NEW YORK, September 2, 2015 — The first woman minister to head the National Council of Churches and first woman Director of Religion at the historic Chautauqua Institution is to receive a special award next year from the Religion Communicators Council.
The Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell, 83, is to accept a special Wilbur Award April 2 in New York City during the communication organization’s 87th annual national convention. The communicators council announced the special recognition Monday.
Rev. Campbell is a devoted activist for peace and social justice, believing that citizens in a democracy must act on their conscience. This commitment was crafted during her life changing work with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and was deepened in the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa. Archbishop Desmond Tutu referred to her as “a woman of courage and compassion” pointing out that Rev. Campbell was the only woman in the clergy procession of over 200 for his enthronement as Archbishop of South Africa.
The honor recognizes Campbell’s over 30 years of public and behind the scenes work in all forms of media. She was spokesperson for the National Council of Churches on national and international issues for nearly a decade.
“During her tenure at the National Council of Churches, she was a frequent interviewee for radio, television and news reporters,” the nomination noted.
Retired religion communicator Roy Lloyd, who worked with Campbell, said, “I think Joan is a perfect example of someone who knows how to use media to get across important messages for all of society. Good planning went into everything that she did.”
Campbell led the National Council of Churches from March 1991 through December 1999. Before that position, she was the first woman to be associate executive director of the Greater Cleveland Council of Churches and the first female executive director of the U.S. office of the World Council of Churches. After she left the National Council, Campbell served at the Chautauqua Institution, historic center for religion, education, the arts and recreation in Chautauqua, New York, from 2000 to 2013.
While serving with the National and World Council of Churches, Campbell led a delegation to present the Roman Catholic edition of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible to Pope John Paul II. She headed peace missions to the Middle East and mediated talks between Cuban leader Fidel Castro and President Bill Clinton about the return of Elián González to his father in Cuba.
Campbell, now retired, is an ordained clergy member in two denominations, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and American Baptist Church.
From time to time the Council’s board of governors confers a special Wilbur Award. It recognizes a person or organization whose body of work makes a substantial and unique contribution to public discourse on religious faith and values or interfaith dialogue and understanding.
Past recipients of special Wilbur Awards include Bob Abernethy of Religion & Ethics Newsweekly; John P. Blessington of CBS-TV’s Religion and Culture series; President and Mrs. Jimmy Carter; John Dart, former religion editor of the Los Angeles Times; Martin Marty of The Christian Century; Bill Moyers of Bill Moyers Journal; Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood; Charles Schulz, creator of Peanuts; and filmmaker Ken Wales.