The Rev. Dr. George W. "Bill" Webber, a former president of New York Theological Seminary and a well known leader in urban ministry, died this past weekend at his home in Maplewood, N.J. He was 90.
Best known for his passion and work for faith-based justice, Webber helped shape the perspective of several generations of Protestant clergy engaged in urban ministry.
“[Webber’s] imaginative grasp of the problems that confront an embattled urban church in an expanding and often violent city has given new meaning to the concept of Christian mission,” noted an award he received in 2000 from Union Theological Seminary, where he earned his Bachelor of Divinity degree.
In 1948, the year he graduated from Union, Webber and two other graduates founded the East Harlem Protestant Parish, which engaged in programs of social justice, the struggle for civil rights, new housing, tutoring, drug treatment and public education and Bible Study.
Through its storefront ministries, the Parish influenced a generation of college and seminary students from many countries and became a model for the renewal of inner city ministry nationwide.
"He was not only a great leader in theological education," commented the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches. "Bill Webber was a social activist whose ministry helped renew the church in this country through encouraging [and modeling] its engagement with social issues."
Aside from the Parish, Webber also helped establish Metropolitan Urban Service Training (MUST) and Clergy and Laity Concerned About Vietnam (CALCAV), which later became known as Clergy and Laity Concerned, and Witness for Peace.
In 1969, Webber became the president of the Biblical Seminary in New York, holding the post until 1983. Under Webber’s leadership, the name of the seminary was changed to New York Theological Seminary and its mission came to focus on dynamic urban transformation.
Over time, the seminary became a leader in providing theological training to a broad range of urban pastors from storefronts to cathedrals, with a student body of African American, Latino, Korean, and European American pastors and laypersons.
In 2004, New York Theological Seminary established the George W. Webber Chair in Urban Ministry in his honor.
Webber, who lived with his family in the public housing projects of East Harlem from 1956 until 2003, is survived by his wife, five children, eleven grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
Memorial services are tentatively scheduled for August in Sorrento, Maine, and for October in New York City.