Passed on Thursday, 06 December 2012
By the Rev. Rebecca Voelkel
Bill Voelkel, 83, died December 6, 2012. He was preceded in death by his parents, Rev. Dr. Elmer Voelkel and Mercy Townsend Voelkel and his brother, Rev. Dr. Robert Voelkel. He is survived by his wife and partner of 44 years, Rev. Marguerite Unwin Voelkel; his daughters, Christine Voelkel Snoddy (Daniel) and Rev. Rebecca Voelkel (Maggie George); his grandchildren: Laura, Jason and Shannon MacKenzie; and sister-in-law, Mab, and nephews: Andy, Tom and Jim. We, his family, now grieve deeply because even as we knew his heart was failing, his perseverance and desire to claim each day always defied the odds given him.
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 treat 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.”
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.
A memorial service with a supper to follow will be held Sunday, December 16, 2012 at 3:00 pm at First Congregational Church of Minnesota United Church of Christ, 500 Eighth Ave SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414 612.331.3816
Memorials preferred to the United Church of Christ Coalition for LGBT Concerns, 2592 West 14th Street, Cleveland, OH 44113 and at www.ucccoalition.org