Rev. Dr Gerald Frank Moede died on 13 February 2018. A respected theologian and ecumenical leader he studied at Garrett Theological Seminary and at the University of Basel in Switzerland, where he earned a Doctorate of Theology. He taught at Princeton and Dubuque seminaries, was a published author and speaker, and a contributor to various church periodicals. He received his ordination through the United Methodist Conference, and served on the WCC Faith and Order Commission from 1967 to 1974. He later continued ecumenism on the local/regional level by fostering ongoing dialogue and shared worship within various denominations.
Rev. Dr Billy Graham, evangelist and renowned evangelical church leader, died at the age of 99 on 21 February 2018. Already an evangelical leader, in the early 1950s, he began to develop friendships with Roman Catholic prelates such as the archbishop (and later cardinal) of New York, and the archbishop (also later cardinal) of Boston. These friendships would expand and deepen over the course of Graham's life. During the same period he began developing relationships with the World Council of Churches, meeting the former WCC general secretary Willem Visser ‘t Hooft, during a visit to the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey in 1955, and with the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA. 1955 also marked Billy Graham's founding of the magazine, Christianity Today. At his and his friend John Stott’s initiative the Lausanne Movement of evangelical Christians first gathered in 1974 at the International Congress on World Evangelization. He was a highly respected church leader and preacher of the gospel in the USA and around the world.
Rev. Dr Dong Sung Kim, WCC programme executive for Diakonia and Ecumenical Solidarity, died on 25 March 2018. He was an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church in Korea, and studied Theology and Church History at the Presbyterian University and Theological Seminary in Seoul. He earned a Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh. Before being appointed in WCC, he worked as a secretary for Ecumenical Relations and Planning at the PCK General Assembly Office, an assistant pastor of the Saemoonan Presbyterian Church, and a lecturer at the PUTS. He helped conceptualize, plan and implement many initiatives, including a conference in Bossey, in 2014, on the 30th anniversary of the “Tozanso Process”, involving church leaders from 34 churches and related organizations from 15 countries, including delegations from the Korean Christian Federation (KCF) in North Korea and from the National Council of Churches (NCCK) in South Korea, seeking ways to advance reconciliation and peace on the peninsula. He also helped lead a 12-person international ecumenical delegation visit to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in 2015, which included an historic meeting of the Ecumenical Forum for Korea in Pyongyang, the first time an international ecumenical gathering of this nature was able to meet anywhere on Korean soil – North or South – with the official participation of both the KCF and NCCK.
Ms Thelma Skiller passed away peacefully in Bangor, NSW, Australia, on 28 June 2018 at 92 years of age. She served as secretary for Finance in the WCC Commission on Inter-Church Aid, Refugee and World Service from 1982-1987. In late 1987 she returned to Australia and later organized the visitors’ programme for the WCC Canberra assembly. Prior to coming to WCC, she worked with the Australian Council of Churches (as it was then) in Sydney.
Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran passed away on 5 July 2018. He was president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID). Before PCID, he served as the Vatican’s foreign minister, from 1975 to 1983, which gained him a reputation as a tireless behind-the-scenes diplomat. As PCID president, he made a great impact on Catholic relations with non-Christian religions, most especially in convening interreligious coalitions to address the pressing questions of culture and society. He was especially tireless in his work to build relations with the Muslim community.
Rev. Dr Katie Geneva Cannon, the first African-American woman ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA), died on 8 August 2018 at age 68. She was the Annie Scales Rogers professor of Christian Ethics at Union Presbyterian Seminary, and a foremost scholar of the womanist movement. When the Circle of African Women Theologians was launched in September 1989 in Accra, Ghana with the encouragement of the WCC Programme on Theological Education, Cannon was there to provide ecumenical accompaniment.
Bishop John Victor Samuel, a former general secretary of the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA), passed away on 30 August 2018. He was 87 years old. He was the first Pakistani bishop elected in the Methodist Church. A prominent Asian ecumenical leader, he served CCA as its fifth general secretary (1990-1995). He was general secretary of the Student Christian Movement in Pakistan; a member of the CCA presidium (1973-1977); a member of the WCC central committee; and presiding bishop of the Church of Pakistan.
Ms Marie Bassili Assaad, an ecumenical leader from the Coptic Orthodox Church and first layperson to hold the post of WCC deputy general secretary (1980-1986), passed away on 30 August 2018, at the age of 96. As a young woman she became active with the Egyptian branch of the YWCA and held a 16-month stint with the World YWCA in Geneva in the early 1950s. She then became secretary-general of the Egyptian YWCA, which became more closely consolidated with the World YWCA. During her six-year tenure with the World Council of Churches, she placed women’s issues on the council’s agenda, and presented a study on women and sexuality in the different religious traditions. A pioneer in the social development field, she gave impetus to combating the prevalent practice in Egypt of female circumcision, also known as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Her initiative in the mid-1990s garnered community organisations, NGOs, the media and the government itself, and a taskforce headed by Asaad to combat FGM was formed. In 2008, the Egyptian government issued a law criminalising FGM. She equipped and enabled church and society to address controversial social and ecological issues with deep commitment and she also played a role in establishing The Coptic Church’s Bishopric for Social and Ecumenical Services.
Ms Loïs-Catherine Meyhoffer , former WCC staff, died on 7 September 2018 at the age of 99. In 1949 at the request of WCC, she went to Germany to help displaced persons and refugees. In 1955 she moved back to Geneva to work at the WCC, and was involved with a variety of programmes in the then-Division of Inter-Church Aid and Refugee Service, including coordinating the WCC and Swiss churches’ rest home in Locarno, Ticino for refugees and displaced people, as well as social programmes and assistance for Orthodox churches in Eastern Europe, and also in the Near East. Subsequently she worked on self-help projects run by the WCC Diakonia desk. In her final year at the WCC before retirement at the end of 1981, she was involved in programmes linked to the international year of disabled persons.
Metropolitan Anba Bishoy of Damiette of the Coptic Orthodox Church passed away on 3 October 2018. He was a member of the WCC Faith and Order Commission from 1991 till the day of his death. He made important contributions to the 1998-2002 Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC continuing as a member of the permanent committee on consensus and collaboration. For 12 years, he served on the WCC central and executive committees. For many years he was also a member of several bilateral dialogues between the Oriental Family of Orthodox Churches and different churches or Christian world communions.
Deacon Ingrit Vogt, former general secretary of the Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil (IECLB), passed away on 15 November 2018. She did diaconal training at the IECLB and also graduated in social work. She worked in the congregations of São Leopoldo and Balsas. Since the beginning of 1995 she served the Evangelical Community of Lutheran Confession of Paracatu, where she remained until the beginning of 2005, when she took office as director of diakonia at the IECLB General Secretariat. In 2010, she was named as general secretary of the IECLB, a position she held until her retirement for health reasons in 2018.
Rev. Dr Yam Kho Pau, a member of the WCC central committee elected at the Busan assembly, passed away on 25 November 2018 in Yangon. A graduate of the Myanmar Institute of Theology in Yangon, he was ordained to active ministry by the Kuki Chin Baptist Association and earned a PhD in rural development from the Central Luzon State University in the Philippines. Before being elected as the general secretary of the Myanmar Baptist Convention, he served the Myanmar Council of Churches as its associate general secretary and as executive secretary for Human Resources Development. He served in committees and councils of various church and ecumenical organizations in Myanmar including the Association for Theological Education of Myanmar, Myanmar Institute of Theology, National Leprosy Mission of Myanmar, and the Kuki Chin Baptist Association.
Bishop William B. Oden from the United Methodist Church, former Council of Bishops president, died on 22 December 2018 at the age of 83. He led two annual conferences of the church and co-wrote a history of the council. From 1992-1996, he co-chaired the first phase of an international Methodist-Anglican dialogue on behalf of the World Methodist Council. In 2000, while president of the Council of Bishops, he led an ecumenical peace and fact-finding mission to Israel and the Palestinian Territories and moderated a conversation with officials from Bethlehem and two adjacent villages. He also served as bishop-in-residence at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology and as ecumenical officer of the Council of Bishops (2004-2008). He was a United Methodist delegate to the British Methodist Conference during those years and led the United Methodist delegation to the World Council of Churches Assembly in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 2006.
Bishop Emerita Nélida Ritchie from the Evangelical Methodist Church of Argentina (IEMA) passed away on 22 December 2018. She worked at CELADEC, the Latin American Evangelical Commission of Christian Education and also served at the Ecumenical Christian Center of Cordoba, in charge of the Department of Studies. In 1985, the General Assembly of IEMA appointed her as Superintendent of the Patagonian Region. She was elected bishop of her church in 2001 and then re-elected in 2005. She served as vice-moderator of the WCC central committee (1991-1998) being elected at the Canberra assembly.
Fr Samuel Rayan, who passed away on 2 January 2019 at the age of 98, was a renowned Christian theologian, writer and Jesuit priest. A pioneer of theology with an Asian perspective, he served as a member of the WCC Faith and Order Commission, was a member of the Advisory Committee of the Liturgical Commission of the Catholic Bishop's Conference of India (CBCI), and a member of the CBCI’s Sub Commission on Intellectual Formation. He was also a visiting professor at the Papal Athaneum, Pune, and many other theological institutes in India and a founding member of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians.
Rev. Dr Rena Karefa-Smart, the first black woman to graduate from Yale Divinity School, passed away on 9 January 2019 at the age of 97. She also received a doctorate in theology from Harvard Divinity School and was the first black woman to become a tenured professor at Howard Divinity School, where she taught Christian ethics. She was a pioneering leader in the World Student Christian Federation and served in Africa, the Caribbean, the United States, and Europe. She was a champion for global ecumenism over the course of her long and distinguished career. She was a consultant for the WCC’s first assembly in 1948 and authored the liturgies for the second in 1954. She served as an Episcopal priest and a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, representing that church on the WCC central committee. She served as ecumenical officer for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, as professor of ethics at Howard University, and as an associate of the Center for Theology and Public Policy in Washington, D.C.
Bishop McKinley Young, senior bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, passed away on 16 January 2019. He pastored churches in the 1st, 4th, and 6th Episcopal Districts, being elected the 109th Bishop from Big Bethel AME Church in Atlanta in 1992. From 1996-2000 Bishop Young served as the Ecumenical and Urban Affairs Officer for the AME Church. He served as a member of the Executive Committee, the Central Committee and moderator of the finance committee of the World Council of Churches, the Executive Committee of the National Council of Churches, USA, the World Methodist Council, the Pan-Methodist Commission, the Consultation on Church Union and the Conference of National Black Churches.
Rev. C.M. Kao passed away on 14 February 2019. He was general secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (PCT) in the 1970s, and served the PCT in various capacities for several years. He served as a minister at Taiwanese indigenous churches. A strong human rights advocate, he was arrested and imprisoned for upholding protection of human rights and human dignity during the martial law period in Taiwan. The World Council of Churches had consistently advocated for his release during that time. Highly respected and esteemed, he gained wide ecumenical experience and knowledge, having served on committees and participating in numerous international meetings as delegate, preacher and Bible study leader over the years.
Archbishop of York John Habgood, a member of the WCC central committee (1983-1991) representing the Church of England and moderator of Church and Society (1983-1990), died on 6 March 2019 at the age of 91. A scientist and philosopher, he was regarded as one of the most outspoken clerics of his time. In 1981, he was moderator of the WCC’s Public Hearing on Nuclear Weapons and Disarmament, organized in Amsterdam at a time of widespread concern about the danger of nuclear conflict. The hearing was crucial in the development of the WCC’s policy on nuclear weapons.
