2011 Annual Award for Distinguished Service to the Cause of Unitarian Universalism: Rev. Victor H. Carpenter
Presented by the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations to Rev. Victor H. Carpenter
Victor Carpenter found Unitarian Universalism as a young adult, following service in the United States Marine Corps. Recruited as a willing Religious Education teacher at Second Church Unitarian in Boston, Victor was identified by the Reverend Clayton Hale as a worthy piece of ministerial material. Hale felt that giving it a try was a good idea, and arranged for Victor to serve as minister for the small Universalist church in Fryeberg, Maine the summer before beginning Harvard Divinity School.
It was in Fryeberg that Victor's heart would learn what his head already knew—liberal religion is his home. Victor's time at Harvard included studies with Paul Tillich, James Luther Adams, and Conrad Wright. As a student minister he served Christ Church, Dorchester Unitarian and participated in the Benevolent Fraternity, the predecessor to the Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry in Roxbury, Massachusetts.
Following graduation in 1959, Victor was called by the congregation of the First Parish in Norwell, Massachusetts. During his service in Norwell, Victor created the South Shore Forum, featuring speakers like Henry Cabot Lodge, John Kenneth Galbraith, Paul Tillich, and Willard Uphouse. In 1960, half a world away, white South African police opened fire on a crowd of black protesters in Sharpeville Township, killing 69 people and injuring hundreds more, drawing international attention and condemnation by the United Nations. Victor reflects that he wondered, quote, How a liberal religious perspective fared without a democratic atmosphere, and what a minister would be called to do in such circumstances?
There was one way to find out. In 1962, Victor, his wife Cathe and son, Tyler moved to South Africa. Nelson Mandela had just been convicted of treason and sent to Robben Island. Victor and Cathe aligned themselves with freedom seekers, opened the church to integrated worship, and brought in study groups on racism.
Unbeknownst to Cathe, Victor also served called covertly for the Defense and Aid Fund as a courier delivering cash to lawyers serving prisoners and their families. He attracted attention from the authorities. He was required to report on a weekly basis about his movements and threatened with deportation.
And the Carpenter family was growing. Daughters Gracia and Melissa were each born with significant special needs. With Victor's effectiveness diminished from increased police scrutiny and the girls needing greater medical care, the family returned to the United States. But not before spearheading a campaign to raise awareness about autism, and found in the South African Society for Autistic Children, which connected families dealing with autism. Victor and Cathe's efforts led to the creation of a school and a house for students. Both were later named and dedicated to the memory of their daughter, Gracia.
Victor continued his ministry in the United States, serving First Church in Philadelphia at a time when the interfaith community was speaking against the Vietnam War and Mayor Rizzo's corrupt government, at Arlington Street Church in Boston at the height of the busing controversy, in San Francisco during the AIDS epidemic, and then in Belmont and Dorchester, Massachusetts.
Throughout his entire ministry, Victor has occupied a place on the leading edge of peaceful, but determined protest. He has more arrests for civil disobedience than he can count, and has experienced first-hand the power of interfaith allies seeking justice.
Victor knows that each passionate action for justice, no matter how small creates the possibility of transformation. That 10 minutes spent talking with a state representative can change the life for a child, or start a movement. He understands the connectivity of each action we take for justice, and he uses that sure knowledge to bring about change, and inspire others to do the same.
Victor has led efforts to stop wars, empower hotel and hospital workers, protect women's rights, halt corruption, protect victims, stop death to prisoners, instill accountability across cultures, and give voice to the most marginalized. His accessibilities work spans decades. But Victor is not a man of causes. Victor is a man who has chosen a religious path that calls him to participate in the world. Victor breathes most easily when he is working for justice with people for whom, and with whom, it makes a difference. His leadership is a gift and shining example to us all.
The key to Victor's success is his ability to recognize what he does not know and his willingness to find ways to listen and learn. But he says that his primary guide and companion in that learning is Cathe Carpenter, who he describes as wife, friend, lover, confidante, editor, and life companion in the dedication of his book, Stations of the Spirit. To know Victor's commitment to live a faithful life and heed the call to justice, is to know Cathe's heart as well.
Victor, your lived faith exemplifies who we are called to be in the world. Your leadership offers a guide to all who will follow. And with deep appreciation, we now confer upon you the highest honor our Association can bestow, the Annual Award for Distinguished Service to the Cause of Unitarian Universalism.