The man who one colleague described as “a thoughtful and unassuming radical voice for justice” is stepping down from his role as executive director of the N.C. Council of Churches.
George Reed has been with the council for 15 years. A lawyer by training, Reed is described by peers as someone who understands the political process, important for an organization that weighs in on topics of social justice such as immigration reform and climate change.
More than 200 friends, family and colleagues met to honor Reed’s work at Highland United Methodist Church on Tuesday.
“I have the deepest appreciation for him,” said Charles Petty, Reed’s friend of 40 years. The council’s political affiliations lie left of center, said Petty, who described Reed as a man of unquestionable ethics.
“Any time you apply the Bible to life, there’s going to be controversy,” Petty said.
Jennifer Copeland will replace Reed beginning August 1, becoming the first woman to take on the role in its 75-year history.
Chris Liu-Beers, who worked with the council until a year ago, said this reflects a willingness to accept women as leaders already established in the organization and its more than 6,200 affiliate congregations.
As for seeing Reed leave, Liu-Beers has mixed feelings. He said Reed was the best boss he has ever had.
“I’m happy that he gets to retire,” Liu-Beers said. “I’m bummed for the organization.”
Reed characterizes the council as an organization ahead of its time. The governing board endorsed efforts to fight climate change as early as 15 years ago, Reed said.
Looking back on his time as executive director, Reed said he is most proud of his staff, especially the youngest employees. Many could have higher salaries elsewhere, Reed said, and they are critical in adapting the council to changing times.
“This is a time of change in church life,” Reed said, citing a recent Pew Research Center poll that found an increasing number of young adults unaffiliated with a religion in the U.S., a phenomenon affecting Christian denominations in particular.
Part of the logic in selecting Copeland as executive director is her 16 years of experience in campus ministry at Duke University, Reed said. He hopes to see the council expand its involvement in the lives of college students.
Copeland has a graduate degree in feminist studies from Duke. Being selected as the first woman in the position is positive, Copeland said, but the fact that it has taken until 2015 is a sign of women’s struggle in church systems.
“It’s about time,” Copeland said.
In his retirement, Reed has plans to travel to San Francisco with his family, make headway on his book list and find volunteer work to do. But mostly, he’s looking forward to unwinding and decompressing.
“I might do that for the rest of my retirement,” Reed said.