Rev. Norman Tendis, a minister in the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg and Helvetic Confessions in Austria, died on 10 March 2019. He was among those who perished when an Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed outside Addis Abba. He was a WCC consultant and also served as a Lutheran minister in Austria. He was on his way to the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi when the tragedy occurred. He was headed to the UN meeting to present a “Roadmap for Congregations, Communities, and Churches for an Economy of Life and Ecological Justice,” his legacy work which the WCC continues to promote and distribute.
Rev. Robina Winbush, director of ecumenical relations of the Presbyterian Church (USA), passed away on 12 March 2019. Known for her prophetic commitment to unity with justice, particularly racial justice and gender justice, she served as a member of the Commission on Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation 2004-2006. At the WCC Porto Alegre Assembly in 2006, she delivered the closing sermon, titled “For the healing of the nations” based on Rev. 22:1-5. She was on the WCC central committee from 2006 until her death. She was a leader among the global network of Ecumenical Officers and helped to articulate the WCC vision for “Ecumenism in the 21st Century”. She served on the Joint Working Group between the WCC and the Roman Catholic Church from 2013. In 2018 she began a four-year term on the WCC executive committee.
Archbishop Stylianos Harkianakis from the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in Australia, passed away on 25 March 2019 at the age of 84. He represented the Ecumenical Patriarchate in assemblies of the World Council of Churches and in bilateral dialogues. He was the co-chairman of the Mixed International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Church from 1980 until 2003. He also participated in the International Commission for Anglican-Orthodox Theological Dialogue. His achievements include the founding of many Greek churches, homes for the aged and schools in Australia. He was a proliferous writer, a poet, a dedicated ecumenist and a founding church leader for the National Council of Churches in Australia in 1994.
Retired Bishop Frederick Hilborn Talbot, passed away on 11 April 2019. He served on the Council of Bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Talbot was the 90th elected and consecrated bishop of the AME Church. He had a distinguished career as a pastor, diplomat, and ecumenist. As a bishop, he served the 16th, 6th, 12th, and 13th Episcopal Districts. Bishop Talbot was an author and writer of music and loved to sing. His ecumenical activity included service as president of the Guyana Council of Churches, Caribbean coordinator in family life education for Church World Service, delegate to the 6th WCC Assembly in Vancouver, president of the Georgia Council of Churches, and ecumenical officer of the AME Church in the Middle East, Europe, Australia and Asia.
Rev. Dr George Edward Todd, an ordained minister in the American Baptist Church, also serving in the Presbyterian Church (USA), passed away on 14 June 2019. Rev. Dr George Edward Todd was a pastor in one of the most innovative ministries in East Harlem, a missionary in Taiwan, and director of urban and industrial mission for the WCC. During his time teaching at Tainan Theological Seminary, he introduced courses in Christian social ethics. Before coming to WCC, he was 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, labour organizing, and the creation of urban training institutes. While serving WCC he created a worldwide web of connections with emerging leaders in education, economics, and community empowerment. As well, he supported theological dialogue in many emerging communities in Latin America, Africa, Asia and India. Following his time in Geneva, he served as executive director of the Wieboldt Foundation, a progressive foundation in Chicago that primarily funded community organizing efforts.
Bishop Barnabas D. Mondal, the first national bishop and the former moderator of the Church of Bangladesh passed away on 29 June 2019 at the age of 82. Known by many as a promoter of religious tolerance and understanding, he participated in various national and international ecumenical movements including the National Council of Churches in Bangladesh and the National Churches Fellowship, as well as the World Council of Churches. He was one of the initiators of the South Asia Theological Education Solidarity Fund, the founding of which was facilitated through the coordination of the WCC. He also initiated the Bangladesh Ecumenical Foundation and Association for Theological Education (BEEFAT). He actively participated in the Asian and Bangladesh ecumenical movement, on various committees of the East Asia Christian Conference (EACC), the forerunner of the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) in the 1960s and 1970s.
Metropolitan Panteleimon of Tyroloi and Serention, died on 7 August 2019 at the age of 90 peacefully at the Holy Monastery of Vlatades, of which he had been a long time abbot. He taught at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Boston, USA Saint John of Damascus School of Theology in Balamand, Lebanon and Aristoteleion University in Thessaloniki, Greece. He was president and president emeritus of the International Society for the Law of the Eastern Churches. Representing the Ecumenical Patriarchate, he participated as an observer in the Second Vatican Council (1964), and was the Orthodox co-president of the Joint Committee for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches.
Mr Noel Dexter, renowned Jamaican choir director and composer, died on 18 August 2019. While working with the Caribbean Conference of Churches in the 1970s, Dexter composed many hymns and anthems that are still widely sung in churches. The hymn “The Right Hand of God,” with words by Patrick Prescott of St Vincent, is considered the most popular hymn coming out of the English-speaking Caribbean, and it has been copied in a number of church hymnals around the world. He received the Regional Ecumenical Award from the Caribbean Conference of Churches for his work in the field of music. At the Sunday ecumenical prayer service and celebration in Kingston, Jamaica, for the WCC International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (May 2011), the University Singers presented classical choral music composed by Mr Dexter.
Rev. Patricia McClurg, Christian educator and civil rights and anti-racism activist passed away at age 80 on 25 August 2019. She broke ground in the Presbyterian Church of the United States (later the Presbyterian Church USA) as a member of the first class that accepted women students at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary and was the first woman ordained and installed as a pastor in a Presbyterian Church of the United States (PCUS). After serving two churches in Texas as a pastor, McClurg served as a leader in a variety of jobs in the PCUS, including nine years at General Assembly Mission Board, ultimately its director. She was a section leader at the WCC World Conference on Mission and Evangelism in Melbourne, Australia in 1980 and was a delegate to the Vancouver assembly serving as the budget committee chairperson. She was the first clergywoman president of the National Council of Churches USA (1988-1989).
Father Thomas Stransky died on his 89th birthday on 3 September 2019 in New Jersey. A Paulist father, he is credited internationally as a pioneer in the Catholic Church’s ecumenical and interfaith relations stemming from the Second Vatican Council. After the Council, he participated in newly founded theological dialogues with Anglicans, Methodists and evangelical communities. His role in overseeing the drafting of three council documents has had a profound effect on the life of the church for more than half a century. He participated in the WCC assemblies around the world from 1968 to 1998 and was involved in the Joint Working Group between the WCC and the Catholic Church from 1965 to 1998.
Rev. Malcolm Damon, ecumenical champion of justice for the economy and the Earth, and a member of the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa, passed away on 8 September 2019. He was a founding member of the Economic Justice Network (EJN) formed in 1997 to serve the Fellowship of Christian Councils in Southern Africa (FOCCISA). In 2001, he joined the Economic Justice Network as its executive director. He worked closely with the All Africa Conference of Churches and also served the WCC as a member of several reference groups focusing on poverty, wealth and ecological debt. He was part of the WCC Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance's Global Trade Strategy Group from 2005-2008 and served as the chairperson of the Food Strategy Group from 2009 to 2012.
Rev. Dr Toshihiro Takami, founding member and honorary president of the Asian Rural Institute (Tochigi, Japan) passed away on 9 September 2019 at the age of 91. Takami was born in the northeast part of the Chinese People’s Republic, formerly known as Manchuria, and returned to Japan at the age of 10. He attended college in the USA and then seminary at Yale Divinity School and Fuller Seminary. An ordained minister of the United Church of Christ in Japan, he served as the director of the Southeast Asian Course of the Seminary for Rural Evangelism from 1962 until founding the Asian Rural Institute in 1973. From 1973-1993, he was chair of the board and was the director of the Asian Rural Institute Leaders Training Course from 1973 until 1989. He continued as the honorary president from 1993.
Rev. Dr Pavel Smetana was a pastor and former synodal senior of the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren serving two terms, until 2003, at the head of the ECCB. He passed away on 4 October 2019. As early as 1961, Pavel Smetana had worked in the Commission for Ecumenical Bible Translation. In the years 1995 until 2000 he was also the chairman of the Ecumenical Council of Churches in the Czech Republic.
Prof. John Mbiti passed away on 6 October 2019. He was born in Kenya, studied in Uganda and the United States, and earned his doctorate in 1963 at the University of Cambridge, UK. A member of the Anglican Church of Kenya, he taught religion and theology in Makerere University, Uganda (1964-1974) and was subsequently director of the WCC Bossey Ecumenical Institute, also lecturing at the University of Bern. He has held visiting professorships at universities across the world and published extensively on philosophy, theology and African oral traditions. His book, “African Religions and Philosophy” (1969), was the first work to challenge the Christian assumption that traditional African religious ideas were “demonic and anti-Christian.” According to Mbiti, one of the principal concerns of African theology should be to communicate the gospel in a manner that is suitable to African people's conditions and background. He responded positively to the call for a dialogue between African culture and the Christian gospel, a call that encouraged early African theologians to integrate indigenous values into the church and theology. His chief contribution in African theological scholarship and Christian religious practice is the Holy Bible in Kikamba. Unlike other translations into African languages, this is one of the rare translations sourced from the original New Testament Greek. His convictions that the God revealed in the Bible is the same God worshiped in the Traditional African Communities before the arrival of the outsiders, destroying African identity and beliefs will continue to inspire the current generation of African scholars who objectively put Africa and her children at the centre of their works.
Lic. Elias Crisóstomo Abramides passed away on 21 October 2019. Representing the Ecumenical Patriarchate, he was a pioneer and a vital stalwart in the faith community's ongoing struggle to stop climate change. He was a founding member of the WCC Working Group on Climate Change which emerged from WCC participation in the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro that gave rise to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. He continued to be a dedicated and active member of the WCC Working Group on Climate Change, and the ecumenical work on climate change, until his death. He represented his church as a delegate to the WCC 7th Assembly in Canberra in February 1991.
Rev. Augustine Jeyakumar died on 31 October 2019. Dr Jeyakumar was an ordained minister in and the executive secretary of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of India (UELCI). He was director of Gurukul Lutheran Theological College and Research Institute, treasurer of the National Council of Churches of India (NCCI) and a member of the Lutheran World Federation Council. Chair of the Committee for World Service of the LWF, he was at the forefront of promoting the rights of Dalits in India.
Rev. Dr Charles Converse West, passed away peacefully on 10 November 2019 at age 98. Ordained to ministry in the Presbyterian Church (USA) he served the American Theological Society (vice president 1982-1983, president 1983-1984), the American Society of Christian Ethics (vice president 1972-1973, president 1973-1974), the Christians Associated for Relations with Eastern Europe 1988-1992, and Americans for Democratic Action. Following World War II he was a missionary and teacher at the Nanjing Theological Seminary in China. He also served as associate director of the Bossey Ecumenical Institute of the WCC (1956-1961). He was chairman of the working committee of the Department for Studies in Mission and Evangelism of WCC (1967-1968) and a member of the Commission on International Affairs of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA (1968-1973). He taught Christian ethics at Princeton Theological Seminary.
