National Council of Churches Recognizes Three Outstanding Faith Leaders at Christian Unity Gathering

On Tuesday, October 16, three outstanding leaders of the ecumenical and interreligious movements were recognized for their achievements by the National Council of Churches (NCC).  Mrs. Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker, Rabbi David Saperstein, and Rev. Dr. Leslie Copeland Tune were honored in a banquet held as part of the NCC’s “Christian Unity Gathering” in College Park, MD, October 14-17.

The J. Irwin Miller Award for Excellence in Ecumenical Leadership was given to Mrs. Jacquelyn “Jackie” Dupont-Walker. The J. Irwin Miller Award is given to a layperson who has demonstrated a commitment to church unity, and who, by living out this commitment through action in the world, has been a witness to justice and other values affirmed by our common faith in Jesus Christ.

A long-time friend of the Council, Mrs. Jacquelyn “Jackie” Dupont-Walker has been a strong voice for justice within ecumenical circles in the US.  She has served on the NCC’s governing board, and earlier this year she was co-chair of the steering committee for the “A.C.T. Now to End Racism” initiative, launched by a series of events that took place in Washington, DC, April 3-5, 2017.  

Her commitment to community service, and to the belief that civic engagement leads to community empowerment, has manifested itself in many ways:  as founding president of the Ward Economic Development Corporation in Los Angeles, which was responsible for building and managing low income housing in the city; a member of Bank of America’s Social Policy Board, which sought to define banking needs in the community; and a member of the California Housing Partnership Corporation Board, the LA City Council Re-Districting Commission, and the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles.

A lifetime of commitment to justice includes her role with the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s Social Action Commission.  Mrs. Dupont-Walker is said to be “one of the most highly respected and influential laypersons” in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

The National Council of Churches Award for Excellence in Interreligious Leadership was given to Amb. David Saperstein.  Since its beginning, the National Council of Churches has been involved in interfaith relations.  This pioneering history has included interfaith dialogues: one of our first partners was the Jewish community, and dialogue with the Muslim community began some four decades ago. Today our dialogues with other faith groups include the Hindu and Buddhist communities. Recognition of key partnerships is one way we encourage and foster interreligious friendship.

Among our long-time and prominent partners has been Rabbi David Saperstein. As the Director of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism (RAC), Rabbi Saperstein partnered with NCC leaders in countless initiatives. This partnership continued after Rabbi Saperstein left the RAC in 2015 to serve 2 years as the US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.  Among his many affiliations over the years, he has been on the board of the NAACP and the National Religious Partnership on the Environment. Today he is a senior advisor to the Union for Reform Judaism for Policy and Strategy. Newsweek Magazine named him “the most influential rabbi in America.”

The President’s Award for Excellence in Faithful Leadership was given this year to Rev. Dr. Leslie Copeland Tune. With a lengthy relationship to the ecumenical movement, Rev. Dr. Copeland Tune served as the NCC’s Assistant Director for Justice and Advocacy in the 2000s. She again served the NCC as the Director of Mobilization for the “A.C.T. Now to End Racism” events earlier this year.

Currently, Rev. Dr. Copeland Tune serves as the Director of Ecumenical Advocacy Days for Global Peace with Justice, an annual conference that brings 1,000+ religious activists to Washington, DC to explore current justice issues and to advocate in congressional offices. Rev. Copeland-Tune brings many years of advocacy experience and spiritual zeal to her leadership of this event. She has served in various capacities with the Ecumenical Poverty Initiative; the NCC’s Special Commission for the Just Rebuilding of the Gulf Coast; and Faith in Public Life.  She has also served the Conference of National Black Churches as well as Grace and Race Ministries, which seeks to foster dialogue and understanding on race among Christians.

The President’s Award for Excellence in Faithful Leadership is given as a way to reward, promote, and encourage faithful, risk-taking leadership among faith leaders, and particularly among younger faith leaders, in our midst.

The NCC revived the practice of awarding outstanding leaders in 2017.  Dr. Iva Carruthers of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, Dr. Sayyid Syeed of the Islamic Society of North America, and three leaders from the clergy protest against white supremacists in Charlottesville — Rev. Osagyefo Sekou, Brittany Caine-Conley, and Rev. Seth Wispelwey — were all honored for their outstanding contributions.

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