World Council of Churches Office of Communication
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07 April 1999

A TRIBUTE TO DR AARON TOLEN

(cf. WCC Press Release of 7 April 1999)

The following tribute to Dr Aaron Tolen, who died on Wednesday 7 April, has been paid by the Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC):

"It was with profound shock that we received the sad news about the untimely death of our brother, friend, and colleague, Dr Aaron Tolen. As we share in the grief over the loss of our brother and express our sincere condolences to his family and all those who were close to him, we give thanks to God for his life and pray God to rest his soul in eternal rest and peace.

Aaron was Godís precious gift to the ecumenical movement in general and to the World Council of Churches (WCC) in particular. His distinguished service and contribution to the life and well-being of the ecumenical movement spans a whole generation. For thirty years he dedicated his life and abilities to promoting the unity of the church and of humankind. He generously put his professional skills and gifts at the disposal of the ecumenical movement.

Aaronís gifts as a leader and visionary were already evident in the period 1969-1974, when he served as World Student Christian Federation (WSCF) secretary for Africa and Madagascar. In that capacity he addressed the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) General Assembly, Abidjan, 1969, where he very ably articulated the integral nature of ecumenical work in Africa. He and his colleagues in the WSCF Africa region laid a solid foundation that led to the strong involvement of the African students and youth in global ecumenical work. His participation in WCC work started during the same period, when he served in the Executive Committee of the CCIA (Commission of the Churches on International Affairs).

Aaron was a very key participant at the WCC's first Assembly in Africa, Nairobi, 1975. His insightful contribution led to his election as moderator of CCPD (Commission of Churchesí Participation in Development). He served in that capacity from 1976-1983.

From 1983-1991 he served in the WCC Central Committee as a moderator of the-then Unit III on Renewal and Education. During the meetings of the Central Committee, he moderated the Public Issues Committee, where his skills as a professional political scientist were put to great use.

Aaron was a president of the WCC from 1991-1998. During that period, we called upon him to represent the Council at numerous functions and occasions. In 1993 he was a member of a delegation of Eminent Persons to South Africa to monitor the situation in the run-up to the first democratic elections in that country. In October 1994 he headed the delegation of Eminent Persons visiting the USA for hearings on Racism as a Violation of Human Rights. He also led ecumenical delegations to Burundi in 1995 and to the Democratic Republic of Congo (then Zaire) in pursuit of peace and reconciliation. On all those and many other occasions, Aaron provided valuable leadership and made the ecumenical voice heard and respected.

His most recent involvement was at the WCC's Eighth Assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe, December 1998. He very ably moderated the Africa plenary which helped the assembly to understand the history and contemporary situation in Africa. He was a relentless champion of the African cause and African interest. For him, the search for a peaceful, just and democratic society in Africa was a life-long commitment. He struggled for the respect of human rights and human dignity for all.

Aaronís departure is a big loss to the ecumenical movement. His enormous contribution to its course will be remembered for many years to come."


For more information contact:
Karin Achtelstetter, Media Relations Officer
tel.: (+41 22) 791 6152 (office);
e-mail: media
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The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 336, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.