Saturday, 12 June 2010

'Losing a voice' - remembering Marlin VanElderen

A post from Dr B ...

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the unexpected, untimely and tragic death at the age of 54 of Marlin VanElderen, officially the executive editor of World Council of Churches publications, but in reality the force tranquille of the WCC, sought out for his careful advice and his ecumenical memory, the chief drafter of the WCC's Common Understanding and Vision document.

It was Whit Monday - Pentecost was late in 2000 - and I was spending the day off by sitting under a glorious sun on the terrace of the WCC restaurant correcting proofs for the ENI Bulletin. I smiled and waved to Jan Kok, head of publications, as he walked through the garden to the door at the back of the building. Jan, the former WCC communications director, was already living with the cancer that would lead to his own early death at the beginning of 2002. He walked over to where I was sitting; he could get only two words out. "Marlin's dead." It seemed like an age before I took in that Jan was saying that his colleague and best friend at the WCC had died.

Marlin was also a colleague and friend to me, someone who would always find the time to stop what he was doing to clarify some little known, but hotly disputed, facet of WCC or ecumenical history. "If that's what Marlin says, it's good enough to go with," was the response.

Since his arrival in Geneva at the beginning of the 1980s, Marlin had become an ecumenical institution in his own right, and one we had all taken for granted. In his office he would be seen in front of his computer, patiently editing the latest publication, or, as often, the latest draft of a WCC position paper; almost at the end of the corridor, opposite Jan, so people could just "drop in" as they were coming out of the cafeteria. He was also, as Konrad Raiser, noted in his tribute to Marlin, the "conscience of the WCC": "His particular gift to ask the necessary (and sometimes uncomfortable) questions at the right time allowed new answers to be formulated."

But Marlin was always great company, with a beer in one hand, and the source of many tales and anecdotes, and with his wife Meribeth, an unordained pastor for those who worked with him.

There's far more that could be said about Marlin than can be written in a blog post. As managing editor of The Ecumenical Review, Marlin made a lasting contribution to ecumenical study and reflection. Before becoming WCC executive editor, Marlin had been editor of the WCC's monthly magazine One World, seeking to encapsulate the ecumenical message in a way that it could be heard by a general audience, and as a source of up-to-date information and reflection about the ecumenical movement. And, as Konrad wrote in his tribute, "It pained him more than anybody else when, in 1995, One World went out of existence, an early casualty of the financial problems faced by the WCC."

By coincidence, on this 10th anniversary, many Reformed folk from around the world are gathering at Calvin College in Grand Rapids for the Uniting General Council of the World Communion of Reformed Churches. A member of the Christian Reformed Church, Marlin had studied at the college and later worked for the Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing house, also based at in the city. A time to remember and recall the contribution of this Reformed Christian to the ecumenical movement.

A year after his death, the WCC published a selection of Marlin's editorials from One World under the title, "Finding a voice: Communicating the Ecumenical Movement". For those of us who knew him, Marlin's death meant "losing a voice". Maybe our best tribute to him would be to be inspired by his passion for "communicating the ecumenical movement" as a task and a mandate that still stands before us today.

1 Comment:

janetlees said...

When I first read this I mis-read it like you sometimes do and I thought it said 'Communicating the ecumenical MOMENT' - now I don't know but maybe if we started with that...