The Rev. Dr. Victor Howard Carpenter Jr. died on June 1, 2018 at the age of 88.
Victor was born in Newton, MA on October 23, 1929 to Victor Sr. and Pauline Carpenter. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1951 to 1954, including two years in Korea. Victor graduated from Boston University in 1955 with a Bachelor of Arts in English, and in 1959 Victor earned his Bachelor of Sacred Theology from Harvard Divinity School. Victor was later awarded a Doctor of Sacred Theology from Starr King School for the Ministry in 1987.
Rev. Dr. Carpenter was ordained on September 28, 1958 by Christ Church, Unitarian in Dorchester, MA. where he had been serving for one year. He served First Parish Church of Norwell from 1959 to 1962. In 1962 he was called to the Free Protestant Church of South Africa (now the Cape Town Unitarian Church), where he served until 1967. From 1968 to 1976 Rev. Carpenter ministered to the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia, PA, after which he served the Arlington Street Church in Boston, MA until 1987. He served the First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco, CA from 1987 to 1993, after which he carried out a short Interim ministry at Pacific Unitarian Church in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA. In 1994 Rev. Carpenter was called to the First Church in Belmont, MA where he served until retirement in 2002, at which time the Belmont church honored him as their Minister Emeritus. In retirement, Rev. Carpenter performed a series of Interim ministries in Massachusetts: First Parish Church in Dorchester (2003 – 2004), Second Parish in Hingham (2004 – 2006), and First Religious Society in Carlisle (2007 – 2008).
Throughout his ministry, Victor was a tireless servant of causes in which he believed, always awake to the suffering of others. While in South Africa, he and Cathe worked on behalf of systematic oppression of coloured and black people under Apartheid. On several occasions, Victor served as secret courier, bringing messages and money from international sources to various locations, providing needed legal and social aid for apartheid victims and their families.
In sermons and actions throughout his ministry, Victor fought against racial, gendered, and economic discrimination. He marched with Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow Coalition. He protested the Vietnam and Gulf Wars, US involvement in Central America, the death penalty, police violence, unjust immigration restrictions, and exploitation of hotel and hospital workers. He promoted prison reform, reproductive freedom, same sex marriage, disability rights and full educational access. He lost track of the number of his civil disobedience arrests.
Victor and Cathe were unflinching advocates for the rights of persons with disabilities. In the 1960s in Cape Town, they worked with parents and professionals to create the first Society of Autistic Children and the Vera School for Autistic Children. In 1985 the school named one of its residences after their daughter, Gracia. In the 1970s, despite the educational rejection of all use of sign language, they arranged for sign classes in Philadelphia. They initiated the first inclusion of a child with disabilities into a preschool university training program, which resulted in a significant increase in disability-inclusive admission. Throughout the 1980s and ‘90s, they helped expand church service access to all people by including ASL interpreters, creating safe sensory sanctuary areas, and promoting equal access to buildings. Their activism about the welfare of persons with disabilities culminated in Victor’s Berry Street Essay at the 1991 UUA General Assembly.
While at Arlington Street Church, Victor chaired the UUA’s newly formed Independent Study Committee which established a university graduate program to grant ministerial accreditation Religious Educators. During his time in Philadelphia and Boston, Victor organized anti-war protests, disarmament actions and draft-resistance efforts. In 1968, he officiated his first same-sex marriage ceremony in Pennsylvania, almost 50 years before it would be legally recognized. In the early ‘70s, he worked with a clergy counseling program that could connect women with doctors who would perform safe abortion procedures. In the 1980s, he organized and led many anti-Apartheid divestment and boycott efforts. And in the 1990s he joined the San Francisco mayor’s task force on homelessness, which developed a multi-church alliance for homeless men to receive overnight service, bedding and food during winter months. Victor's San Francisco interfaith activities led him to work that established the S.F. Interfaith Alliance. Their collaborative work resulted in a large anti-war in Middle East protest and actions to promote interfaith alliances for peace.
In addition to the honorary doctorate awarded by Berkley’s Starr King School for the Ministry, Rev. Carpenter was also named a Merrill Fellow at Harvard Divinity School in 1974, and in 1995 he was given the HDS Alumni/Alumnae Association’s Rabbi Martin Katzenstein Award. He received the 2014 San Francisco Interfaith Council award for his “pioneering work” in establishing their 1988 creation. And in 2011 the UUA honored Victor with the Award for Distinguished Service to the Cause of Unitarian Universalism.
In his eulogy for Victor, the Rev. Dr. Carl Scovel concluded with these lovely words in tribute to his friend:
He lived “Yes” to his family, friends, colleagues, to the disdained, dispossessed and disabled, to the twelve congregations which he served, and Yes to the Great Source of his vocation, his convictions, indeed, his life. And that is why with such poignancy and gratitude we remember him today.
Victor is survived by his wife of over 60 years, Cathe, his children Tyler (MaryAlice Misuta) and Melissa, his grandchildren Simone and Milo, and his brother John (Ellen). Victor was pre-deceased by his daughter Gracia.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the UU Service Committee and to UU Urban Ministry.
A memorial service took place on Saturday, June 9, 2018 at the First Church in Belmont, 404 Concord Ave, Belmont, MA 02478.
Notes of condolence may be sent to Cathe Carpenter at 49 Prince St, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130.