Rev. Cally Rogers-Witte, a long-time pastor, former conference minister and retired national officer in the United Church of Christ, died on 12 November 2019 at age 74. She was an energetic, effective leader who cared deeply about the denomination's progressive ministries and especially about its work in partnership with churches around the world. She participated in WCC’s Canberra (1992) and Harare (1998) assemblies. She retired in 2011 as executive minister for Wider Church Ministries and as co-executive of Global Ministries, a common overseas ministry of the UCC and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
Bishop Nibaron Das, chairman of the Bangladesh Methodist Church, passed away on 23 November 2019. He established and served the Bangladesh Methodist Church since 1984, after completing his theological studies at the Asia Theological Seminary. Among other ecumenical engagements, he served the National Council of Churches in Bangladesh as a vice president.
Dr Cecile De Sweemer, a WCC staff member from the United Protestant Church of Belgium, died on 27 November 2019 in Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. As staff of Christian Medical Commission (1982-1986) she helped the churches in responding to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the Bhopal industrial gas tragedy and addressing primary health care in West Africa. She assisted the ecumenical movement in addressing the issue of AIDs and her work led to the first conference of WCC on HIV held in Geneva in June 1984. Facing intensive challenges, the process was kept on track by the commitment and resilience of the staff members. Various consultations and discussions led to the historic consultation held in Geneva in June 1986 on “AIDS and the Church as a Healing Community.”
Bishop William H. Graves, the 42nd Bishop of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, passed away on 30 November 2019 at the age of 83. Early in his ministry he was elected the president of the National Youth Conference, and represented the church at the WCC New Delhi assembly in 1961; and in the World Methodist Conference. Throughout his ministry, he was actively involved in the social and political issues of the community. From 1982-2010, Bishop Graves presided over the First Episcopal District, with headquarters and residence in Memphis, TN. At the 2006 General Conference he was elevated to the position of Senior Bishop and CEO of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. He was the Immediate Past President of the Board of Directors of the National Congress of Black Churches.
Prof. Vuyani Vellem, passed away on 4 December 2019 in his home country of South Africa after a struggle with cancer. He was a professor at Pretoria University and Director of the Centre for Public Theology, specializing in liberation theology, focusing his research on themes such as Christianity and democracy and Christianity and economics as well as fields such as ecclesiology, spiritualities and public and liberation theologies. An ordained pastor in the United Presbyterian Church of South Africa, he also served his church as its general secretary. He was active in the ecumenical movement in various capacities with the World Communion of Reformed Churches, as co-moderator of the Theology and Communion Programme Reference Group, the Council for World Mission, the South African Council of Churches as its deputy secretary, and the WCC as a member of the Commission on Education and Ecumenical Formation.
Rev. Brian Frost, an active ecumenist from the Methodist Church (UK), died on 4 December 2019, aged 84. He worked for Christian Aid, the Notting Hill and then London Ecumenical Centre, the Churches’ Council for Health and Healing, and the British Council of Churches. In 1956 he was Student Christian Movement’s secretary and became active in the anti-Apartheid movement. In 1969, as Director of the Notting Hill Ecumenical Centre, he hosted the WCC Consultation on White Racism, which conceived the WCC Programme to Combat Racism.
Dr H. c. Marie-Claire Barth-Frommel, feminist theologian, died on 22 December 2019 at the age of 92. A member of the Swiss Reformed Church, she campaigned for the rights of women and played a major role in the development of theological education in Indonesia. As a young person, she studied theology in Geneva and Zurich and then began working as an interpreter for the World Council of Churches. With the Basel Mission she worked as a study secretary for the Indonesian Christian student movement, and later as a lecturer in biblical subjects. She wrote numerous scientific biblical commentaries in Indonesian and also translated dissertations of Indonesian doctoral students. From 1980 to 1983, she was head of the Basel Mission in Basel and was strongly committed to the development of women's work. In 2011, she received an honorary doctorate from the Theological Faculty of the University of Basel for her commitment to training theologians and her fight for pacifism and women's rights in Indonesia.
Dr Graham Maule, artist and musician, founding member of the Wild Goose Resource Group and staff member of the Iona Community for many years, died on 29 December 2019, at the age of 61. Together with hymn writer John Bell, he invested time and creativity in developing materials for participative liturgy which maximised congregational song, symbolic action and shared reflection on scripture. In conjunction with the Wild Goose Resource Group, Bell and Maule produced over 30 volumes of songs, biblical reflections and associated materials for worship.
Rev. Pablo Sosa, pastor, hymn writer and liturgist from the Evangelical Methodist Church of Argentina, passed away on 12 January 2020, in Buenos Aires, at the age of 85. Throughout his work life, Sosa's social awareness broadened his vision to give new hope through songs. He often described worship as the feast of believers, where everyone is welcome. For many years, he pastored a large congregation in Buenos Aires, Argentina while composing songs, leading choirs, editing hymnals, producing religious broadcasts, and teaching liturgy and hymnology at a seminary. He composed music for the Instituto Superior Evangélico in Buenos Aires, Argentina where, among other duties, he coordinated the production of the music for the community. He also gave classes in choral direction at the National Conservatory of Argentina. He was acknowledged by many for his gift to make congregations sing. As a composer, in most of his songs, Sosa ventured into Latin American musical language, with hymns such as "Que esta Iglesia sea un àrbol" (May this church be like a tree) known globally during the WCC 11th Assembly, held in Busan, Republic of Korea, in 2013. His hymns have been translated into various languages (English, German, Portuguese, Swedish, Finnish, Chinese and Japanese) and included in hymnals and songbooks around the world.
Rev. Peter Beyerhaus, a German Protestant theologian, pastor, missionary, and university professor, died on 18 January 2020. He became internationally known as one of the leading evangelical mission theologians. His research interests were mission theology, ecumenical movement and African independent churches. He served as a missionary in the Berlin Missionary Society in South Africa 1957–1965. He was the professor of mission and ecumenical theology at the University of Tübingen from 1966 until his retirement in 1997, serving as a dean of the theological faculty in 1974–1975. He lectured around the world, and he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois, in 1995.
Rev. Canon Prof. Dr John S. Pobee, a Ghanaian New Testament scholar, theologian, writer, mentor, educator, ecumenist and missiologist passed away on 22 January 2020. He was ordained as a priest and canon in the Church of the Province of West Africa (Anglican). He served as staff of the Theological Education Fund based in the UK as assistant director with responsibility for Africa. He became a member of the Commission for the Theological Education Fund which afforded him numerous opportunities to engage with prominent theologians and church leaders from a wide spectrum of denominations and continents. He represented the Anglican Communion in ecumenical dialogue and served in the WCC as Associate Director of the Programme of Theological Education in Geneva (1983-1998) and was involved in teaching at the Bossey Ecumenical Institute and served as the Academic Dean.
Dr Shirley Erena Murray, a noted New Zealand hymn writer from the Methodist Church in New Zealand, passed away on 25 January 2020 at the age of 88. She was one of the most prolific and influential hymn text writers in the English speaking world, creating texts finely attuned to the issues facing people of faith today. Her hymns are ecumenical in their theology and inclusive in their expression. They embody themes of justice, peace, human rights, and the integrity of creation.
Rev. Fr Vsevolod Chaplin, from the Russian Orthodox Church, passed away on 26 January 2020. He was the chairman of the Synodal Department for the Cooperation of Church and Society of the Moscow Patriarchate from 2009 to December 2015. He was a member of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation and rector of St. Nicholas on the Three Hills Church, Moscow. He was also deputy head of the World Russian People's Council until December 2015. He served as a member of the WCC central committee and Commission of Churches on International Affairs on behalf of his church.
Adv Rajendra Sail, noted human rights activist and ecumenist from the Church of North India, passed away on 26 January 2020, at age 72. He stood out from the Christian community for his deep engagements on human rights issues and bold steps in questioning the government on its failures to adhere to the principles of democracy and secular commitment. He began as a student leader in the Student Christian Movement of India. Later he founded the Raipur Churches Development and Relief Committee. He was closely associated with the National Council of Churches in India for his entire life. He worked with the WCC Ecumenical Water Network and contributed to a WCC book in the process of publication, ‘Theological Foundations on Water Justice’.
Mr Marcelino dos Santos, passing away at age 90 on 11 February 2020, played an important role in the relationship between Frelimo (the main Mozambican Liberation Movement) and the WCC’s Programme to Combat Racism during the 1970s. After the assassination of Frelimo’s first president, Eduardo Mondlane, in 1969 (a key speaker at the 1966 WCC Church and Society Conference), Dos Santos, as Mondlane’s deputy, became the main WCC contact in Frelimo.
Rev. Lew Lancaster, an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and ecumenist, died on 13 February 2020. In 1952, Lancaster was appointed evangelistic missionary, part of the first group to become official cooperating missionaries with the United Church of Christ in Japan. He was stationed for most of his service in Tokushima on the island of Shikoku, serving 21 years. After returning to the United States, he was tasked to form the ecumenical office for the southern Presbyterian denomination. He contributed to the global ecumenical movement, including involvement with World Council of Churches commissions and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches. He always made a special effort to bring together young ecumenists in the church and created a community that was life-giving. He contributed greatly to the openness of the Presbyterian church, especially rebuilding relationships among Christians and peoples of diverse cultures.
Rev. Prof. Dr John Wesley Z Kurewa of the United Methodist Church, died 15 February 2020 at age 87. He was the first black clerk of the Zimbabwe Parliament before coming to Geneva to serve as the WCC’s Secretary for Evangelism from 1978 to 1980. He was involved in the development of the Africa University from the beginning, serving as on-site manager of the project in 1987. The United Methodist Church’s 1988 General Conference approved the establishment of a United Methodist-related university in sub-Saharan Africa. Africa University was recognized and opened as the first private university in Zimbabwe in 1992. He served as the institution’s vice-chancellor 1992-1997. Following further theological education in the USA, in 2000 he returned to Zimbabwe to work as an Associate Professor in the E. Stanley Jones Chair of Evangelism at the Africa University. A professorship in the Faculty of Theology was named for him.
Sister Monica Cooney, from New Zealand, a loved and respected member of the Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary, passed away on 7 March 2020 at the age of 93. Sister Monica was appointed by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) as a consultant to the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME) of the WCC and served the WCC Unit on Mission and Evangelism as a seconded staff, 1990 to 1996. Her appointment had been made in collaboration with the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. While in Geneva, she worked closely with the PCPCU, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and the Unions of Superiors General in Rome. Sister Monica actively contributed not only to the development of relations with the CWME but, through the Joint Working Group of which she was also a member, to the relations between the WCC and the Roman Catholic Church.
Rev. Geoffrey Wainwright passed away on 17 March 2020. He was an ecumenical theologian from the Methodist Church and was influential on global conversations on church unity and ecumenical struggle, especially in the years after Vatican II, a period in the 1970s-1990s in which Roman Catholicism entered into ecumenical dialogue with key Protestant denominations and Orthodox churches. He made major contributions to modern Methodist theology and Christian liturgy. From 1976 to 1991, Wainwright was a member of the WCC Faith and Order and chaired the final redaction of the Lima text on Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (1982). From 1986 to 2020 he was co-chairman of the Joint Commission between the World Methodist Council and the Roman Catholic Church. In 2004 he gave the opening address on behalf of "the ecclesial communities of the West" at the Roman symposium to mark the 40th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s decree on ecumenism. He authored many books on liturgy, worship and ecumenism.
