The Joan Brown Campbell Department of Religion Endowment, a fund held by the Chautauqua Foundation, provides funding for this week’s Interfaith Lecture Series from Monday through Thursday. The lecturers for the week are Bryan Stevenson, Peniel E. Joseph, Ruby Nell Sales and Drew Dellinger.
When the Rev. Joan Brown Campbell announced she would retire at the end of 2013 as director of the Department of Religion, Chautauquans expressed their desire to honor Joan’s work and her contributions to the Chautauqua community and to contribute resources to help carry on that work. Barb Mackey, inspired by Joan’s vision, made the largest single gift commitment the Department of Religion has ever received through the combination of annual contributions and ultimately, through a bequest to establish the Joan Brown Campbell Department of Religion Endowment. Additional gifts are continuing to be added honoring Joan’s legacy.
Like many women of her generation, Campbell was first a wife, mother and community volunteer. At age 50, Campbell was ordained. She was already a leader in the ecumenical interfaith movement, where she gave leadership for over 30 years.
Campbell is truly a “first woman.” In every job she held, she was the first woman to carry that responsibility. She was the first woman to be associate executive director of the Greater Cleveland Council of Churches; the first woman to be executive director of the U.S. office of the World Council of Churches; the first ordained woman to be general secretary of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA; and she was the first woman director of the Department of Religion at Chautauqua.
As general secretary of the National Council of Churches and as executive director of the U.S. office of the World Council of Churches, Campbell participated in some of the great historic events of the last century. She led a delegation to present the Catholic edition of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible to Pope John Paul II. She organized volunteers to work for the election of Carl B. Stokes as the first black mayor of a major American city. She worked with Martin Luther King Jr. and brought him to her own congregation, the first white church in Cleveland to receive King. Campbell served as an honorary election monitor with President Kaunda of Zambia in the election of Nelson Mandela as the first African president of South Africa, and she successfully negotiated with Fidel Castro and former President Bill Clinton the return of Elian Gonzalez to his father.