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WCC mourns passing of Rev. Dr George Edward Todd

WCC mourns passing of Rev. Dr George Edward Todd

Rev. Dr George Edward Todd, in 1973. Photo: WCC

25 January 2019

World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit extended his condolences and prayers to the family upon the passing on 14 January of Rev. Dr George Edward Todd.

Tveit thanked God for Todd’s talents of community organizing and his hard work in seeking justice for so many people.

Dr Todd worked on the grassroots level to help people find their own voice in the local communities, a voice that they still have today,” said Tveit. “He dedicated his life to racially and ethnically diverse congregations and communities, and found ways to address homelessness, housing, and public education.”

In 1974, Todd moved to Geneva to join the WCC staff as director of the Office of Urban and Industrial Mission. He worked to help churches in Europe and the USA support efforts in developing countries, especially those with colonial legacies, to empower urban and rural communities around economic justice, tenant's rights, labor organizing, and community organizing.

He created a worldwide web of connections with emerging leaders in education, economics, and community empowerment. He also supported theological dialogue in many emerging communities in Latin America, Africa, Asia and India. He worked directly in supporting the causes of internationally well-known social activists such as Desmond Tutu, Caesar Chavez, Nobelist and Korean president Kim Dae-Jung, and Zimbabwe president Canaan Banana.

He also worked with people in local communities on the front lines of social justice. He and his wife, Kathleen Lee Franklin Todd, opened their home to many people, creating lifelong friendships nurturing their work in myriad local communities across the globe.

In the early 1950s, Todd joined the newly formed East Harlem Protestant Parish in New York City where he and others committed to social justice activism created a ministry built with and for the residents of East Harlem.

In 1959, he and Kathleen moved to Taiwan where Todd served as a missionary, teaching at Tainan Theological Seminary. Among his activities there, he introduced courses in Christian social ethics, had Saul Alinsky's classic community organizing book, “Reveille for Radicals”, translated into Taiwanese and promoted indigenous Taiwanese art and music in Christian worship.

In 1963, Todd became the director of the Department of Urban and Industrial Mission at the Presbyterian Board of National Missions. There he was instrumental in the Presbyterian Church's work in the 1960s in civil rights, urban engagement, economic justice, ecumenism, labor organizing, and the creation of urban training institutes.

In 1981, Todd accepted the position of executive director of the Wieboldt Foundation, a progressive foundation in Chicago that primarily funded community organizing efforts. Then in 1986, he and Kathleen returned to New York City, where Todd was called to be the executive presbyter of the New York City Presbytery.

Even more than his extensive list of accomplishments, the stories Todd told of his work live on through his family and friends, Tveit said. “Dr Todd shared his heart for communities and his love of stories with so many of us,” said Tveit. “We will miss his justice, compassion, and giving spirit.”

"Calvin for Lent - Memories of George Todd, Philip Potter and the early days of Ecumenical Centre", by Robert Allan Hill (The Huffington Post, 21 March 2016)