The Rev. Dr. Farley Wilder Wheelwright died on February 27, 2016 at the age of 99.
Farley was born on December 5, 1916 to a family that included four generations of Unitarians. He received a Bachelor of Art from St. Lawrence University in 1957; a Master of Divinity from Hartford Seminary Foundation in 1961; and a Doctor of Ministry from Andover-Newton Theological Seminary in 1977.
Rev. Wheelwright was ordained to the ministry in 1961 by the North Greenwich Congregational Church, CT. He was called to serve as minister to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Central Nassau, NY in 1962. He held pastorates with the Unitarian Society of Cleveland, OH from 1968 to 1972; the First Unitarian Church of New Bedford, MA from 1974 to 1980; and the Unitarian Universalist Society of Sepulveda, CA from 1981 to 1985. The Sepulveda congregation named him Minister Emeritus upon his retirement in 1985. Post-retirement, he served interim ministries at the Unitarian Church of South Australia of Adelaide, SA; Arlington Street Church of Boston MA; and the Murray UU Church of Attleboro, MA.
Rev. Wheelwright was deeply invested in the denomination, and his service extended far beyond the parish. He was a founding trustee of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship for Religious Humanism; President of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (UU Peace Fellowship); co-founder of Unitarian Universalists for Jewish Awareness (with the late Robert Wolsch); Chair of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association’s Ballou-Channing District; Board member of the Unitarian Universalist Retired Ministers and Partners Association; member of the Pastoral Education Network; and Arrangements Person to the Executive Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association.
A staunch social activist, Rev. Wheelwright fought against the racial injustices of the 1960’s. Between 1962 and 1968, he traveled Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia, doing voter registration, becoming more politically radical and being incarcerated more than once. Upon his arrival to Garden City, NY, in 1962, he led the Church of Central Nassau to Washington for the now- legendary March on Washington. He was one of the first to respond to the call of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to come to Selma, AL in March, 1965. Their friendship became such that three years later, Dr. King accepted Farley’s invitation to preach his installation sermon when he was called to the Cleveland Unitarian Society. Three days before Farley’s installation, Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, TN.
While serving the church in Cleveland, OH, Rev. Wheelwright founded the Cleveland Clergy Counseling Center on Abortion. All other area UU clergy and many other denominations’ clergy were involved, each voluntarily putting themselves in jeopardy of being arrested and jailed for breaking the law for scouting out-of-state doctors willing to provide safe abortions. Hundreds of young and middle-aged women were sent as far away as London for safe abortions. The group made national news when Farley’s photo in clerical robes made banner headlines reading, “He leads young girls to abortion.”
For all his notoriety as a social activist, however, Farley treasured his career as a pastoral minister above all else. “When I think of an afternoon spent supporting a grieving mother because of the crib death of her two-month old baby, my participation in the social activist movement seems almost inconsequential,” he said. “It is the most exalted job I can possibly conceive of for myself and my talents,” he continued.
Farley and his wife Virginia moved to San Miguel, Mexico in 1993. Both were involved in the Mexican community and with the UU Fellowship of San Miguel (UUFSMA), serving on the board of directors, periodically delivering sermons, and helping shape the Fellowship’s identity in an expat community. In 2015, the Fellowship nominated Farley for the Annual Award for Distinguished Service to the Cause of Unitarian Universalism. Never one to slow down, at age 97, Farley published his first book, Twice-Told Tales, a collection of some of his favorite sermons from over the years. Twice Told Tales is available for purchase on amazon.com.
He is survived by three daughters and two sons: Delia Moon; Cindi Harnicher; Barbara Kafka; John Kafka; and Tom Kafka.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Escuela de Educacion Especial (eeesma.com) and/or to Jovenes Adelante (JovenesAdelante.org).
Condolences may be sent to Delia Moon at 303 Mesa Lane, Santa Barbara, CA 93109.
Swap Farley Stories: Sunday, May 22nd at 3 PM, Arlington Street Church chapel, Boston. 351 Boylston Street entry.
To remember the Rev. Farley Wilder Wheelwright we shall celebrate a 99 year, illustrious life of wisdom, wit, social action, compassion and more. All with stories and memories of Farley are welcome. Those who cannot attend but want to add their thoughts can send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
RSVP for the gathering to the same address to help with a count. Direct questions to Mike Ball or George Whitehouse.