In Memory of

William “Bill” Voelkel

August 29, 1929 – December 6, 2012
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Bill was born in Cleveland, Ohio on August 29, 1929 and grew up in Beloit, WI and Fort Wayne, IN. He graduated from the College of Wooster, Union Seminary and Harvard Divinity School. He was a child of the Church—he sang its hymns with gusto and in harmony; he preached the gospel of radical inclusion, abundant love, and life which is always stronger than death; and he lived every day out of his faith. But he was an uncommon pastor. He believed that his beloved United Church of Christ was always choosing between being a movement and an institution– and being a movement was usually more faithful. He lived and worked in the East Harlem Protestant Parish, focusing on economic and racial justice. He worked in Roxbury in Boston and the West Side of Cleveland, living in community and practicing radical solidarity. One of his proudest accomplishments was helping to found St. Paul’s Community Church in the heart of Cleveland’s inner city. Based on this experience, he taught community organizing as faithful practice and wrote a book on inner city ministry. Especially as he served as an Association Minister in Ohio and Chicago, he understood his faith to best be practiced when he used his power as an ally—in helping women, people of color and LGBT people gain leadership in the church; in advocating for the just treatment of Puerto Rican nationalists who were imprisoned; and in helping to create “God’s Commonwealth” as he described it in the hymn he wrote, “The City with Foundations.”

Bill died after his heart wore out. This seems appropriate as he spent his life wringing the life out of it. As a pastor, partner & family man, he loved in all the ways he could dream of. And he sang his heart out– mostly in church holding a hymnal.

But he never let his passions make him insufferable. He was an avid baseball and football fan. He never missed an opportunity to do a myriad of crossword puzzles. He sang in many choirs and ensembles. He loved beauty in many forms—art, music, and the written word. And, perhaps most importantly, he had a lifelong love affair with sailing. He started with a small jerry-rigged boat as a young man and took every opportunity to be out on the water– feeling the wind and finding that sweet-spot between letting the wind carry him and having a steady hand on the tiller.

Rebecca Voelkel