Former UCC minister, seminary president, social-justice advocate Bill Webber dies at 90
August 10, 2010
From staff and wire reports
The Rev. Dr. George W. "Bill" Webber, 90, one of the vanguard of 20th-century Protestant advocates of social justice that included Martin Luther King Jr. and William Sloan Coffin Jr., died July 10 in Maplewood, N.J. He was 90.
A UCC minister who was president of New York Theological Seminary from 1969 to 1983, Webber was hailed by religious and human rights leaders as a model of Christian activism.
"Bill Webber was a great teacher, advocate and leader who was deeply committed to the ministry and mission of the United Church of Christ," said the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, UCC general minister and president. "I know that he was a mentor and friend to many UCC pastors and leaders."
In addition to restoring a financially tottering institution and doubling enrollment, he recast New York Theological Seminary – a traditional missionary school – as a training ground for black, Hispanic and female clergy members dedicated to helping "the forgotten." His innovative approach attracted African-American, Latino and women church leaders, and included a graduate program that welcomed students who had not graduated from college.
Webber also introduced a successful master's in theology program for inmates of the Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining, N.Y.
He went on to join a generation of activist clergymen that included William Sloane Coffin Jr. in ministering to the poor and protesting war.
A former gunnery officer during World War II, Webber vehemently opposed the Vietnam War and was arrested several times during anti-war protests. When Yale presented him an honorary doctorate in 1981, it called him a "prophet for the cause of justice."
When many white social activists resided in the suburbs, Webber and his family lived out their commitment to the poor in a housing project in Harlem.
George William Webber was born in Des Moines on May 2, 1920, to a father who was director of the local YMCA and a mother who had a weekly radio show reviewing books. He graduated from Harvard magna cum laude with a history major before joining the Navy in 1942. After the war, he earned a bachelor of divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in philosophy of religion from Columbia University.
Webber is survived by his wife of 67 years, the former Helen Barton; his sons John, Tom and Andrew; his daughters Katy Webber and Peggy Scott; 11 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.