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In Memory of . . . Herbert F. Vetter (1923-2014)

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Rev. Dr. Herbert F. Vetter Jr. died on March 7, 2014, at the age of 90.  Herbert was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on September 27, 1923 to Herbert Ferdinand Vetter Sr. and Kathleen Wilson. He graduated the University of Chicago in 1947 with a Bachelor of Arts.  He then attended Harvard Divinity School and Meadville Theological School, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Divinity in 1952. He received an Honorary Doctor of Divinity Degree from Meadville Theological School in 1983.


Rev. Vetter was ordained to the Unitarian ministry on October 26, 1952, at the First Congregational Parish Unitarian in Sharon, MA. He served the First Congregational Parish from 1952 to 1953. In 1954, he was called to the Unitarian Church of Franklin, NH, at which he served as minister until 1957. He went on to serve the Unitarian Church of Delaware County, PA, from 1958 to 1959; The First Parish of Milton, MA, from 1959 to 1960; and The First Parish of Northborough, MA, from 1960 to 1964. In 1967, he was called to First Parish in Cambridge, of Cambridge, MA. He served First Parish until 1990, first as Associate Minister and then as Minister at Large, while simultaneously founding and directing Cambridge Forum. In 1999, First Parish in Cambridge voted him Minister Emeritus.


Rev. Vetter was very active within the denomination. He served as co-chair of the New England Ministers Institute; Moderator of the Greenfield Group of Unitarian Universalist Ministers; Field Education Representative of the Harvard Divinity School; Executive Committee Member of the New England Unitarian Ministers’ Association; member of the United Ministry at Harvard and Radcliffe; member of the Leverett House Senior Common Room at Harvard College; and member of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Board of Chaplains.


An avid writer and historian, Rev. Vetter authored five books, and edited five additional titles. He wrote: Joyful Power (1999); The Harvard Square Book (2007); Is God Necessary? No! And Yes (2007); Prayers of Power (2008); James Luther Adams: Prophet to the Powerful (2008). He edited: Speak Out: Against the New Right (1982); The Heart of God: Prayers of Rabindranath Tagore (1997); Catholic Power vs. American Freedom (2002); Hartshorne: A New World View (2007); Notable American Unitarians 1740-1900 (2007).


In 1967, while serving First Parish in Cambridge, Rev. Vetter founded Cambridge Forum. Cambridge Forum began as a program of The Social Responsibility Committee of First Parish, and functioned as a platform that brought together renowned thinkers and ordinary citizens to discuss and examine social and political issues. Topics of discussion included the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, and the anti-nuclear movement. The Forum produced the first continental radio and television broadcasts done by Unitarian Universalists. Cambridge Forum now exists as a non-profit organization affiliated with First Parish; its live public discussions are broadcasted through National Public Radio.


Following his retirement from the ministry and Cambridge Forum, Rev. Vetter founded the Harvard Square Library in 2000 ( Affiliated with First Parish in Cambridge, Harvard Square Library is a digital library that features biographies, books, historical documents, and other materials about Unitarian Universalism and religious liberalism.


Herbert was interested in music, reading, visual and performing arts, and travel. He loved classical music and jazz; Duke Ellington was one of his favorite performers.


Herbert is remembered by his son, Jim, as having "an amazing intellect," and by his daughter, Kathleen, as having been “passionate about his many projects.”


He is survived by wife, Dorothy H. Vetter; daughter, Kathleen E. Vetter (John Zurich); son, James B. Vetter; son-in-law, Tim Kutzmark; two grandchildren, Lyra and Larsson; one great grandchild, Elsa; brothers, Donald Vetter, Walter Vetter, and Robert Vetter; and sister Muriel Helewicz.


A memorial service was held on March 22nd, at 2:00 p.m., at First Parish in Cambridge, 3 Church Street, Cambridge, MA 02138. Rev. Tim Kutzmark, of The Unitarian Universalist Church of Reading, officiated.


In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Rev. Vetter's name to Cambridge Forum or Harvard Square Library, both at 3 Church St., Cambridge, MA 02138.

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