(RNS) — The National Council of Churches announced Wednesday (Jan. 26) that Jim Winkler, its general secretary and president since 2013, is leaving his post.
Winkler told readers of the Protestant ecumenical organization’s e-newsletter of his departure on Friday, writing in a “Final Column” that “I have completed two terms as president and general secretary and now move to the next chapter of my life.”
He did not cite a reason for his departure. Winkler also did not respond to a request to comment on his move.
“Jim’s last day is January 31st,” Bishop Teresa Jefferson-Snorton, chair of the NCC board, told Religion News Service in an email.
As recently as November, Winkler appeared to be planning to stay for a third term as leader of the 72-year-old organization. At an event heralding the release this spring of an updated New Revised Standard Version of the Bible in collaboration with the Society of Biblical Literature, he told the audience, “I look forward to seeing you next year, if not earlier.”
The NCC’s announcement on Wednesday said, “An interim President/General Secretary will be named soon, followed by a formal search for an elected leader.”
Winkler arrived at the NCC shortly after it had begun to downsize to its current form — what Winkler described in the newsletter column as “a tiny staff of less than 10 persons and a budget of about $2 million a year.”
Two years before, the organization’s annual report showed that its expenses of about $5.6 million were running more than $1 million more than its revenue. In 2013, the group moved its headquarters from its historic “God Box” office in New York City’s Interchurch Center to a suite in Washington’s United Methodist Building. Leaders at the time hoped the move would enable the cash-strapped organization to eventually save it $500,000.
Officially founded in 1950, the NCC has its roots in the Federal Council of Churches that started in 1908. Long considered a key voice for mainline Protestant Christianity, its leaders have sometimes had regular access to the White House. In recent years it has expanded its reach beyond its 37 Christian member denominations to engage leaders of non-Christian faiths, working against “anti-Muslim animus” and supporting Sikhs who have suffered other attacks.
In his farewell message on Friday, Winkler noted the NCC had established new interreligious dialogues with Buddhist and Hindu communities.
In recent years, too, it has made combating racism a core aspect of its work. In 2018, on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the NCC held one of its largest events ever, drawing thousands for a march from the King Memorial to the U.S. Capitol for a rally to kick off its A.C.T. Now to End Racism initiative.