Who will head the World Council of Churches as its new general secretary?

The decision will be made by the WCC’s Central Committee at a meeting that begins next week in Geneva. The sixteen men and two women on the nominating committee are pledged to secrecy. But speculation is rife, and most of its points to the best known ecumenical engineer in the Western Hemisphere, Dr. Eugene Carson Blake.

Endorsement of Blake has gained momentum. But he has refused to comment on widespread reports that name him as the most likely successor to the retiring W. A. Visser ’t Hooft, general secretary of the WCC since it officially began in 1948 and even before then in a provisional status. Insiders say Blake will take the job if the 100-member Central Committee votes decisively to make him the offer. In the current ecumenical era, the position could become the most prestigious in the non-Catholic ecclesiastical world.

This is the Central Committee’s second attempt to fill the post. Earlier it had assigned the responsibility of selecting a nominee to its fourteen-member Executive Committee, which came up with the name of the Rev. Patrick C. Rodger. Although he had been head of the WCC’s Faith and Order Department, Rodger, a Scottish Episcopal priest, was relatively obscure.

His nomination was made public long before the Central Committee voted on it, and some felt it had been released in such a way as to appear tantamount to election. The resulting controversy split the World Council badly. The Central Committee voted a year ago to take no action on the Rodger nomination and appointed a special nominating committee to consider more names. Rodger is technically still in the running, but few give him much chance.

The present nominating committee is believed to have considered, in addition to Blake and Rodger, Dr. Lukas Vischer, the WCC’s chief observer at the Vatican Council; Dr. D. T. Niles, general secretary of the East Asia Christian Conference; Dr. Leslie E. Cooke, head of relief work and interchurch aid for the WCC; and Bishop Oliver Tomkins of the Church of England.

The committee drew up a priority list and instructed committee chairman John Sadiq, an Anglican bishop from Nagpur, India, to contact the choices from the top on down until a person was found who was willing to accept the nomination.

Blake would seem to surmount the political barrier that might normally face a nominee from the United States. He is well acquainted with many Eastern Bloc churchmen and seems to have their confidence. He has been to the Soviet Union several times and has rubbed shoulders with world ecclesiastical leaders for years.

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Blake’s age (59) is against him. If chosen, he might be regarded merely as an “interim pope” with little more than five years in office open to him. The job has life tenure, but Visser’t Hooft, in retiring at 65 despite pressure to stay on, sets a precedent. Blake probably feels, as did Pope John XXIII, that much can be done in a short span.

As expected, most of the support for Blake comes from his fellow Americans. To the surprise of no one, the Christian Century in its January 19 issue published an editorial, “We Nominate Blake,” endorsing him “not because he is a member of the Christian Century Foundation board of trustees but because he is in every way eminently qualified to lead the World Council of Churches at this critical juncture in its brief career.” Another editorial endorsement came last month from the recently inaugurated ecumenical journal in Britain, The New Christian.

Blake was born in St. Louis and as a youth was well-trained in Christian orthodoxy. He is still regarded as reasonably conservative, though his overriding passion for ecumenicity often casts theology into the shadows. A burly man with fiery temperament, Blake readily commands respect.

While on his way to a philosophy degree with honors at Princeton University, he was a varsity football guard for three years. He earned a bachelor of theology degree at Princeton Theological Seminary and took graduate work at Edinburgh’s New College. During this period, he married the former Valina Gillespie. They have no children.

Blake’s church career began with a brief teaching stint at a Christian college in India. His pastoral posts have been at Presbyterian churches in New York State and Pasadena, California. In 1951 he was elected stated clerk of the United Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A., a position that he has turned into a power base unprecedented in Reformed ranks.

He is famous as originator of the Consultation on Church Union, a long-range merger discussion among six top Protestant denominations. COCU had a rather spectacular start as the Blake-Pike talks, but interest has sagged. There is now widespread feeling that pressures for a super-church will produce more schism than ecumenicity.


For the second time since the Reformation, the head of the Church of England plans to visit the pope. Dr. Arthur Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury, will meet Pope Paul VI in Rome on Wednesday of Holy Week, March 23. Ramsey’s predecessor, Dr. Geoffrey Fisher, met Pope John XXIII in December of 1960.

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Half a year after President Johnson’s daughter Luci converted to Roman Catholicism (see News, July 30, 1965, issue), Vice-President Humphrey’s son Robert, a Methodist, has announced plans to marry Donna Erickson, a Roman Catholic he met at Mankato State College in Minnesota. Miss Johnson plans to marry Patrick John Nugent, also a Catholic, next summer. The expected wedding in the White House would require special permission from Archbishop Patrick A. O’Boyle of Washington.