Mr Thomas Baroi, a prominent ecumenist from the Bangladesh Baptist Church Sangha passed away on 22 March 2020. He was the chairman of the Christian Commission for Development in Bangladesh (CCDB), the largest Christian diaconal mission organisation of Bangladesh churches. He also served as the director of the Ecumenical Charitable Trust (ECT) for many years. Starting his career as a civil servant of the undivided Pakistan government he served the church and society in Bangladesh ever since the country became independent. He was closely associated with the diaconal ministry of the Bangladesh Baptist Church Sangha as well as the National Council of Churches in Bangladesh (NCCB). He participated in various programmes of the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) and the WCC, including a series of regional consultations organised by CCA in the 1990s on Freedom of Religion and Religious Minorities in Asia, study projects initiated by the WCC Asia Desk on Christian Marriage Laws and Discrimination of Religious Minorities in South Asia (2003–2006), the CCA’s General Assembly in Malaysia (2010), and the Asia Mission Conference (2017) in Myanmar.
Dr Saramma Varghese from the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church in India died on 22 March 2020 after battling illness for over a year. She served as the president of the All India Council of Christian Women (AICCW), the broad network of church women in action under the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI) for five years. She was a professor and head of the Department of English Language and Literature of the Catholicate College under the Mahatma Gandhi University in Kerala, India, and subsequently became principal of the college. She was deeply committed and actively contributed to the church and ecumenical movement in India serving as a member of the NCCI’s executive committee and its other sub-committees. She participated in various international women’s conferences in Asia, Europe, and Latin America as well as the 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in South Korea (2013), and the 14th General Assembly of CCA in Indonesia (2015).
Mr Martin Kok Peng Khor, activist, journalist, academician, economist, thinker, prophet and a leader of the civil society movement in Malaysia, passed away on 1 April 2020. In 1984, along with S.M. Mohamed Idris, Martin Khor cofounded the internationally renowned Third World Network, which he headed till 2009. From 2009 to 2015, he led the South Centre, an intergovernmental policy research and analysis institution of developing countries headquartered in Geneva, as its executive director. He worked closely with the ecumenical movement in matters of economic, ecological and health justice. He was a speaker at WCC assemblies and an advisor to WCC on trade and other economic matters over the years.
Rev. Jacques Maury, an ordained minister of the United Protestant Church of France passed away at the age of 99, on 12 April 2020. He served as President of the Reformed Church of France (1968-1977), President of the Protestant Federation of France (1977-1987) and President of CIMADE (Inter-Movement Committee for Evacuees), the French organization for the defence of the dignity and rights of refugees and migrants. He took part in the WCC delegation to the first plenary session of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity in 1970 and, later, was elected by the WCC co-moderator of the Joint Working Group between the WCC and the Roman Catholic Church (1981-1990). He was also involved in the project of the ecumenical French translation of the Bible (TOB).
Rev. Dr Christian Izaac Tamaela passed away on 19 April 2020 at the age of 62. A talented musician, composer, artist, theologian and liturgist from the Protestant Church of the Moluccas (GPM) in Indonesia, he participated in various WCC meetings and Christian Conference of Asia assemblies as a music leader. Many of his songs have been used and published in ecumenical circles. His creativity was without limits. He drew on the most unusual items to make sound or to create effects and incorporated them into the spiritual life of a meeting or event.
Bishop Johannes Hempel, former president of the World Council of Churches, died on 23 April 2020 at the age of 91. He was bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Saxony from 1972 until his retirement in 1994 and led his church in East Germany during the period of the Cold War confrontation, the 1989 peaceful revolution, and German unification. In 1975, at WCC’s 5th assembly in Nairobi he was elected to the WCC’s central and executive committees, and at the WCC’s 6th assembly in Vancouver in 1983, was elected one of the WCC’s seven presidents, a post he held until 1991. He invited the WCC to hold its 1981 central committee meeting in Dresden, where his Saxony church had its headquarters. In 1983, when he was also presiding bishop of the Federation of Evangelical Churches in the German Democratic Republic, he hosted representatives of all the main Christian world communions in East Germany to mark the 500th anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther. Hempel gave strong support to the call at the WCC’s Vancouver assembly for a conciliar process for justice, peace and the integrity of creation. In the German Democratic Republic, the initiative culminated in an ecumenical assembly in Dresden in 1989. The end of communism in the German Democratic Republic was followed by German unification in 1990, and the following year the Protestant churches from East and West Germany were reunited under the umbrella of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD). In 1991 Hempel became the first East German bishop to become deputy chairperson of the first council of the reunited EKD.
Rev. Bernard Thorogood, minister in the United Reformed Church (UK) and its general secretary 1980-1992, died at the age of 92 on 30 April 2020. He served as a missionary in the Pacific islands, mainly in the Cook Islands in the 1950s and 1960s and then as general secretary of the Council for World Mission (CWM) spearheading in the 1970s and 1980s a major restructuring to respond to new demands of world mission. He was general secretary of his church at a time of immense change in church life worldwide and was responsible for the 1981 union with the Re-formed Association of the Churches of Christ. He encouraged and supported the rapidly increasing number of Local Ecumenical Projects (LEPs), a partnership of churches of different denominations including the URC, Methodist Church and Church of England. He also served as moderator of the British Council of Churches (now Churches Together in Britain and Ireland) and was on the WCC central committee between the Vancouver and Canberra assemblies.
Rev. Norman Bent, from the Moravian Church in Nicaragua passed away on 17 May 2020 from COVID-19. He was a member of the Miskitu community. In the early 1990s, he spent several years serving United Church of Canada congregations in Winnipeg. He was also the Latin American Council of Churches continental coordinator of the Aboriginal and African Descendent Pastoral Work against All Discrimination. He was known for his prophetic voice in the country. He supported his church's successful effort to broker the eventual peace agreement with the Miskitu Indigenous Resistance in 1987. In the early 2000s, together with Monsignor David Zywiec, he formed the Ecumenical Council of the Caribbean Coast, which helps coordinate both humanitarian and advocacy ecumenical work in the region.
Rev. Prof. Dr Mary-Anne Plaatjies van Huffel, a South African pastor and academic who served as the WCC president from Africa, elected at the Busan Assembly in 2013, passed away on 19 May 2020. She was known as a transformative church leader in sub-Saharan Africa. In 1992, she was the first woman minister to be ordained by the then Dutch Reformed Mission Church, later the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa. She taught church history and church law at the Faculty of Theology Stellenbosch University and was a co-minister at the Uniting Reformed Church in Scottsdene, Kraaifontein. She acted as actuarius (church law expert) of the Cape Regional Synod and as vice-moderator of the General Synod of the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa. She was known for her tireless struggle to make the church order more gender sensitive and became a strong voice on church matters as well as on social and economic issues. She was a very active member of the Permanent Committee on Consensus and Collaboration of the WCC. Her commitment to the unity of the church, ecumenism and inclusive communities will be remembered not only in Africa, but worldwide.
Rev. Bertalan Tamás, former ecumenical officer of Reformed Church in Hungary passed away on 20 May 2020 at the age of 80. He served the ecumenical and inter-religious movement in Hungary and beyond, even in times of political separation and adversity. As a young theologian he studied in Edinburgh, Scotland which was a life-changing experience, a time during which discovered ecumenism. He was elected Moderator of the Presbytery of Europe in 1998. He also worked as secretary of the Ecumenical Council of Churches in Hungary and was ecumenical officer of his church from 1976 until his retirement in 2009. He was the first general secretary of the Hungarian Council of Christians and Jews, established in 1989. He served on the Theology Committee of the International Council of Christians and Jews for many years. He was also a member of the executive committee of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (1997-2004).
Mr Biango Buia, acting assembly secretary of the United Church of Papua New Guinea (UCPNG) passed away on 6 June, 2020. He served as a member of the trustee body of the Council for World Mission and as moderator of the Pacific region. He dedicated 30 years of his working life working for the United Church in PNG in the Church Ministry area of Education and Social Justice in both of which he was very active. He served the UCPNG as Assembly Education Secretary, Assembly Education & Health Secretary, Acting Development Secretary and Manager Partnership and Relations. He was an avid campaigner against gender based violence.
Bishop Basil Meeking, Bishop-Emeritus of the Catholic Diocese of Christchurch, died at the age of 90 on 11 June 2020. In the 1960s he figured prominently in the local ecumenical movement. He served as the Catholic representative on the National Council of Churches and a consultor to the Secretariat for Unity, in Rome. He was appointed an official of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity and later became secretary to the organisation. In the early 1980s he was secretary of the Joint Working Group between the World Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church, returning to New Zealand in 1987.
Rev. Stanley S. Harakas, a well-known priest of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America under the Ecumenical Patriarchate, a distinguished teacher of Orthodox Theology and a significant resource in Orthodox ethics, passed away 23 June 2020. He was active in the ecumenical movement on local, state and international levels. He was a plenary speaker at the Seventh Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Canberra, Australia, and from 1990-1998 served as a commissioner of the WCC Unit on Justice, Peace and Creation. He served as co-chair of the Orthodox Studies Group of the American Academy of Religion from 1992 to 1998.
Rev. Jether Pereira Ramalho, from the Evangelical Congregational Church of Brazil and one of the main voices of the Brazilian and Latin American ecumenical movement, passed away on 28 June 2020 at the age of 98. He dedicated most of his life to social projects of the Brazilian ecumenical movement, starting at the Evangelical Confederation of Brazil in the 1950s. He was also one of the organizers of the historical “Northeast Conference,” which had the theme “Christ and the Revolutionary Process in Brazil,” in 1962. The conference is considered a landmark in the Brazilian ecumenical movement in relation to the public responsibility of the churches. In 1979, he was appointed as a consultant to work with WCC Commission for the Churches' Participation in Development on the project “The Church and the Poor.” His main task was providing advice to ecumenical movements in Latin America, mainly in the area of youth. Ramalho was also one of the inspirers and founders of the Ecumenical Centre of Information that became the Ecumenical Centre for Documentation and Information – and later Koinonia. He was also behind the foundation of the Centre for Bible Studies and the Ecumenical Centre for Services to Evangelization and Popular Education. He was also one of the main advisers to the Ecclesial Base Communities of the Roman Catholic Church in Brazil.
Rev. Dr David Rakotonirina, presiding bishop and president of the Malgasy Lutheran Church, passed away from COVID-19 on 11 July 2020. Since January 2020 he headed up the Council of Christian Churches in Madagascar and was also president of the Union of Protestant Churches in Madagascar. He was involved in Lutheran-Pentecostal Dialogue commission and was a member of the Lutheran World Federation’s Council. Previously he had served as the bishop/president of the Antananarivo Synod of the church and director of Seminary Teolojikam-Paritany Luterana Atsimoniavoko.
Bishop Désiré Mukanirwa, the first Bishop in the Diocese of Goma in the Anglican Church of Congo died on 11 July 2020 from COVID-19. In 1997, he obtained a theology degree at the Anglican University of Congo. In 2006-2007 he studied at the WCC Ecumenical Institute at Château de Bossey, earning a post-graduate degree in ecumenical studies. Contributing greatly in areas such as the fight against poverty and sexual violence, he sought peace, justice and reconciliation. He was respected around the world for the role he played in reconciliation and in helping to tackle the Ebola crisis. He worked across faiths to enable the training of more than 60 leaders from different Christian denominations and their Islamic partners to consider the specific contribution that churches and mosques could make towards the understanding of Ebola, its prevention and mitigation. He was also personally engaged in mediation efforts with numerous rebel groups across his diocese often placing himself at significant personal risk. He also sought to achieve Christian unity, regularly celebrating week of prayer for Christian unity in Goma.
Rev. Benjamin Rabenorolahy of the Malgasy Lutheran Church, died on 14 July 2020, succumbing to the coronavirus. He served as president of the church 1989-2004 and also played a role in the Council of Christian Churches in Madagascar. An engaged ecumenical figure in the country, in 2008 he was elected senator and was active in mediation processes in Madagascar.
