UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

'Churchman' in the best sense of the word

The late Rev. Albion Wright believed in an inclusive church and an independent Observer

By David Wilson

The term “churchman” fell from favour long ago, and deservedly so. Over time, what once described denominational movers and shakers began to evoke a kind of clubbiness that assumed the church’s main players were rightfully men.

The fact that a word has fallen from favour doesn’t always mean it’s a bad word. Sometimes it’s the only one that fits. No doubt some of the mourners at a memorial service for Rev. Albion Wright this past summer were surprised to hear “churchman” crop up in spoken tributes. But I think most of the people gathered at St. Stephen’s-On-The-Hill United in Mississauga, Ont., understood that the term was being used as an expression of great admiration for a man who loved The United Church of Canada and devoted the better part of his life to it.

Albion Wright wasn’t a high-profile church leader. He preferred to work in the background. But if ever there was a United Church mover and shaker, he was it. Ordained in the late 1950s, he went on to hold an astonishing number of key positions at all levels of the church. Moderators sought his counsel, and up-and-coming church leaders considered him a mentor.

There is no question he walked confidently down the corridors of influence during the years when men ran the show. But he was too smart and decent a human being to believe even for an instant that the United Church should be the preserve of any one group. He believed in an inclusive church and showed it by serving as an adviser to Anne Squire, the first laywoman elected to lead the United Church. As a member and eventually chair of The Observer board of directors, he was a mentor to Muriel Duncan, the first female editor-publisher of the magazine in more than 150 years of publishing. 

He seemed to have a special place in his heart for this magazine. He believed the United Church was better off with an Observer that spoke freely, and he worked doggedly to enshrine the magazine’s independence. In the early 1990s, he was instrumental in setting up the Friends of the Observer Fund. It has been the magazine’s lifeline ever since.

After his official duties ended, Albion maintained an ongoing unofficial relationship with the magazine. A chat with Albion never failed to put things in perspective. His wisdom and his quiet, reassuring manner could calm the most troubled waters and point to hope just over the horizon.

When Albion Wright died on July 5 at age 81, The Observer lost a true friend and the United Church one of its greatest champions. A retired minister who was among the innumerable clergy Albion went to bat for over the years put it best: “He was one of the good guys” — a churchman in the best possible sense of the word.

• Carolyn Pogue’s thoughtful writing on peace, justice, church and faith has appeared on the pages of The Observer for nearly two decades. Now you can join her here at ucobserver.org. New postings of The Pogue Blog will appear on the first and third Thursday of each month.


Author's photo
David Wilson is the editor-publisher of The Observer.
Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!

Interviews

Courtesy of Pixabay

Why this woman is leaving the Catholic Church in her 60s

by Angela Mombourquette

After a lifetime devoted to Catholicism, a Nova Scotia teacher is settling in with the United Church of Canada. Here, she explains why.

Promotional Image

Editorials

Jocelyn Bell%

Observations: It’s a long road toward full equality for women

by Jocelyn Bell

'It’s a wonder that we continue to see male ministers as normative and attach shame to female ministers’ biology and sexuality.'

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: Playing by Heart

by Observer Staff

United Church music director Kara Shaw was born prematurely, became almost totally blind and was later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Today, the 28-year-old showcases her unique musical ability, performing piano on local and national stages.

Promotional Image

Faith

May 2018

Toronto church builds interfaith friendship

by Vivien Fellegi

Faith

May 2018

This parent found no support for her autistic daughter — and decided to change that

by Kieran Delamont

Suzanne Allen talks about raising a daughter on the autism spectrum and bringing all autistic girls together

Faith

May 2018

Church retreat helps first responders with PTSD

by Joe Martelle

Interviews

May 2018

Why this woman is leaving the Catholic Church in her 60s

by Angela Mombourquette

After a lifetime devoted to Catholicism, a Nova Scotia teacher is settling in with the United Church of Canada. Here, she explains why.

Ethics

May 2018

Pregnant in the pulpit

by Trisha Elliott

Ministers who take a maternity leave still face discrimination in their own congregations

Interviews

May 2018

The two words Rev. Cheri DiNovo wants to hear from the United Church

by Alex Mlynek

The Toronto minister talks about her disappointment over the church’s silence when she officiated the country’s first legalized same-sex marriage 17 years ago – and why she wants an apology.

Promotional Image