The National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. (NCC), the largest ecumenical body in the United States, has appointed Bishop Vashti McKenzie as the organization’s interim president and general secretary.
The NCC, an umbrella group of 38 member denominations with more than 35 million Christians announced the appointment May 10.
McKenzie, who recently retired as a bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, officially started in her new job on April 1 and is expected to serve a two-year term.
“The National Council of Churches is blessed to have Bishop McKenzie in this key leadership role,” Bishop Teresa Jefferson-Snorton, NCC board chair and the leader of Christian Methodist Episcopal Church congregations in Florida and Alabama, said in a May 10 statement. “She brings the necessary insight, expertise, and ecumenical commitment to the Council.”
The first woman to serve in the dual role of general secretary and president of the NCC, McKenzie succeeds Jim Winkler, who left the post on January 31. McKenzie is also the first African American woman to serve as NCC general secretary—a distinction on par with her appointment in 2000 as the first woman to hold the title of bishop in the AME Church.
“I look forward to the opportunity to enhance the great work that the NCC has already done and look for strategic ways to amplify its voice,” McKenzie said. “It is critical in this season of divisiveness in our country that we remain vigilant and visible advocates and bridge builders.”
The NCC was founded in 1950 in Cleveland, Ohio, but its roots go back to May 1908, when 32 Christian communions joined in Philadelphia to form the Federal Council of Churches. In recent years, the NCC has made fighting racism a key part of its mission.
A Baltimore native, McKenzie is the great-granddaughter of John H. Murphy, the founder of the AFRO newspaper chain, which has advocated for the racial equality and economic advancement of African Americans for the past 129 years. She has a doctorate from the Dayton, Ohio-based United Theological Seminary, whose mission is to prepare “faithful and fruitful Christian leaders.” McKenzie also serves as the national chaplain of Delta Sigma Theta sorority, a historically black international sisterhood.
At the AME Church, McKenzie led regional districts in Africa, Tennessee and Texas. She was featured in public campaigns in which she held HIV/AIDS-stricken babies to show it is safe to care for them.
An author of several books, most recently the 2017 publication The Big Deal of Taking Small Steps to Move Closer to God, McKenzie is an exponent of “adaptive leadership.” She defines it as a management style in which leaders are “faced with situations but do not have a solution or answer that comes from past experience.”
“You have to know how to pivot, you have to step back, get on the balcony, survey the scene, throw out what you know or what you think you know and then find the answer that’s going to fit this issue right here,” she said in a July 2021 interview with Religion News Service a week after she retired from the AME Church.
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