Mr Benjamin Mkapa, former president of Tanzania and advocate for ecumenical work, passed away on 24 July 2020. He publicly spoke in support of the WCC Decade to Overcome Violence and other initiatives for justice. From the Roman Catholic faith tradition, he consistently attended and spoke about unity at activities with the Christian Council of Tanzania and Tanzania Episcopal Conference. He was also founder of the Mkapa Foundation in 2006, whose work helped augment visibility of the WCC Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Advocacy and Initiatives (EHAIA) programme, as well as faith-based hospitals and programmes related to health and healing.
Rev. Peter Kaniah Kariuki, outgoing secretary-general of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA), passed away on 26 July 2020 while receiving treatment for complications related to COVID-19. In addition to his leadership with the Presbyterian Church of East Africa, Kania also served various parishes and the Presbyterian Church Men's Fellowship as its director. He led the formation of the Pan-African Presbyterian Men Fellowship (PAMPF), of which he was the first president. He was an enthusiastic environmental conservationist and part of the one-million-tree planting initiative by the PCEA.
Rev. Dr Micheline Kamba Kasongo, theologian and ecumenist of the Church of Christ in Congo - Presbyterian Community of Kinshasa who contributed to the ecumenical movement, especially through the work of WCC’s Ecumenical Disabilities Advocacy Network (EDAN), passed away on 31 July 2020. From the Democratic Republic of Congo, she was the Francophone Africa coordinator of EDAN. She served as a member of the WCC’s central committee since 2006, the executive committee 2013-2017, and a professor at the Faculty of Theology at the Université Protestante au Congo. She also led IMAN’ENDA Ministries (a pastoral ministry for people with disabilities) in DRC. She first joined the ecumenical family when she was named a delegate to the WCC 8th Assembly, held in Harare, Zimbabwe, 1998. She later received a WCC scholarship to study theology at the University of Kwa Zulu Natal for her PhD studies. Since that time she has published several books, written articles in various journals and made presentations both nationally and internationally in the area of theology, gender and disability.
Rev. Dr Kobus Gerber, former general secretary of the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) in south Africa, passed away on 6 August 2020. He was the first general secretary of the General Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church, serving from 2005 to 2015 and played a significant role in leading the process of reintegration of the Dutch Reformed Church into various ecumenical bodies, as well as in bringing the DRC back into the WCC fellowship as a member church in 2016, into the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) and the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) where he served on the executive committee.
Rev. Protopresbyter Boris Bobrinskoy, one of the best-known Orthodox theologians in France, died on 7 August 2020. He was well-known in the ecumenical movement. From 1954 and for over 50 years, he was professor of Dogmatic Theology at the St Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris. Representing the Ecumenical Patriarchate, in the late 1950s he served as member of the WCC Commission on Faith and Order. For over 20 years he has been a member of the Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church in France. From 1969 to 1990 he has been responsible for the Orthodox participation in the Institute for Ecumenical Studies, created by the Catholic Institute of Paris, at the aftermath of Vatican II. He taught at the Protestant University of Neuchâtel and the Catholic University of Paris.
Very Reverend Archimandrite Dr Alexi Chehadeh, who led the Department of Ecumenical Relations and Development for the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and all the East in Damascus, Syria, passed away from COVID-19 on 15 August 2020. A peacemaker and peacebuilder in times of war, he had a passion for finding ways to distribute aid to people of all faiths, despite the particularly vulnerable situation of Christians. He helped lead the efforts of 44 offices all over Syria, 38 community centres, 1600 full- and part-time staff and 22 international partners, all seeking to offer help to people in utmost need. His leadership touched the lives of 2.5 million beneficiaries each year. With his strong commitment to dialogue, he was also a member of the Lutheran World Federation’s (LWF) Joint Lutheran-Orthodox Commission.
Rev. Dr Daniel E. Weiss, who served as general secretary of American Baptist Churches USA (1988-2000), died on 22 August 2020. Prior to serving as general secretary, he was executive director of the ABC USA Board of Educational Ministries from 1983-1988, and previously served as president of American Baptist-related schools, Eastern and Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Philadelphia (1973-1981). Under his leadership, American Baptist Churches USA sought to both enable its churches and extend their witness. He highly valued the denomination’s ongoing commitment to ecumenical ministry and interfaith dialogue, actively participating in and providing leadership in many related ecumenical bodies including the North American Baptist Fellowship, World Council of Churches, National Council of Churches of Christ, Baptist World Alliance and Baptist Joint Committee, among others.
Rev. Shoji Tsutomu, Japanese ecumenist and peace activist and former general secretary of the National Christian Council in Japan (NCCJ), passed away on 25 August 2020. He was an ordained minister of the United Church of Christ in Japan (UCCJ) for 41 years and served as general secretary of the NCCJ from 1978 to 1985. During his tenure, he was instrumental in bringing the Japanese churches and the civil society organizations together on a common platform for advocacy on human rights, democratization and peace building. One of his contributions was facilitating and hosting the 1984 historic Tozanso international ecumenical conference for the Korean peace process. In his capacity as the general secretary of NCCJ, he was involved in various Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) programmes in 1970s and 1980s. He was also known for his long-time activism on the issue of denuclearization and was a member of the WCC delegation to the 3rd Conference of the Parties (COP3) of the UN Framework Convention (1997) on Climate Change in Kyoto. He served as a director of the Tomisaka Christian Centre, an ecumenical theological research institute for many years.
Rt. Rev. David Gnaniah Pothirajulu, a prominent Indian church leader and a committed ecumenist and missiologist, passed away on 5 September 2020 at the age of 84. He served as a pastor, preacher, theological educator, and bishop in the Church of South India (CSI). He was deputy moderator of the CSI (1988-1990). As an alumnus of the first batch of the Course for Leadership in Lay Training (CLLT) of the WCC in 1960’s Bishop Pothirajulu passionately promoted ecumenism and lay leadership throughout his whole career. Upon retiring he provided ecumenical formation training through the Community College and Lay Training Center (COLT) he established in Madurai. He collaborated with the network of ecumenical formation training centres in Asia – Association of the Christian Institutes for Social Concerns in Asia (ASCISCA) – as well as with the global network of academy movement for lay training initiated by the WCC. He was closely associated with the Christian Conference of Asia’s (CCA) Mission and Evangelism as well as Ecumenical Education programmes in 1980s.
Rev. Dr S.T. Ola Akande, the former general secretary of the Nigerian Baptist Convention, passed away on 10 September 2020 at the age of 94. He was the third indigenous general secretary of the Nigerian Baptist Convention and served the convention in various capacities 1951-1991, the last 12 of those years, as the general secretary. His tenure witnessed giant strides in administrative innovations and spiritual development. He was a member of the Translation Committee of the Bible Society of Nigeria (1980-1991); a member of the Standing Committee of the Christian Council of Nigeria (1976-1991); and president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Oyo State Chapter, 1985 to 1990. He was appointed by the Nigerian government as a member of the Panel on the Implications of Nigeria’s membership in the Organization of [the] Islamic Council (1986), and the Advisory Council of Religious Affairs (1987-1989). He co-founded the organization called “The Christian-Muslim Peace Movement of Nigeria” (1990) for the promotion of religious peace in Nigeria. On an international level he was a member of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches (1977-1991); a member of the General Council of the Baptist World Alliance (1978-1992; general secretary/treasurer of the All Africa Baptist Fellowship, and Baptist World Alliance regional secretary for Africa (1982-1992).
Mr Mark E. Beach died 17 September 2020. He served as WCC director of communications from 2007 to the end of 2014. He then returned to the USA to work with the Mennonites as director of communications for Mennonite Disaster Services (MDS). He was an award-winning photographer, videographer and feature writer who spent his career in church-related media, news writing and international reporting. Prior to joining the WCC, he worked for the Mennonite Central Committee (2000–2007). His tenure at WCC brought increased attention to news and social media, as well as video production and a new visual identity. He negotiated a successful publishing arrangement with journals giant Wiley Blackwell for The Ecumenical Review and the International Review of Mission. A highlight of his communications era was the communications operation he led at the WCC’s 10th Assembly in Busan, Republic of Korea, in late 2013. He brought several dozen journalists to Busan, joined by an equal number of Korean journalists. Alongside an intense news-writing schedule, the team published a daily newspaper, issued frequent video reports and features and interviews, issued a stream of social media posts, made arrangements for the dozens of media attending and reporting on the assembly, and mounted an onsite bookstore with hundreds of titles from WCC Publications and the Christian Literature Society of Korea.
Rev. Vusumuzi Samuel Sifelani died on 29 September 2020. He was a priest in the Church of the Province of Central Africa and spoke against violence, chastised discrimination and advocated for gender balance. As the ecumenical liaison officer for the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, he became a voice for the voiceless and also helped in bringing clarity to the Church’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He played a major role in the planning and launch of the Zimbabwe Anglican Youth Association in 1998 and in 2000. He was a well-known environmentalist and was chaplain of the environment desk for the Anglican Church’s Harare Diocese.
Rev. Michael J. Davies, who served the World Council of Churches as its assistant general secretary for finance and administration from 1990 to 1997, died in October 2020 at the age of 87. He was an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church of England and became the first youth secretary of the United Reformed Church when it was formed in 1972 from the union of the Presbyterian Church of England and the Congregational Church in England and Wales. He was chair of British Council of Churches Youth Unit and a member of the executive committee of the Ecumenical Youth Council in Europe. After his retirement he continued his association with the WCC as treasurer of the UK Bossey Network, which gathered supporters of the WCC’s Ecumenical Institute in Bossey, Switzerland.
Mr Hendrew Lusey-Gekawaku, WCC Central Africa regional coordinator for the Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy (EHAIA), passed away on 13 October 2020. A member of the the Church of Christ in the Congo – Evangelical Community of Congo, he was a registered nurse, public health practitioner and ecumenist who contributed enormously to ecumenical and interfaith HIV and AIDS responses. He was known for his commitment and passion to health and justice promoting churches and theological institutions and always ensured that biblical and theological reflections were at the centre of all HIV interventions in Central Africa.
Rev. Dr Hans-Ruedi Weber, professor and pastor in the Swiss Reformed Church, died on 18 October 2020 at the age of 97. During his long career he made the Bible come alive for thousands of people through Bible studies that he coordinated with groups from many different cultures, contexts and situations. He served at the WCC as director of the department on the laity (1955-61), associate director and professor at the Ecumenical Institute Bossey (1961-71), and director of biblical studies (1971-88). In his work with the WCC, he travelled throughout the world to support the biblical work of churches in very diverse contexts and situations. He had previously served as a missionary in Central Celebes and East Java after being ordained a Swiss Reformed pastor in 1947. He obtained a doctorate in theology from the University of Geneva in 1966. After retirement from the WCC in 1988, Weber taught at the Pacific Theological College in Suva, Fiji. In 1984 he visited Samoa to assist the churches in healing the resentments between the Congregational Christian Church in American Samoa and Congregational Christian Church in Samoa after the separation of the two churches in 1980. He was a prolific author including “On a Friday Noon: Meditations under the Cross” (1979), “Experiments with Bible Study” (1072), “The Book That Reads Me: A Handbook for Bible Study Enablers” (1995), “A Laboratory for Ecumenical Life: The Story of Bossey” (1996), “The Militant Ministry” (1963), and “Power: Focus for a Biblical Theology” (1989).
