Former New York Theological Seminary President Passes

George W. Webber in 1983. (Photo: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times)

George "Bill" Webber, the former president of New York Theological Seminary and an internationally renowned leader in theological education and urban ministry, died on July 10 at age 90.

Best known for his work in ministering to New York's inner-city poor, Webber lived out his commitment by moving into a housing project in East Harlem in 1956 where he stayed with his wife Helen for nearly 65 years.

He was ordained as a minister by the United Church of Christ after receiving his Bachelor of Divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary and his Ph.D in philosophy of religion at Columbia University.

In 1948, the same year Webber graduated from Union and became the school's Dean of Students, he helped found the East Harlem Protestant Parish, which engaged in programs of social justice and fought in the struggle for civil rights.

In 1969, Webber became the President of the Biblical Seminary in New York, which changed its name to New York Theological Seminary (NYTS) under his leadership.

While at NYTS, Webber helped establish a Master of Professional Studies program to provide theological education to inmates at the Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining, NY.

Over 200 men have graduated from the program, many of whom are social workers, pastors, prison reform advocates and educators.

In 2000, Webber received the Union Medal from Union Theological Seminary honoring him for his "passion for faith-based justice." In 2004, NYTS established the George W. Webber Chair in Urban Ministry.

The Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, commented: "He was not only a great leader in theological education, Bill Webber was a social activist whose ministry helped renew the church in this country through encouraging (and modeling) its engagement with social issues."

Webber is survived by his wife and five children, John, Tom, Peggy, Andrew, and Kathy, eleven grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

Memorial services are tentatively planned for Sorrento, Maine in August and in New YorkCity in October.

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