We offer our condolences to the family and colleagues of the Rev. Dr. Thomas J.S. Mikelson, who died on April 17, 2020, at the age of 84.
Thomas was born on January 31, 1936 in Clarion, Iowa to Clarence Harvey Mikelson and Helen J. Henry Mikelson. In 1958, he graduated from Cornell College, IA with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy. He then earned his Bachelor of Divinity in 1963, and Master of Arts in Hebrew Scriptures with concentration in Wisdom Literature in 1968, both from the University of Chicago, IL. From 1967 to 1971, he worked as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Religion at Cornell College; and from 1974 to 1976, as a Guest Professor and Lecturer at the University of Iowa, IA. Thomas was a Merrill Fellow at Harvard Divinity School (1980). In 1988, he received his Doctor of Theology from the Harvard Divinity School, MA. His doctoral thesis is titled - The Negro’s God in the Theology of Martin Luther King, Jr.: Social Community and Theological Discourse. He was a Visiting Lecturer on Ministry at Harvard Divinity School from 1994 to 2004.
Rev. Dr. Mikelson was ordained on September 19, 1971 by the Unitarian Universalist Society of Iowa City, Iowa City, IA (presently, in Coralville, IA) where he carried out his ministry from 1971 to 1983. Subsequently, he served in interim ministries at the First Parish in Brookline, MA (1987-1988), and the First Church and Parish in Dedham, MA (1988-1989). In 1989, he accepted a call from the First Parish in Cambridge (UU), MA where he served as Senior Minister until 2006. On June 30, 2006, Rev. Dr. Mikelson retired from his active ministry; upon his retirement, the First Parish in Cambridge honored him as their Minister Emeritus. From 2012 to 2014, he served as an interim minister at the UU Congregation of Saratoga Springs, NY.
On behalf of the denomination, Rev. Dr. Mikelson was a member of the R.E Curriculum Development in UU Identity group (1972-1974), and a workshop leader on UU Identity at the Star Island Summer Assembly. He served on the Ministerial Fellowship Committee from 1972 to 1976; and the UU Ministers Association Executive Committee from 1973 to 1977. He was a Faculty member for the Pacific Northwest Leadership School (1975); Meadville Lombard Summer Institute (1975); and Starr King School summer session (1976). Furthermore, Rev. Dr. Mikelson served as Chairman, Member and Examination Reader of the UUA Independent Study Committee (1977- 1986) and as Cluster Chairman for the Prairie Star District. He was the Minns Lecturer in 1993; and was on the Melcher Award Committee from 2004 to 2009.
As part of his ministry, Rev. Dr. Mikelson wrote hymns; his best-known hymn, “Wake Now My Senses,” was written for the ordination of Rev. Charity Rowley as Minister of Religious Education at First Parish Unitarian Universalist, Arlington, MA. He also wrote, “Sing of Living, Sing of Dying.” Both are in the Singing the Living Tradition hymnal. The latter hymn appears in the British hymnal, Hymns for Living, under, “Living and Dying,” with the music he originally intended for it. He and musician, Tom Benjamin, collaborated on, “Journey,” for the installation of Rev. Mara Dowdall as Minister of First Unitarian Universalist Society of Burlington, VT and, “Together,” in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the consolidation of Unitarian and Universalist traditions at the 2011 General Assembly.
Rev. Dr. Mikelson served as a leader of the terminal-illness support network, Iowa City (1978); and as President of the United Action for Youth, Iowa City, IA (a youth work social agency funded through United Way). He was a member and board member of the Hawkeye Area Civil Liberties Union, Iowa City, IA; and President (1981-1983), Vice President (1979-1981) and Co-founder of the Iowa City Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (N.A.A.C.P). He functioned as head planner of a multi-state workshop on “Cancer Counseling” for health care professionals (1982), and as board member for the Crisis Center, Iowa City, and the Housing Commission, Iowa City. He was featured guest and interviewer on several local and regional television shows in Iowa, on topics such as US Foreign Policy, Marriage and Family, Cancer Treatment and Terminal Illness Support.
In Cambridge, he was a member of the Harvard Square Churches’ Meal Program and member of the Cambridge Business Association. He gave the opening prayer at Harvard Commencement in 1993 when Colin Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was Commencement speaker amid the controversy over the military’s, “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. His prayer asked that there be no barriers erected with respect to such categories as race, religion “or ways of discerning or expressing love.” He was President of the Board of Ministry at Harvard in 1997 when it issued the recommendation that the Memorial Church at Harvard be allowed to perform same-sex blessing ceremonies within the church in accordance with the University’s non-discrimination policy; the recommendation was approved.
He was Assistant Editor for, The Thought of Paul Tillich, Editors, Adams, James Luther; Pauck, Wilhelm; Shinn, Roger (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985). He had several of his writings published including: “Cosmic Companionship in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Theology of Social Change”, The Journal of the Interdenominational Theological Center, Spring, 1987. He wrote an article with James Luther Adams, “Legitimation, The Encyclopedia of Religion, ed. Mircea Eliade (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1987), pp. 499b-509a. He received the Martin Luther King, Jr. Freedom Award from the Progressive National Baptist convention in 1993.
Rev. Mikelson was an athlete in football, high hurdles, discus, shot put, and wrestling. He had a tenor voice and enjoyed singing in close-harmony choral groups. He loved to dance. He was a photographer and showed his work at galleries in Cambridge, North Adams and at the Griffin Museum-Photography in Winchester, MA. He especially enjoyed his travels to India, Greece, and Israel. He practiced healing work and was a Reiki Master. He could read in German, French, Spanish, Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin.
Rev. Mikelson is survived by his wife, Patricia Sheppard; son, Dana Mikelson, and his partner, Michael Chase; son, Joel Mikelson, and his spouse, Frances DeChoudens; daughter, Kelly Mikelson, and her spouse, Abraham Wickelgren; daughter, Arwen Duffy, and her spouse, Sean Duffy; as well as his four grandchildren: Maya Mikelson; Justin Wickelgren; Jack Duffy; and James Duffy. He was preceded in death by his mother, Helen (Henry) Mikelson, and his father, Clarence Harvey Mikelson.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Minister’s Discretionary Fund, First Parish in Cambridge, 3 Church St, Cambridge, MA 02138.
A memorial service will be scheduled as circumstances allow at the First Parish in Cambridge. Burial was private.
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