The World Council of Churches (WCC) is mourning the loss of an inspiring pastor and communicator, Rev. Jean-Jacques Bauswein, who passed away on 30 March. He was 78.
Rev. Jean-Jacques Bauswein (center) with members of the WCC communications team in Geneva, Switzerland, October 2019. Photo: WCC
1 April 2022
Bauswein served as the French and German press officer in the WCC Department of Communication from 1972 to 1981. He then served as director of the Foyer John Knox in Geneva (later known as the Centre international Réformé John Knox) from 1981-96.
Bauswein also served as part of the WCC team at the WCC 5th Assembly in Nairobi.
“Rev. Jean-Jacques Bauswein had a strong commitment to the ecumenical movement and especially to the Bossey Ecumenical Institute and the younger generation,” said WCC acting general secretary Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca. “The WCC will miss a dear and committed friend who encouraged so many young people along the way.”
Robin Gurney, Bauswein’s friend and colleague at the WCC, recalled being introduced to him at the WCC central committee meeting in Berlin in 1974. “In 1975, we were together at the WCC 5th Assembly in Nairobi, and the following year at the central committee in Geneva,” said Gurney. “In 1977, I found myself sitting opposite him as joint WCC press officers—he worked in French and German, and I worked in English and Spanish.”
They became close friends, and this continued when Bauswein moved to be the director of the John Knox Centre. “His dynamic personality led to many transforming events in the life of the centre,” said Gurney.
In retirement, the two kept in close touch through emails, telephone calls and visits. “His last message to me came from his hospital intensive care bed complaining he could not type as he didn’t have his glasses,” said Gurney. “Then, last Monday (28 March) came a telephone call just to say goodbye.”
Gurney shed a tear but thanked God for a good and faithful servant and a loyal and deep friend. “God makes each one of us unique,” said Gurney. “What more can one say about Jean-Jacques Bauswein?”
As a representative of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC), Bauswein was involved in setting up the ENI news agency in 1994 as a joint project of the WCC, WARC, Lutheran World Federation and Conference of European Churches, serving as a member of its advisory board and later as president of the ENI association.
“Jean-Jacques believed passionately in ENI as an independent, credible news agency that had a crucial role to play in communicating the reality of the ecumenical movement,” said Dr Stephen Brown, former ENI managing editor, who worked with Bauswein in the early years of ENI.
Peter Kenny, former editor-in-chief of ENI, knew Bauswein from his involvement with the news agency when it was based at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva, Switzerland.
“Jean -Jacques believed passionately that objectively obtained news about the churches worldwide should be available to church members and the general public,” said Kenny.
“He was smart, witty, ebullient. It was always enlightening and fun to be with Jean-Jacques.”
WCC Communication director Marianne Ejdersten recalled having the opportunity to work with Bauswein in the late 1990s on the board of ENI, where they served together for several years.
“Later, when I was taking up my position as WCC director of Communication in 2014, I quite quickly learned that Jean-Jacques was one of our more active and passionate readers, and we have had since then hundreds of deep exchanges on the importance of framing and shaping the ecumenical message to the fellowship and to the wider world and media,” said Ejdersten. “If I had a less successful day with communication, he told me with words written in bold and marked in yellow: ‘You have to stand up – who else is there other than you in this communication position? The WCC must lift up and convey the authentic experiences, stories, insights, and values of people and communities within the churches that might otherwise not be heard.” Ejdersten concluded “We have lost one important apostle of prophetic communication and we have to continue in his spirit that everything is possible, peace is always possible and to encourage the younger generation to work on peace communication”.
WCC communication officer Xanthi Morfi said Bauswein will be remembered for his sharp and authentic communication, both at an interpersonal and institutional level, always in connection to justice, faith and human rights issues. “In an era with multidimensional challenges for communication and freedom of speech, his modus operandi sets an example for the younger generation of ecumenical communicators, one that never compromises truth for interests, recognizes the organic role of religion in international affairs and peacebuilding, insists passionately and until the very end in bringing real change in the world,” she said. “This is the way he chose to leave the world, to live until his very last moments—by setting up a working station in a hospital emergency room, fighting, insisting, communicating that peace is possible nowadays against all odds.”
Born in 1944 in Strasbourg, Bauswein studied theology in Strasbourg and then spent a year in a Lutheran congregation in Idaho, United States, with his German wife, Marianne. After returning from Alsace in 1967, he served as an assistant pastor and pastor in various local churches.
Though himself a Lutheran, he researched and edited with Lukas Vischer The Reformed Family Worldwide: A Survey of Reformed Churches, Theological Schools, and International Organizations, a unique 740-page reference work.
In a contribution to a 1981 book, Genfer Zwischenbilanz, Bauswein recounted the busy life of a press officer in the WCC communications department, where inquiries could range from a phone call first thing in the morning from a Catholic wanting to know where she could celebrate an “ecumenical wedding” with a Muslim, to a German television journalist asking for more information about a recent speech by the general secretary.
“Ecumenism comes to life when Christians hear from each other, exchange experiences, listen to each other—in short, when there is communication that creates bridges, offers new directions, questions what we are used to, encourages experimentation, demands a common struggle for faith and leads toward he path to unity,” he wrote.
“One issue that we have to wrestle with, again and again, is that of transparency. Transparency happens when a situation, an issue, a debate, a decision is fully and clearly communicated,” he wrote.
After early retirement and following his wife’s early death in 2000, Bauswein became involved in local politics in Ornex, France, and set up the local history association. He remained active in the local Protestant parish in the Pays de Gex, a French territory adjoining Switzerland, where his funeral will be held in Ferney Voltaire on 6 April at the Protestant Church.
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