Most Rev. Dr Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan, the Supreme Spiritual Head of the Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church, passed away on 18 October 2020. He participated as a special invitee to the WCC assemblies held in Canberra in Australia (1991), Harare in Zimbabwe (1998), Porto Alegre in Brazil (2006), and Busan in South Korea (2013). In a regional context, he was part of the leadership of the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) over the last 30 years. At the national level, he guided the National Council of Churches in India, the Church's Auxiliary for Social Action and the Kerala Council of Churches and led these organisations as their president during various periods. Throughout the many years of his close association and involvement in the Asian and global ecumenical movement, he demonstrated his leadership in various international ecumenical events. He was known by his simple lifestyle, caring love and affection for all, his genuine concern for the poor and the downtrodden, as well as his kind and encouraging words in all circumstances.
Ms Constance (Connie) Elizabeth Gates, from the United Methodist Church dedicated to providing primary health care, passed away on 19 October 2020. She worked at the WCC from 1970-73 as secretary for Publications of the Christian Medical Commission (CMC). She also served as founding editor of Contact magazine. After working in Hong Kong and the Democratic Republic of Congo, she completed her master's degree in public health in 1978. Following 14 years of work with migrant farmworkers in North Carolina, Gates worked with the health ministries of the United Methodist Church and the National Council of the Churches in the USA. She was a founding member of Christian Connections for International Health (1988), and a founding member of the Working Group on Community-based Primary Health Care of the International Health Section of the American Public Health Association (1993). In 2018, she received the Gordon-Wyon Award for Excellence in Community-Oriented Public Health, Epidemiology and Practice of the International Health Section of the American Public Health Association.
Dr Clint Le Bruyns, a South African theologian and lecturer in theology at Stellenbosch University, intellectual and activist, passed away at the age of 48 on 7 January 2021 due to complications from COVID-19. He initiated scholarly and social media projects to sensitize theology students, clergy and others to the Palestinian reality. He served on the leadership team of Kairos South Africa and contributed actively to Global Kairos for Justice and was an advisor to the WCC EAPPI in South Africa. In recent years, he served as director of the postgraduate Theology and Development Programme, and senior lecturer in Theology and Development specializing in public theology, economic ethics, theology of work, ethical leadership, and the role of the church in development discourse and practice.
Mr Patrick Matsikenyiri passed away on 15 January 2021 as a result of complications due to the COVID-19 virus. A member of the United Methodist Church, he was a joyful song leader whose career included virtually all aspects of church music – singing, choral directing, composition, hymnal editor, festival leader, professor, and enlivener of global songs in venues around the world. He brought music from his home country Zimbabwe and surroundings into the ecumenical stream. He helped plan music for the 1980 Conference on World Mission and Evangelism in Melbourne and was part of the musical worship team at the 6th WCC Assembly in Vancouver in 1983. He worked to develop an organization of African church musicians on a continental level. He composed songs, like Jesu tawa pano, which has found its way into hymnals all over the world. He also led an Alleluia from Zimbabwe in the Cathedral of Copenhagen, Denmark during the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 1995, helping to lead a service that reflected the world. He organized and conducted the choir for worship at the WCC 8th Assembly in Harare in 1998.
Mr Erich Leitenberger, journalist, church expert and press spokesman for three Viennese archbishops died on 18 January 2021. He was the former long-time chief editor of the Catholic Press in Austria and was considered by many as the “voice of the Catholic Church in Austria”. A church lay person, he acted as a bridge to the world of the media, to ecumenism, but also to politics and society. He was spokesman for the Ecumenical Council of Churches (ÖRKÖ) and the “Pro Oriente” Foundation and worked with commitment for the unity of the churches. For more than 25 years he was a member of the board of the Ecumenical Association Studio Omega, which is jointly supported by Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox churches and institutions and operates as a radio and podcast agency.
Rev. Dr Hans Gerny, Bishop Emeritus of the Old Catholic Church in Switzerland, died on 19 January 2021 at the age of 84. After serving in various parishes, in 1986 he was elected as bishop by the national synod of his church. During his episcopate, the Old Catholic Church instituted the ordination of women. He made it a priority to bring about this change without church division among the churches in the Union of Utrecht. He was the moderator of the Council of Christian Churches in Switzerland (AGCK) in the 1990s and also served on the working group on church and economy. As secretary of the International Old Catholic Bishops' Conference, ecumenism was very important to him. From 1991 to 2006 he was a member of the WCC central committee as a representative of the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht. At the same time, he was strongly committed to the dialogue with the Orthodox churches. After his retirement in 2001 he continued to take an active part in church and public life.
Rev. Dr Paul A. Crow, Jr. passed away on 23 January 2021. He served as President of the Council on Christian Unity (Now Christian Unity and Interfaith Ministry) of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the USA for 25 years. He offered significant leadership for over 40 years in promoting the unity of all Christians and the oneness of Christ’s church in its local, regional, national, and international expressions. He contributed to establishing the International Commission for Dialogue between the Disciples of Christ and the Catholic Church, on which he served as co-chair for the first three phases (1977–2002). Within the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, he served on the general board and executive committee, and was chairperson of the Panel on the Nature of Ecumenical Commitment that redefined the nature of the NCCCUSA. For 30 years, he served in various aspects of the WCC’s work: as a member of the Faith and Order Commission (1968-1998), the last seven years as vice-moderator; on the WCC central committee (1976-1998); and as moderator of the Ecumenical Institute Bossey (1975-1983). He was a delegate to five WCC assemblies: Uppsala (1968), Nairobi (1975), Vancouver (1983), Canberra (1991), and Harare (1998).
Mr Arthur Shoo a lay leader in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Tanzania, passed away on 26 February 2021. Before joining the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC), he had worked as a senior management consultant at Christian Organizations Research and Advisory Trust of Africa. From 2006-2015, he served as the director of the department of programmes at the AACC. During that period, he was sent to Mindolo Ecumenical Foundation in Zambia to help the organization become sustainable. He carried out an organizational evaluation and helped draw a strategic plan. He had also assisted the many churches in Africa in strategic planning, including the Sierra Leone Council of Churches. He was one of the key figures to support the WCC’s Conference on World Mission and Evangelism organized in Arusha, Tanzania in 2018. His last ministry was as general secretary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania Northern Diocese.
Rev. Canon Clement Janda, former general secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC), renowned legislator and religious leader passed on 8 March 2021. A priest in the Episcopal Church of South Sudan, he is credited for brokering and strengthening the union between Dr. John Garang and Salva Kiir during the SPLM leadership meeting in Rumbek in 2004. Following his theological studies, he was Provincial Secretary of the Episcopal Church of Sudan. He served as secretary-general of the Sudan Council of Churches in the late 1980s when advocacy activities were stepped up to feed pressure groups in Western capitals with relevant information about the Liberation war. He was executive secretary of the WCC Commission of Churches on International Affairs, director of Mindolo Ecumenical Foundation in Kitwe, Zambia, after which he became the first southern Sudanese to head the AACC in Nairobi. Later he joined the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), prominently playing an advisory role to the leadership of the movement and eventually serving in the Council of States in Sudan and South Sudan.
Fr Thaddee Barnas passed away on 22 March 2021 from complications due to COVID-19. Known as an ecumenical father figure and advisor for many editors and communicators he provided press coverage for ecumenical events for decades. He was a monk of the monastery of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, the international Benedictine monastery of Chevetogne. Engaged and passionate about writing, ecumenism, and unity, Barnas served as an advisor and friend to the WCC communications team. He studied at the WCC Bossey Ecumenical Institute and was the driving force behind Irénikon, the ecumenical magazine of the monastery, of which he was the director for several years and the editorial secretary until his death. As chairman of the Ecumenical Pastoral Commission of the Diocese of Namur, he also did pioneering work, including inviting other Christian churches to participate in the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. He also taught ecumenism at the Namur seminary. He served as a board member of the Catholic National Commission for Ecumenism, a committee established to promote the relations of the Catholic Church with the other Christian churches and faith communities and to further develop ecumenical pastoralism.
Rev. Dr Horace Russell, theologian from the Jamaica Baptist Union, passed away on 5 April 2021 leaving behind a legacy in education and leadership that spanned his island home and the United States. He was at the forefront of forging a Caribbean theology for more than 50 years. He was president of the United Theological College from 1972 to 1976, the first black person to hold that position. He served the World Council of Churches as a member of the Faith and Order Commission from 1968 to 1990. He also served the World Association for Christian Communication and the Students’ Christian Movement, and held membership in the Society for the Study of Black Religion, and the History Society of Great Britain.
Cardinal Edward Idris Cassidy died in Australia on 10 April 2021 at the age of 96. Ordained to the priesthood in 1949, he was appointed to head the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) in 1989 by Pope John Paul II. In that role, he led the Catholic Church in the signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ) with Lutheran World Federation representatives. Over the past two decades, Methodists, Anglicans and the Reformed Churches have signed on to the JDDJ, making it an important ecumenical platform for common witness and practical cooperation between mainline Catholic and Protestant churches. He headed the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with Jews. He was a strong and persistent supporter of the work of diocesan and national ecumenical commissions, which he regarded as essential at the grass roots level for educating Catholics in ecumenism and helping set guidelines for ecumenical formation in seminaries.
Bishop Dr Phillip Silas Masih, president of the Council of Bishops of the Methodist Church in India passed away on 13 April 2021. He was the bishop of the Methodist Church in India Lucknow and Bengal regional conferences. He served as the president of the Church’s Auxiliary for Social Action Eastern Zone, as a leader of the National Missionary Society of India, as secretary of the Bible Society of India, Jabalpur and as a professor in North India Theological College. He was known as a dedicated and progressive leader of the Methodist Church in India.
Rev. Dr Prof. M. Emmanuel Thathapudi, Secretary of the Board of Theological Education of the Senate of Serampore Colleges (BTESSC), passed away on 24 April 2021 after contracting the coronavirus and testing positive. An ordained minister of the Canadian Baptist Mission (CBM) Church in Andhra Pradesh, Dr Thathapudi was a distinguished Professor of Old Testament. He was principal of the Andhra Christian Theological College in Hyderabad. As a representative of theological educational institutions in India, Dr Thathapudi had been a member of the Working Group of Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) coordinated Congress of Asian Theologians (CATS).
Mr S. Raju, a staff member of the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI) passed away on 23 April 2021 in Chennai after contracting the coronavirus and testing positive. Mr Raju had been working with the NCCI at its National Office in New Delhi for 22 years, as a liaison staff of the NCCI and its Christian Service Agency for relations with the government. He had demonstrated exemplary leadership in building NCCI’s relationships with governmental agencies as well as civil society and faith-based organisations in India’s capital city, New Delhi.
The Rt Rev. Dr Nyansako-ni-Nku, ecumenical visionary leader for the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon, died on 27 April 2021. He served the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon in various positions, including head of communications, then Synod Clerk (1989-1999) and moderator (1999-2009). He also served the All Africa Conference of Churches as its president (2003-2008). He was a great preacher, and passionate advocate for justice and peace.
Bishop Justin Nzoyisaba from United Methodist Church of Burundi passed away in April 2021. He was an inspiring leader within the United Methodist Church of Burundi as well as in ecumenical circles. He served as an assistant to the secretary general of the National Council of Churches of Burundi from 2002-2007, after which he served his church as bishop. He hosted solidarity visits from the WCC, All Africa Conference of Churches, and Fellowship of Christian Councils and Churches in the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa, and coordinated dialogue between heads of state and religious leaders. He was a great advocate for peace and reconciliation in Burundi.
