Rev. Forrest Church, acclaimed author of more than two dozen books and longtime minister of the Unitarian Church of All Souls in New York City, died yesterday following a three-year battle with esophageal cancer. He was sixty-one years old. Church is survived by his children, Frank, Nina, Jacob and Nathan, and by his wife, Carolyn Buck Luce.
“I join thousands of Unitarian Universalists and Americans in mourning the loss of Forrest Church,” said Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) President Peter Morales yesterday. “We have lost a brilliant and articulate thinker, a champion of democratic values, and a compelling advocate for liberal religion. More importantly, we have lost a kind, thoughtful, and loving spirit. What courage and grace he showed in his final years. Even as we feel our loss, let us be grateful for his enduring legacy.”
The son of former U.S. Senator Frank Church (D-Idaho) and grandson of former Idaho Governor Chase A. Clark, Forrest Church earned his Ph.D. in early church history from Harvard University in 1978, and began his career at All Souls that same year. Selected from approximately twenty-five applicants for the position, Church was twenty-nine years old. He served All Souls from then until his death.
Church reached a wide audience through the approximately two dozen books that he authored or edited in the course of his career. He published his first book, Father and Son: A Personal Biography of Senator Frank Church of Idaho, in 1985. His other prominent works include Our Chosen Faith: An Introduction to Unitarian Universalism (1989, co-authored with John Buehrens), The American Creed (2002), So Help Me God: The Founding Fathers and the First Great Battle over Church and State (2007), and Love and Death (2008). Church’s final book, The Cathedral of the World: A Universalist Theology, will be published by Beacon Press in November.
At the UUA’s 2008 General Assembly, Church received the Award for Distinguished Service to the Cause of Unitarian Universalism, the most prestigious award given by the UUA. “Let us never forget what a privilege it is to be part of this great movement and to pronounce its saving faith: one Light (Unitarianism) shining through many windows (Universalism),” Church remarked upon receiving the award. “Let us continue our quest together, with awe and humility, with saving openness and saving doubt, never forgetting to honor those who charted our way.”
Church spent his final years reflecting on the importance of living each day with love and gratitude. He writes in Love and Death, “The goal is to live in such a way that our lives will prove worth dying for…The one thing that can’t be taken from us, even by death, is the love we give away before we go.”
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John Hurley, Director of Communications
Unitarian Universalist Association
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communicationsdirector @ uua.org