died Sept. 8 at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington of complications from treatment for cancer. He was 97. Bishop Mathews's career as a clergyman spanned six decades and several continents, including Africa and Asia. From 1972 until retiring in 1980, he served as bishop of the Washington area, with about 900 congregations in Maryland, the District and West Virginia. He continued to work in retirement, serving for a year in Harare, Zimbabwe, where he replaced a bishop who had fled the country after challenging Prime Minister Robert Mugabe in an election. He then served for several years in Albany and New York City before retiring a second time in 1996. James Kenneth Mathews, one of eight children, was born in Breezewood, Pa. His father was a Methodist preacher. Bishop Mathews worked his way through college as a baker and graduated from Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn., in 1931. He went on to receive a bachelor of sacred theology degree from the Biblical Seminary in New York. He was ordained as a Methodist minister in 1937 and then entered Boston University's school of theology. He withdrew before completing a graduate degree, having decided to become a missionary in India. While in India, he met the daughter of prominent Methodist missionary E. Stanley Jones. They were married for 70 years.  

Lucius Walker, d. September 7, 2010

The Rev. Dr. Lucius Walker, 80, a former member of the National Council of Churches staff who became a controversial and beloved activist for human rights in the 1960s and 70s and later founded an organization that sent hundreds of tons of humanitarian aid to Latin America, including Cuba, died September 7 in his home in Demarest, N.J. "Lucius is one of several NCC staff members whose contributions to justice and faith we honor with pride," said the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, NCC general secretary. "He did not leave the council in 1978 on a happy note, but today we freely acknowledge that he exemplified the highest standards of the council and we are proud of him." Walker was NCC associate general secretary for Church and Society in 1978 when he was fired by General Secretary Claire Randall. The New York Times reported Monday that Walker was fired "for giving too much money to community organizers." After he left the Council, Walker returned to the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organizations (IFCO), which he directed from the time of its founding in 1967 by a coalition of Protestant, Roman Catholic, Jewish and civic groups. Since 1988, Walker had been active in organizing shipments of food, medicine and other humanitarian supplied to Latin America, including Cuba, where his visits violated the U.S. travel embargo countless times. To carry out his mission, he founded an organization of clergy called Pastors for Peace. More than half the organization's 40 missions have been to Cuba, which has been off-limits to U.S. visitors and businesses since the Kennedy Administration. "Lucius' rhetoric was often radical and I don't suppose all our member communions would approve of it," Kinnamon said. "He frankly regarded U.S. policy in Latin America and Cuba as imperialistic, and he openly violated the embargo rules because he regarded them as unjust and immoral. "But his credo always was that God anointed Christians to bring good news to the poor, release to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and freedom to the oppressed. He believed we are called to feed the hungry. And these words of Jesus certainly unite the 45 million who relate to NCC member communions."

Metropolitan Christopher, d. August 18, 2010

His Eminence Christopher, 82, Metropolitan of Libertyville-Chicago and Primate of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the U.S. and Canada, died August 18. The Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, wrote to the church's episcopal council today to express "sadness and deepest condolences on the repose of Metropolitan Christopher of blessed memory. "We have upheld Metropolitan Christopher in our prayers since we learned of his grave illness," Kinnamon wrote on behalf of the NCC's 36 member communions. "Our sadness at his passing is comforted by our understanding that it is God’s will and by our gratitude to God for his life and leadership. We will continue to remember your community and its leadership in this time of sadness and transition." Born in Galveston, Texas, and baptized Velimir Kovacevich, the future Metropolitan Christopher was the ninth of twelve children of Serbian immigrant parents. After graduation from high school, he attended Nashotah House and graduated from St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Seminary in Libertyville, Illinois. After marrying, he was ordained to the Diaconate and Priesthood. He earned a B.A. (Philosophy), Master of Letters (History) at the University of Pittsburgh; the Master of Divinity from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Massachusetts, and completed courses and examinations for the doctorate at the Chicago Theological Seminary. Father Velimir ministered to parishes in Pennsylvania and in Chicago and served as chaplain to four universities. He assisted his parishes to become bilingual in their worship and education programs. As a priest, he served as spiritual father, counselor, youth worker, administrator, educator, and, above all, in priestly ministry at the Holy Altar. Widowed in 1970, he is the father of four, as well as the grandfather of nine. Elevated to the episcopate in 1978 by the Assembly of Bishops in Belgrade, and tonsured with the monastic name of Christopher, he became the first American-born bishop to serve a diocese of his church in North America.  