Dr. Otto Dibelius, 85, courageous foe of Nazism and Communism, announced he will retire as head of the Evangelical Church in Berlin-Brandenburg at the end of March. He has been inactive since November because of a serious heart condition. His successor is to be elected at dual synod meetings in East and West Berlin.

The Presbyterian Church in Canada named the Rev. R. Malcolm Ransom its first full-time director of missionary education. He will channel to churches information on home and overseas missions.

Dr. Joost de Blank, 56, who gained fame as a foe of racial segregation while Anglican archbishop of Capetown, South Africa, is the new bishop of Hong Kong and Macao.

U. S. Senate Chaplain Frederick Brown Harris missed last month’s reopening. He’s recuperating from neck injuries and speech impairment suffered in an auto accident in Florida last October.

Senate Republican leader Everett Dirksen, already fighting the Supreme Court’s re-apportionment ruling, announced he would also make its school prayer decisions an issue this session.

Oregon’s Governor Mark O. Hatfield, outstanding Conservative Baptist layman and board member of Campus Crusade, announced he’ll run for the U. S. Senate this year. Republican Hatfield is expected to take a moderate to liberal stance on most issues.

The Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth, aide to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., quit as pastor of Cincinnati’s strife-torn Revelation Baptist Church, claiming it had been captured by the “right wing,” and took over the new Greater Light Baptist Church organized by his supporters.

Protestant Panorama

The United Church of Canada urged legalization of birth control at a conference of provincial attorneys general in Ottawa. The Criminal Code makes it a crime to sell contraceptives or disseminate birth-control information. A telegram to Justice Minister Lucien Cardin was signed by the church’s council moderator, the Rt. Rev. Ernest Marshall Howse, and the Rev. J. Ray Hord, secretary of evangelism and social service.

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A scale model of the new National Presbyterian Church (see above) was unveiled in Washington, D. C. The groundbreaking will be about April 1. The church will be in a ritzy neighborhood near Methodist American University and the more expensive Washington Cathedral (Episcopal), which is scheduled for completion in 1985. The capital’s most expensive religious structure is the Roman Catholic Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.


South Africa is suffering its worst drought in memory, and the government sponsored a national interfaith day of prayer for rain. The blistering summer heat that parches crops also encourages swimming, but the government is tightening up seashore segregation. Persons of different races swimming in sight of each other face fines or jail sentences. A mulatto leader charges “greedy whites” have snapped up the best beaches. In Israel, the fifteen-member municipal council elected as mayor its only Mapam Party member, Abdul Aziz Zouabi. He got his own vote and all seven Communist votes, while the seven Alignment Party members boycotted the meeting. (See December 17, 1965, issue, page 35.)


THE RT. REV. ROMUALDO GONZALEZ-ACUEROS, 59, Episcopal missionary bishop of Cuba since 1961; in New Orleans, of cancer.

THE REV. NIKOLAI LEVINDANTO, 69, vice-president of the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (largest Soviet Protestant organization) and administor of Baptist work in the Baltic states; in Riga, Latvia.

DR. JOHAN AASGAARD, 89, the president who helped Americanize the Norwegian Lutheran Church and led it into the American Lutheran Church merger in 1960; of pneumonia, in Cokato, Minnesota.

Pupil placement by religion was outlawed for public schools in Celina, Ohio. Three local schools are attended mostly by Roman Catholics, and a fourth is predominantly Protestant. The court order let stand the practice of Catholic nuns’ teaching in religious garb.

Nevada’s Attorney General Harvey Dicker-son ruled unconstitutional a plan for students in Roman Catholic schools to take certain courses in public schools.

Intermarriage within a 250-family Old Order Amish community in Mifflin County, Pennsylvania, is considered the cause of an outbreak of a rare form of anemia that was fatal to at least nine children. Blood specialist Dr. Herbert S. Bowman of Harrisburg said the Amish need not marry outside their faith but should marry outside the single isolated group. This is difficult for the Amish, who keep close family ties and do little traveling because of a ban on automobiles.

As congressional hearings on the Ku Klux Klan resumed last month (see November 19, 1965, issue, page 42), former Klansmen told of KKK intimidation projects, including bombing of Methodist and Baptist buildings in Slidell, Louisiana. Other more chilling schemes faltered: statewide church burnings, militia activity against street demonstrators, and sabotage of a train carrying Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson.

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