UCC mourns death of William Sloane Coffin, legendary 'pastor, prophet, poet'
Adapted from an article written by J. Bennett Guess
Thursday, 13 April 2006
The Rev. William Sloane Coffin, a United Church of Christ minister known globally for his peace and justice advocacy, died April 12 at his home in rural Strafford, Vermont. He was 81.
According to Associated Press, Coffin had been suffering from congestive heart failure and had been under hospice care.
“Bill was an exuberant prophet who had the unique capacity to love us toward our better selves,” said the Rev. John H. Thomas, UCC General Minister and President. “His prophetic vision brought the imagination of the Biblical prophets and of Jesus to life in our time. He was urgent and clear, but never stern. His love for life in the world that is, never blinded him to a yearning for life in the world that ought to be.”
Ordained in 1956 and long active in his support of the United Church of Christ’s justice and peace agenda, Coffin keynoted a UCC convocation in 2003 on how to revitalize its “just peace church movement.” One of the UCC’s most widely recognized clergy, he was a member of the United Church of Strafford.
“Bill understood that a minister was always pastor and prophet, and his gift for language reminded us that, at our best, pastors and prophets are always poets,” Thomas said.
During the 1960s and 70s, he served as university chaplain at Yale where he spoke out passionately in favor of Civil Rights and against the Vietnam War. In the 1980s, Coffin headed the anti-nuclear SANE/Freeze campaign, where he became a major voice in opposition to the U.S. nuclear weapons buildup.
Coffin’s likeness and passion were later immortalized as the fictitious “Rev. Sloan” by cartoonist Garry Trudeau in his celebrated strip “Doonesbury.”
From 1976 to 1987, Coffin was senior minister of one of the UCC’s most prominent congregations, the Riverside Church in New York City. More than 20 years ago, Coffin led Riverside Church in becoming the UCC’s first “open and affirming” church, a denominational movement that today includes nearly 600 congregations committed publicly to the full inclusion of gay and lesbian persons.
Last year, when major networks first rejected the UCC’s TV ad campaign as “too controversial,” Coffin authored a stinging op-ed column. “The UCC properly implied that millions of American Christians are at odds with the Christian Right,” Coffin wrote. “… In reality, there are no biblical literalists, only selective literalists. By abolishing slavery and ordaining women, millions of Protestants have gone far beyond biblical literalism.”
William Sloane Coffin received a Justice and Witness Ministries Life Time Achievement Award last year during General Synod 25. Rev. Bernice Powell Jackson presented the award to him at his home in Vermont.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
Thursday, April 13, 2006
This just in my inbox. I remember taking the bus across town with a good friend from college to see Coffin speak in Minneapolis some 15 years. Can't remember what he said exactly, but clearly remember being energized and feeling that Christian progressives could really make a difference. Incidentally, although both the friend and I were in different fields then, but we both went on to study theology. Probably not a coincidence...