His Eminence Dr Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar Thoma Valiya Metropolitan, the former head and Emeritus Metropolitan of the Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church in India, passed on 5 May 2021 at the age of 103. He had been at the helm of ecclesiastical and ecumenical movements for over seven decades. During his active service in the episcopacy for more than half a century, he administered various dioceses of the Mar Thoma Church in India as well as in other continents; the Diaspora Marthomite communities are now spread in Europe, North America, Africa, West Asia (Middle East), as well as in most Asian countries including Australia and New Zealand. He provided leadership in the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) through its Church and Society division in the 1960s and 1970s and represented the Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church at the CCA General Assemblies held in Bangkok, Thailand (1967), Singapore (1973), and Penang, Malaysia (1977). He was the official delegate to the World Council of Churches (WCC) Assemblies held in Evanston, USA (1954) and Uppsala, Sweden (1968). He served as the President of the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI) and various other Indian ecumenical organisations. He was an ardent supporter and promoter of wider ecumenism and the Asian ecumenical movement.
Rev. Dr Santanu Kumar Patro, registrar of the Senate of Serampore College (University), passed away on 5 May in Calcutta. He held leadership positions for the Senate of Serampore from 2013, guiding the 75 theological colleges and seminaries in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal. An ordained minister of the Church of North India, he had a distinguished teaching career, teaching at the Eastern Theological College, Jorhat, Assam, India and the Gurukul Lutheran Theological College and Research Institute, in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, before becoming registrar of the Senate of Serampore. He contributed significantly to strengthening theological education in South Asia and reforming the theological curriculum. He tirelessly tried to make theological education accessible to the most underserved communities in the Global South, and was also associated with the GlobeTheoLib (Global Digital Library on Theology and Ecumenism) Consortium, a project of Globethics.net and the World Council of Churches.
Dr Soritua Albert Ernest Nababan, a former Ephorus (Archbishop) of the Huria Kristen Batak Protestan (HKBP) in Indonesia passed away on 8 May 2021 at the age of 88. He had served as the supreme head of HKBP, the largest Protestant church in Indonesia, from 1983 to 1998. He was involved in the ecumenical movement in Indonesia, Asia, and at the global level in various capacities. He served as the general secretary of the Council of Churches in Indonesia, the Communion of Churches in Indonesia (PGI) 1967-1984, and was its chairperson 1984-1987. He was vice-president of the Lutheran World Federation 1984-1991, and earlier, 1970-1977, he was also moderator of the Lutheran World Service. He started his ecumenical journey as a youth representative of the local organising committee of the founding Assembly of the East Asia Christian (EACC) Conference, the forerunner of Christian Conference of Asia (CCA), held in Prapat, Indonesia in 1957. He became the first youth secretary of CCA in 1963 and continued until 1967. He was a member of the presidium of the CCA from 1990 to 1995. He also served the WCC in various capacities as president of WCC (2006–2013); vice-moderator of the WCC Central Committee (1991–1998); moderator of the Commission for World Mission and Evangelism (CWME) (1968–1985); and a member of the Central Committee (1983–1991).
Altbischof Hendrick Frederick from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Republic of Namibia (ELCRN) died on 15 May 2021 at the age of 80 from complications related to COVID-19. He was the third president and first bishop of the ELCRN, the former Rhenish Mission Church and played a role in Namibia's struggle for independence. Frederick was trained as an evangelist and later attended the Umpumulo Theological Seminary in Natal. As bishop of the ELCRN, prior to Namibia's independence, he was involved in efforts among the country's three sister Lutheran churches to promote greater understanding and cooperation among themselves, which would then lead to a unified church: VELKSWA, the United Evangelical Lutheran Church in South West Africa. He served on several ecumenical bodies: the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), the World Council of Churches (WCC), the United Evangelical Mission (UEM) and the Lutheran Communion in Southern Africa (LUCSA), the communion of Lutheran churches.
Reverend Canon Virginia "Ginny" Doctor from the Anglican Church in Canada, died on 26 May 2021. She was a member of the Mohawk Nation Turtle Clan. Early in her career she was the Executive Director for the North American Indian Club of Syracuse after which moved to Alaska where she worked as a missionary in the Village of Tanana. In 2001 she was ordained as an Episcopal priest and stayed in Alaska for 20 years. She later moved to the Six Nations Reserve in Ohsweken, Ontario. She served as the Indigenous Ministry for the Anglican Church of Canada and was heavily involved in the World Council of Churches including as a member of the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism and the working group on transforming discipleship after the Busan Assembly.
Rev. Allen Nafuki, chief executive officer/assembly clerk of the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu passed away on 13 June 2021. He served as the Christian Education Director for PCV (1982-1989) and was one of the founders and inspirations for the post-Independent “gospel and culture” movement. His contributions to his church and to his country have been extensive. Over a forty-year period, he spoke with a prophetic voice, always on the side of the oppressed and outcast, fighting for justice and liberation. He led the national Vanuatu movement in support of West Papua independence. On the issue of violence against women and children, Pastor Nafuki was unequivocal and called it out as a sin. He was fearless in this regard and challenged male leaders in the church to stand for the rights of women and children. He served as secretary of the Vanuatu Citizenship Commission (1990-1993) and was deputy director of the Civil Status Office (1994) and later had a period as a member of the Vanuatu Parliament (1998-2002). In 1986 he was awarded the Vanuatu Medal of Merit for his services to the church and the community, followed in 1998 with the PCV’s Golden Jubilee Certificate of Recognition and Appreciation for his leadership. At the time of his death he was also serving as chairman of the Vanuatu Christian Council.
Sister Dr Lorelei F. Fuchs SA, known for editing the Growth in Agreement publications, passed away on 17 June 2021 at the age of 70. At age 25, entered the Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement. She received a Master of Arts in Theology in 1991 from University of Notre Dame, Indiana, then, a Master of Arts in Theology (MTh) and a Licentiate in Sacred Theology (STL) from Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Louvain, Belgium, where she also received her Doctorate degree in Sacred Theology (PhD) in 2003. Her dissertation was entitled: Koinonia and the Quest for an Ecumenical Ecclesiology: From Foundations through Dialogue to Symbolic competence for Communionality. In 1991 she worked at the Graymoor Ecumenical Institute (G.E.I.) as an associate director within the Institute. In 1993, it became the G.E.I.I. (Graymoor Ecumenical & Interreligious Institute). She remained with the Institute until 2006. As an Associate Director of the Institute, Sister served on the National Council of Churches Faith and Order Commission, was an associate editor of Ecumenical Trends, and from 1993-2003 was editor of the GEII resource materials for the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. She also staffed the Institute’s LARC Desk (Lutheran-Anglican-Roman Catholic relations). She wrote numerous articles and gave presentations throughout the United States and also at the Centro Pro Unione in Rome.
Most Rev. Fereimi Cama, bishop of Polynesia and primate of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa- New Zealand, passed away on 2 July 2021. He was instrumental in opening the Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral— of which he was dean—as a venue to pray for the hostages in a 2000 Fiji coup. Despite the dangers associated with his actions, he offered to take communion to the hostages in an act of selflessness. He was a trustee of the Pacific Conference of Churches. He was known for his commitment and advocacy on issues of climate change, youth, and women. Known for encouraging unity and a teacher by profession, he also worked to ensure that the young people of the Pacific took a leadership role in the fight against climate change.
Rev. Phumzile Zondi-Mabizela from the African Presbyterian Church in South Africa passed away the morning of 5 July 2021 due to COVID-19. She was the executive director of INERELA+ (the International Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV) and one of its founding members and the first woman faith leader speaking openly about her HIV status. She was co-moderator of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance HIV Campaign Strategy Group and a member of the International Reference Group of WCC Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy, member of the Faith Advisory Council to the UN Inter-Agency Task Force on Religion and a member of the SANAC Legal and Human Rights Task Team. She guided many organisations as a board member and advisor, including Ujamaa Centre for Community Research, Inclusive and Affirming Ministries, We Will Speak Out SA, and GIN-SSOGIE. She was also a member of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians.
Rev. Willem Maloali, of the Evangelical Christian Church in Tanah Papua-Gereja Kristen Injili di Tanah Papua (GKI-TP) passed away on the 8 of July at 86 years of age. He was a pioneer in accompanying the development and establishment of the autonomous Evangelical Christian Church in Tanah Papua, from 1956, in the context of the 166-year mission history. As the leader of the Evangelical Christian Church in Tanah Papua synod, he ensured that the church carried the people’s burden in the domains of human rights and politics. In the church, he devoted himself to developing theology, evangelism, and mission. He strived to create opportunities for education, including a system of schools, invested in the building of self-reliant institutions and mentored many leaders across generations. He was also deeply engaged in developing the broader ecumenical movement and contributed to forming two vital regional ecumenical organisations, the Pacific Theological College and the Pacific Council of Churches.
His Holiness Moran Mar Baselios Marthoma Paulose II, the Supreme Head of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church in India, passed away at the age of 74 on 12 July 2021. He was an unassuming ecclesiastical leader and was always concerned about the poor and the needy in society. He was a distinguished representative of Indian Christians, and a voice on their behalf in the wider social milieu. He was ordained as a priest in 1973 and consecrated as a bishop in 1985. Following the abdication of his predecessor His Holiness Baselios Marthoma Didymus I, he was enthroned on 1 November 2010 with the name Baselios Marthoma Paulose II, thereby becoming the Catholicos of the East. In the past years he took a special interest in enhancing bilateral relations with heads of various Orthodox churches in other parts of the world such as the Ethiopian, Armenian, and Russian Orthodox churches, as well as with the Roman Catholic Church.
Rev. Dr Godefroid Kangudie Tshibemba (Kä Mana) passed away on 19 July 2021. An African theologian and writer from the Democratic Republic of Congo, he was one of the first among theologians to accompany the WCC Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy Programme in West Africa Regional Office in publication while he was based in the University of West Africa UPAO. His critical reflections were transformative in shaping the work within the ecumenical world. He studied in the seminary for Catholic priests in Mbuji-Mayi, then choosing the religious life in the congregation of the Josephite Fathers. He later continued his studies at the Gregorian University in Rome, then at the University of Strasbourg and the Free University of Brussels, earning doctoral degrees in philosophy and theology.
Protopresbyter Leonid Kishkovsky, former member of the World Council of Churches central committee fell asleep in the Lord on the evening of 3 August. Fr Leonid was long time director of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) Office of External Affairs and Interchurch Relations. After undergraduate studies in history and political science at the University of Southern California, he studied at St. Vladimir’s Seminary and was ordained a priest in 1969. During his career, he also served as editor of The Orthodox Church, the OCA main periodical, as the first Orthodox president of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, moderator of Religions for Peace (international) and Religions for Peace USA, moderator of Christian Churches Together in the USA, and served on the board of directors of International Orthodox Christian Charities. He generously shared his skills of bridge builder, participating in important processes in the life and history of the WCC such as the drafting of the policy statement "Common understanding and vision of the WCC" and the Special Commission on Orthodox participation in the WCC. He dedicated himself to building up a welcoming Orthodox Christian community which embodied love of God and love of neighbour.