George "Bill" Webber, d. June 10, 2010

The Rev. Dr. George W. "Bill" Webber, 90, one of the vanguard of 20th century Protestant advocates of social justice that included Martin Luther King Jr. and William Sloan Coffin, Jr., died July 10 in Maplewood, N.J. Webber, a United Church of Christ minister who was president of New York Theological Seminary from 1969-1983, was hailed by religious and human rights leaders as a model of Christian activism. "He was not only a great leader in theological education," said the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches. "Bill Webber was a social activist whose ministry helped renew the church in this country through encouraging (and modeling) its engagement with social issues." When many white social activists lived in the suburbs, Webber and his family lived out their commitment to the poor in a housing project in Harlem. A former gunnery officer during World War II, Webber was a vehement opponent of the Vietnam War and was arrested several times during anti-war protests. As president of New York Theological Seminary he introduced several innovations that attracted African American, Latino and women church leaders, including a program to admit students who had not graduated from college to do graduate work. He also introduced a successful masters in theology program for inmates of the Sing Sing federal prison in Ossining, N.Y.

Dorothy Height, d. April 20, 2010

Dorothy Irene Height, who began her activist career as a teenager marching in New York's Times Square shouting, "Stop the lynching," was remembered as one of the last great voices of the American Civil Rights Movement. Height, 98, who led the National Council of Negro Women for four decades and continued to speak out on justice issues in her 90s, died early today. "We remember Dr. Height both as a civil rights leader and as a tireless champion of church unity," said the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches. "History will not forget the contributions Dorothy Height made to the cause of freedom and justice," Kinnamon said. "We in the church will never forget the essential role her faith played in motivating her lifelong quest on behalf of persons of all ages, races and ethnicities. She knew that persons of faith can be an irresistible force for justice when we join hearts and hands, and she was a leader in that march throughout most of our lifetimes." A United Methodist, Height was the first recipient in 2004 of the National Council of Churches J. Irwin Miller Award, named for one of the Council's lay presidents, Kinnamon noted. Presenting the award was Bishop Thomas L. Hoyt of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, and NCC president in 2004. "Friends, I cannot think of anyone who is more deserving of the J. Irwin Miller Award than Dorothy Height," Hoyt said at the time. "She is a living legend in the movement for civil rights in this nation. She has dedicated herself to improving the quality of life for African-American women and children. She is known internationally for her work for human rights for all. The world is truly a better place because of the work and witness of Dr. Dorothy Irene Height.  

Benjamin L. Hooks, d. April 15, 2010

The Rev. Dr. Benjamin L. Hooks, an American Baptist minister who preached church unity and human harmony, was hailed Thursday as an eloquent leader whose life exemplified Christ's love of the poor and passion for justice. The Rev. Dr. A. Roy Medley, General Secretary of American Baptist Churches USA, said, "Benjamin Hooks' outstanding leadership in the quest for equal rights in a segregated America reflected American Baptists' passion for justice as an integral part of Jesus' message of redemption.  We are deeply saddened at the passing of this giant but his achievements shall never fade from the consciousness of all who 'thirst for righteousness.'" "Benjamin Hooks was unfailingly brilliant when he combined the finely-tuned logic of a lawyer with a preacher's evangelical persuasiveness to help people see you can't love God unless you love your sisters and brothers," said the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, National Council of Churches General Secretary. Hooks, 85, an ordained minister, civil rights attorney, judge and retired executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, died April 15 after a long illness. "He was essentially a renaissance man," Kinnamon said. "He was a leader of great faith and it was the church that captured his imagination and inspired him to be a great preacher, pastor, jurist, and human rights leader." "He was one of the towering Baptist voices we sought as a keynoter at an American Baptist communication conference in Wisconsin in 1974," said Philip E. Jenks, NCC Media Relations Specialist, who directed the American Baptist Division of Communication that year. "I remember how he quoted Martin Luther King. Jr., and predicted 'dark and difficult days ahead' before the human rights picture in the U.S. would brighten."

