Jim Winkler’s move from the United Methodist Board of Church and Society to the National Council of Churches is a big one in some ways. But he’ll still be in the United Methodist Building in Washington, where both organizations are based.
“I’ll move from having a beautiful view of the Supreme Court building and the Capitol to having a beautiful view of the United Methodist Building parking lot, in an office one third the size,” he said, laughing. “And I’m just fine with that.”
Winkler, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society since 2000 — and an employee of the agency for nearly 30 years — will become top executive of the National Council of Churches on Jan. 1.
He was announced Nov. 5 as the sole nominee for the NCC job, and the governing board officially elected him Nov. 18 during its meeting in Chicago.
“We are confident that Jim Winkler’s gifts and experience are just what the council needs to stay on the right path and expand its horizons,” said Kathryn Lohre, NCC president.
At the Board of Church and Society, the 55-year-old Winkler has led The United Methodist Church’s advocacy on social issues, including peace, economic justice, immigration and more. His approach — including getting arrested in protests — has earned him great loyalty as well as opposition from different quarters of the denomination.
United Methodist Church law limits agency executives to serving 12 years, but allows the agency board to suspend the provision by a two-thirds vote. Church and Society board members wanted Winkler to stay on as they worked through deciding his successor.
The Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe, dean of the Chapel and Religious Life at Emory University in Atlanta, was chosen to replace Winkler at Church and Society, and will start early next year.
“She was here yesterday, and is planning to come up again in December,” Winkler said Friday. “In a sense, she’s already on the job. We’ve been in contact every day about what seems like a thousand details related to the work of the board.”
The NCC, founded in 1950 and consisting now of 37 member communions, including The United Methodist Church, promotes ecumenical cooperation in a number of areas, including Bible scholarship, justice advocacy and interfaith relations.
The organization has faced extreme financial challenges in recent years, leading to retrenchment in budget and staff and a move of headquarters from New York to Washington.
“They have worked through the worst of all that, thanks be to God,” Winkler said.
Winkler will lead a staff of six, with a budget of about $1.4 million. He said his early tasks will include fund-raising; supporting NCC’s “convening tables” in education and leadership formation, faith and order, interfaith relations and joint advocacy and justice, and preparing for a major meeting in May.
He said he was contacted about the job several months ago and invited to apply.
“After a lot of prayer and thought, I felt God was calling me to this opportunity,” he said. “As I reflected on my own experience here at the General Board of Church and Society, I felt I’ve helped this board come through difficult times and I feel I can do the same for the National Council of Churches.
Winkler is in his 29th year at Church and Society, having earlier served as seminar designer, director of annual conference relations and a staff executive for resourcing congregational life.
Though a layman himself, he’s the son, brother, nephew and great-grandson of United Methodist preachers. After college, he was a short-term missionary with the Pacific Conference of Churches in Suva, Fiji.
Sam Hodges is a Dallas-based writer for United Methodist News Service. Contact him at 615-742-5470.