Dr Bennet Benjamin, an Indian ecumenist known for building of pathways of justice and dignity for people in the margins, passed away on 4 August 2021 at the age of 77. Son of a pastor, he grew up in many places, wherever his parents moved for mission work. After his university, at which he studied cultural history of India and politics, he began his work in the field of cottage industries, researching through field studies. He worked as a programme secretary for the Student Christian Movement in India. He joined the Christian Institute for the Study of Religion and Society and the Ecumenical Christian Centre, leaving Bangalore to move to Tirupattur, where he developed his work among the indigenous people. He founded and directed the Centre for Rural Health and Social Education. He also contributed significantly to the ecumenical movement, including the World Council of Churches, Christian Conference of Asia, National Council of Churches in India, and YMCAs of India. He wrote frequently in journals, and other publications through which he influenced social thinking, questions of development, human rights, inter-cultural studies, labour issues, and youth work.
Rev. Dr Suzanne Webb, from the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States passed away on 13 August 2021. She served on the Christian Church Foundation Board of Directors from 2007 to 2015, ending her term as the Chair of the Board. She also served on various ecumenical committees and commissions locally, nationally, and internationally including as a member of the National Benevolent Association board of trustees (2013-2017).
Rev. Cho Yong-gi, founder of Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, died 14 September 2021. He was 85. He was pastor emeritus of the world's largest congregation. In 1956, he entered a Full Gospel college in Seoul to study theology. After graduating in 1958, he opened a tent church in northwestern Seoul, which later moved to Yeouido, a financial district in the capital, and became Yoido Full Gospel Church with more than 700,000 followers. He established the newspaper Kookmin Daily in 1988 and set up Good People, an international nongovernment development organization for human rights, environment and child welfare. He contributed to the Busan assembly planning process and encouraged his congregants to participate in the assembly in 2013.
Rev. Dr Timothy Stewart, the president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention died at the age of 64 on 17 September 2021. Having been called to the ministry at age 25, he became one of the longest serving pastors of the oldest Baptist church in The Bahamas, providing food (over 30,000 meals per year), clothing, counselling, educational development opportunities and other important human services to the working class communities. He became first ever non-American to ascend to president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc.
Rev. Dr Jose Pepito Manansala Cunanan, ordained minister of the United Methodist Church in the Philippines and environmental activist, died on 12 October 2021. After finishing his degree in anthropology from the University of the Philippines, he received further degrees in theology and his Doctor of Ministry from the Union Theological Seminary and Philippine Christian University. He served as secretary of the Urban Rural Mission Programme at the World Council of Churches (WCC) from 1986-1989 and executive director of the Commission on Development and Social Concerns at the National Council of Churches in the Philippines from 1990-93. Dr Cunanan was a member of WCC delegations to the Rio Earth Summit in Brazil and the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development in New York. He participated at conferences and training courses around the world. He has published many articles and, on the radio, spoke often on agriculture, environmental issues and development.
Rev. Dr Stephen Suleeman, an ordained minister in the Gereja Kristen Indonesia (GKI) and noted theological educator and professor of the Jakarta Theological Seminary, passed away on 8 November 2021. He completed his Doctorandus in Social Sciences in 1987 from the University of Indonesia and began his academic career at the Jakarta Theological Seminary that same year, teaching there for 27 years. He. He also held two Masters’ degrees in Theology in Peace Studies (1991) and History and Christian Thought (1992). He was responsible for introducing sexuality studies in the formal education and training of new pastors and theologians in Jakarta, also coordinating the Field Education Programme that sent students to interact with LGBTQI communities in order to better understand them and promote inclusion in churches. His ecumenical work included involvement with the Christian Communion of Indonesia (PGI) and with the Christian Conference of Asia’s HIV and AIDS programmes, contributing during study sessions on gender and sexuality as well as his participation at various theological summits of the CCA’s Congress of Asian Theologians (CATS), including most recently the CATS–IX held in 2019. He contributed to the work of the World Council of Churches as a member of the reference group on human sexuality.
Rev. Jose Manuel Leite, ordained minister of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Portugal, passed away in November 2021. He served as an executive staff member of the Conference of European Churches, as president of Portuguese Council of Christian Churches (COPIC), , and as a representative of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in the UN Commission on Human Rights. Having studied at the WCC Ecumenical Institute in Bossey, he was later responsible for the rectory and the disciplines of Ecumenism and Patristics of the Evangelical Seminary of Theology in Lisbon. As Mayor of Figueira da Foz, his gifts further enriched the community there.
Rev. Zwinglio Mota Dias, pastor, theologian and ecumenist from the Presbyterian Church of Brazil, died on 19 November 2021, after battling cancer. For many years he was a member of the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism of the WCC. He was actively engaged in the work of Urban Rural Mission, a mission-based programme that promoted and coordinated contextual people-centred responses to the degradation of labour and other issues of human dignity and community life in urban-industrial and rural contexts. He was the moderator of Urban Rural Mission’s Advisory Group between 1985 and 1992. He participated in the establishment of a Center for Ecumenical Information (CEI), of which he would later be the general secretary until 1994. CEI, later known as CEDI, continues its activities today as Koinonia PresençaEcumênicaeServiço. HealsoservedasaprofessoroftheDepartmentofSciencesofReligionof the Federal University of Juiz de Fora, Brazil, where he taught and supervised advanced research topics related to Protestantism and ecumenism. He was visiting professor at McCormick Theological Seminary, in Chicago, USA, and at Emmanuel College of the Victory University, in Toronto, Canada.
Dr Ibraheem Garba, co-director of International Centre for Interfaith Peace and Harmony in Nigeria, died in a car accident in December 2021. Since April 2020, Garba had been co-director of the centre, which was established in 2016 with the support of the WCC, working with local and international Christian and Muslim partners. He was deeply committed to improving the lives of the people of Nigeria, both Muslim and Christian.
Ms Hildegard Zumach, member of the Evangelical Church in Germany, and former general secretary of the Evangelische Frauenarbeit in Germany, passed away on 15 December 2021 at the age of 95. She was a church musician, long-time general secretary of the Evangelical Women's Work in Germany (1972-1992) and was the first woman to chair the Action Group Service for Peace (AGDF) board of directors (1992- 1996), where she shared her wealth of experience in political commitment to women's rights, in solidarity work against apartheid in South Africa, in global ecumenism. She was part of the six-strong EKD delegation to the World Council of Churches (WCC) central committee and attended the WCC assemblies in Nairobi (1975), Vancouver (1983) and Canberra (1991). In 1979 she was one of the co-founders of the "Plea for an Ecumenical Future", which is committed to the "Conciliar Process for Peace, Justice and the Integrity of Creation" founded in Vancouver. Her ecumenical commitment also included the founding of the German Committee of the World Day of Prayer for Women in the early 1970s, of which Zumach chaired until 1982. She supported feminist theology and advocated for theological research by women. This was particularly evident in the context of the ecumenical Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women (1988-1998).
Rev. Illesa Naivalu, general secretary of the Methodist Church of Fiji passed away on 17 December 2021 following a period of ill health. He had attended the 2018 General Assembly of the Pacific Conference of Churches in Auckland, Aotearoa-New Zealand in his capacity then as general secretary of the Fiji Council of Churches. He had previously served as the secretary for Christian Citizenship and Social Services for the Methodist Church in Fiji as well as on mission as a diaspora minister in Melbourne, Australia through the Uniting Church in Australia.
Archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu, a key leader in the moral struggle against the apartheid system in South Africa, died on 30 December 2021 at the age of 90. Ordained in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, the impact of his life’s ministry and witness extended far beyond the borders of his own country and church communion.
He served as WCC programme executive (1972-1975) in the WCC Theological Education Fund in London working on the promotion of theological education focused on the needs of churches and congregations in the “Third World”. This was the origin of the de-colonial notion of “contextualization”. Upon his return to South Africa, he was appointed dean of Johannesburg in 1975 and one year later Anglican bishop of Lesotho, then general secretary of the South African Council of Churches (SACC) and finally the first black Archbishop of Cape Town (1987). A powerful and forthright voice against injustice, after the fall of Apartheid, he was named Tutu was chairperson of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
He spoke at the Vancouver Assembly (1983), the Fifth World Conference on Faith and Order in Santiago de Compostela, Spain (1993), the Porto Alegre Assembly (2006). In a visit to the Ecumenical Centre in 2008, Tutu thanked the WCC for its "costly solidarity" at the time of the anti-apartheid struggle. "We would not be free had not been for the steadfast support of the WCC, which cost the WCC a very great deal,” he said. Archbishop Tutu’s impact on the life of the ecumenical movement and on the work of the WCC was pivotal.
Rev. Khamphone Kounthapanya, Executive President of the Lao Evangelical Church (LEC) in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR), died on 3 January 2022. He was a charismatic Asian church leader, committed ecumenist and a renowned biblical scholar and Christian educator. As a committed and patriotic Christian leader in Lao, PDR one of the last remaining communist countries in the world, he was revered and admired by people at large. He served the church in different capacities as a pastor, theological educator, Bible school teacher, general secretary; and finally as the executive president of the LEC, he was instrumental in rebuilding the foundations of a totally ruined Christian Church in Lao PDR. His vision was to train a new generation of theologically trained pastors and church workers and through them to preach the gospel. An informal theological education training programme was initiated in 1994 with the support of CCA and WCC Indo-China programme. He was very keen that the LEC be part of the mainstream Asian and global ecumenical movement and used every opportunity to be part of Asian and global ecumenical events.
Prof. George Koshy, senior lay church and ecumenical leader in India, passed away on 15 January 2022 after a brief illness at the age of 90. He was former general secretary of the Church of South India (CSI) for four consecutive terms from 1990-1998. A renowned professor of English, he joined the CMS College in Kottayam in 1956 as a teacher of English Language and Literature, and became professor and head of the department, as well as the Vice Principal. He took early retirement from his full-time professorship and became actively involved in the CSI Synod leadership and the global ecumenical movement, starting from 1990. In addition to being a member of the WCC central committee (1991-1998), he also served as the vice- chairman of the International Council of Anglican Churches, executive committee member of the Council for World Mission London, World Methodist Council, Evangelical Mission in South-West Germany, and National Council of Churches in India. He had also become the Regional Director of Y’s Men International, South West India Region. He was a delegate of the CSI to the 10th General Assembly of the CCA held in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in 1995.
Dr John Taylor, from the Church of England, former head of the WCC interreligious office died in January 2022. He attended the WCC New Delhi Assembly in 1961 as a student observer. He studied and taught Islamics at Cambridge University (England), University of Punjab (PakistanI), McGill University (Canada), University of Birmingham (England), and Harvard University. He served WCC as programme secretary for Christian-Muslim relations, headed up the programme (1980-83) and later served WCC as a consultant in interfaith relations. After his time at the WCC he went on to be secretary general of Religions for Peace and, in the 1990s, was involved in peacekeeping initiatives in the Balkans with his work for the Conference of European Churches. He also helped support the 9th WCC Assembly in Porto Alegre in 2006.
Rev. Philemon Riti OBE, former moderator of the Pacific Conference of Churches, died in February 2022. As an ordained minister in the United Church of the Solomon Islands and later moderator of the UCSI (2002-2007), he never hesitated to speak truth to and challenge the systems he felt caused harm to God’s people. He was instrumental with Bishop Ellison Pogo of the Anglican Church of Melanesia in forging closer links between the clergy of the UCSI and ACOM. He also served as the general secretary of the council of churches to bring about an end to ethnic tensions by fostering reconciliation in the country. He was nominated to the post of Governor-General, appointed to the Law Reform Commission and the Parole Board in recognition of his strong sense of justice.