Frances Smith, d. December 30, 2009

Frances Smith, a former United Methodist News Service reporter known for her integrity, encyclopedic knowledge of religious and international issues and ability to shoot from the hip, died Dec. 30 in Claremont, Calif., at the age of 87. Smith joined the New York office of United Methodist News Service in 1976. She retired in 1988, after 40 years in journalism. The late George Cornell of The Associated Press said Smith knew the field of religion “better than most academics or bishops.” She was inducted into the denomination’s Communicators’ Hall of Fame that year. The Texas native and Presbyterian began her career covering the police beat for the St. Louis Star-Times during World War II. After the war, she moved to New York and became assistant editor of Justice, the newspaper of the International Garment Workers’ Union for six years. She then moved on to religious publications, including denominational magazines for the Presbyterian Church and United Church of Christ and the opinion journal Christianity in Crisis, where she worked with founding editors Reinhold Niebuhr and John Bennett. Moving to Geneva, she served on the World Council of Churches’ communications staff and as editor of Ecumenical News Service from 1966-76. “Frances was one of the most respected of church journalists for her accuracy and her objectivity,” recalled Betty Thompson, a friend who worked with her in both United Methodist and World Council of Churches settings.

Archbishop Job, d. December 18, 2009

His Eminence, Job, Orthodox Church in America  Archbishop of Chicago and the Midwest, died unexpectedly December 18. He was born Richard John Osacky in Chicago on March 18, 1946. He completed university studies at Northern Illinois University and, after graduating from Saint Tikhon Seminary, South Canaan, Pa., in 1970, he served as cantor and youth director at Saint John the Baptist Church in Black Lick, Pennsylvania. He assumed responsibilities in leading Divine Services in the prescribed manner for readers, conducting religious education and youth work, and painting icons. It was his extraordinary affinity with Orthodox youth that gained him the recognition of the Church at large. In 1973 Reader John was ordained to the holy diaconate and consequently to the holy priesthood by Bishop Theodosius of Pittsburgh [later Metropolitan Theodosius of All American and Canada]. He was assigned to the parish in Black Lick, where he also served as spiritual director for the Orthodox Christian Fellowship at nearby Indiana University of Pennsylvania. As a celibate priest, he maintained a zeal for the monastic life in all his endeavors. In 1975 he was made a riasaphor monk, and later was tonsured a monk in the Lesser Schema by [then] Bishop Herman in August of 1982. In November of that year he was elevated to the rank of archimandrite. Recognizing that zeal and spirit of dedication to Church service in Father Job, the Diocese of New England nominated hieromonk Job as their diocesan bishop. The Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America ratified the nomination and elected him Bishop of Hartford and the Diocese of New England. He was consecrated to the episcopacy on January 29, 1983, at All Saints Church in Hartford, Connecticut. At its session of November 5, 1992, the Holy Synod of Bishops elected Bishop Job as Bishop of Chicago and Diocese of the Midwest. He was enthroned as Bishop of his native city at Holy Trinity Cathedral on February 6, 1993. In his years in the See of Chicago, the Diocese of the Midwest experienced tremendous growth. This was witnessed in--but certainly not limited to--the establishment of numerous new mission parishes in the diocese. In addition to his regular duties as the ruling hierarch of the Diocese of the Midwest, His Eminence enjoyed his long-standing and excellent reputation as an iconographer and iconologist. He was often called upon to offer lectures on this subject, and he was willing to assist and encourage other iconographers.

Oral Roberts, d. December 15, 2009

Evangelist Oral Roberts, founder of the Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association and Oral Roberts University, died from complications of pneumonia in Newport Beach, California. He was 91. "Oral Roberts was a man of God, and a great friend in ministry," the Rev. Billy Graham said in a statement Tuesday. "I loved him as a brother. We had many quiet conversations over the years." Granville Oral Roberts was born into poverty in Bebee, Oklahoma, on January 24, 1918, according to a brief biography released by Ethridge. His Christian ministry began with what he described as his own miracle healing of tuberculosis at age 17. Roberts pastored churches in Oklahoma and Georgia and preached at revivals around the country while studying at Oklahoma Baptist University and Phillips University in Oklahoma, according to the biography. In 1947, he founded the Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association in Tulsa, "and began conducting crusades across America and around the world, attracting crowds of thousands -- many who were sick and dying and in search of healing," the biography said. "Through the years, he conducted more than 300 crusades on six continents" and "laid hands" on an estimated 2 million people, according to association officials.

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