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In Memory of John S. Gilbert (1931-2016)

Posted By Administration, Monday, August 8, 2016

The Rev. Dr. John Stout Gilbert died on June 28, 2016 at the age of 84.


John was born on December 10, 1931 to John Wendell Gilbert and Lula Mae Gilbert on a small family farm in Russiaville, Indiana.  John's life journey took him from the farm to Oakwood, a Quaker secondary school in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where his uncle was headmaster. There he met Nancy Eckles who later became his first wife. He received a Bachelor of Science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1964, a Master of Arts from Meadville Lombard Theological School in 1974 and a Doctor of Ministry from Meadville Lombard Theological School in 1977.


Rev. Gilbert was ordained to the ministry in 1976 by the Unitarian Church West of Brookfield, WI.  He was first called to serve as minister to the First Unitarian Church of Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1977. He served the Winnipeg congregation for ten years. He went on to serve as interim minister to the First Unitarian Congregation in Toronto, Ontario from 1987 to 1988; to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Charlotte, NC from 1989 to 1990; and to the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Rochester, MN from 1990 to 1992. He was elected as Minister Emeritus to the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Rochester upon his departure. He then served as minister to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Meadville, PA from 1992 to 1996 (where he lived with his second wife Judith Patterson for 18 years until her death in 2010). He retired from the ministry in 1996.


Rev. Gilbert dedicated years of service to the denomination. He served the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association (UUMA); Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Canadian and Prairie Star Chapters; UUA St. Lawrence District Chapter; the UUA Ohio-Meadville Chapter; the Western Canada District Board; and the Canadian Unitarian Council. He was also Minister in Residence at Meadville Lombard Theological School in 1984; and Minister on Loan to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Greeley, CO in 1986. 


Though raised in the Quaker church, John found Unitarianism in Indiana in the late 1950’s, when he and his first wife Nancy felt that they needed a church in which to raise their children. When they moved to Wisconsin in 1962, they joined the Unitarian Church West of Brookfield, WI, where John was an active lay leader. Prior to entering the ministry, he studied engineering at Purdue University, taught Adult Basic English at a Vocational School in Milwaukee, and worked as an employment counselor at the Milwaukee Urban League.


John will be remembered for his love of words, books, and cooking, and for growing vegetables (garlic, tomatoes, and potatoes) and flowers (hollyhocks, sunflowers and amaryllis). He was an objector, conscientious (Korea) and otherwise. He was also given to infectious enthusiasms like calligraphy, drawing, origami, string figures, computer correspondences, drawing, crosswords (cryptic, double-crostics, and regular), trekking, pole-walking, biking, and baking bread.


Rev. Carmen Emerson, currently minister of the Greater Nashville UU Congregation, recalls, "I first met John during a confluence of intense life events: He had just lost his beloved wife, Judith, and it was my first settled ministry—at a church where he had once been the minister, and now was a congregant. Tricky. He was my very first pastoral care call. ‘I don't know who this new John is,’ he told me, lost in grief. We agreed to learn about the ‘new’ John together, and we did just that over the next five years. As time passed this colleague and congregant also became my friend. Smart and funny, always a good storyteller, often cranky and also possessed of surprising grace at times, it was my pleasure to be his friend and my privilege to be his minister in Meadville, PA."


Rev. Stephan Papa, a colleague and friend from John’s seminary days, said, “John loved literature—poetry especially. His Doctor of Ministry dissertation was on story and autobiography as theology. He was one of the first to promote the story model (as opposed to the Sunday morning lecture model) for sermons; he understood worship as an art.  He was idealistic and passionate, sometimes to the point of being righteous, but he loved the UU way in religion which allowed him to be real, honest, free.”


John is survived by his siblings Jane Hendrickson, Marge Lake Baurley, and Joe Gilbert; his children Victoria, Bart, and Sarah; as well as his grandchildren Molly, Matthew, Cameron, and Amelia.


In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Friends of the Library-Multnomah County, 919 SW Taylor Street, Suite 220, Portland, OR 97205, or via the following link:


Notes of condolences may be sent to his daughter, Victoria Gilbert, 2832 SE Salmon St., Portland, OR 97214.

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