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Renowned theologian, ecumenist Lew Mudge dies

Justice advocate taught at McCormick, San Francisco seminaries

September 15, 2009

The Rev. Lewis S. Mudge

The Rev. Lewis S. Mudge

Louisville

The Rev. Lewis S. Mudge, a scholar and theologian whose breadth of interests and expertise enriched virtually every corner of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the global ecumenical movement, died in his sleep Friday afternoon (Sept. 11) at his home in Berkeley, Calif. He would have turned 80 on Oct. 22.

A native of Philadelphia, Mudge earned a B.A. and a Ph.D. from Princeton University and an M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary. In 1958 he studied at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar.

Ordained by Philadelphia Presbytery in 1955, Mudge served as Presbyterian university pastor at Princeton University for two years before taking on his first ecumenical assignment as secretary of the Department of Theology for the World Alliance of Reformed Churches in Geneva, where he served from 1957-1962.

Mudge’s career in academia began with a 13-year stint on the faculty at Amherst College, including two terms as chair of the religion and philosophy department. From 1976-1987, he served as dean of the faculty and professor of theology at McCormick Theological Seminary.

Mudge then joined the faculty of San Francisco Theological Seminary in 1987 as vice-president for academic affairs, dean of the faculty and professor of theology. A year later he began teaching at the Graduate Theological Union in nearby Berkeley, and served both institutions until 2000, when he retired from SFTS as professor emeritus. He continued to teach at the GTU until his death.

“We are deeply grateful for the indelible influence Lew had on San Francisco Theological Seminary,” said SFTS President Phil Butin. “Lew continued to be a valued advisor to me even with respect to the current recession and its implications for seminary education.”

Mudge made an equally significant mark on the global ecumenical movement, serving as a leader and writer for virtually every organization, including the World Council of Churches and National Council of Churches in the USA and their Faith and Order Commissions, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Consultation on Church Union.

“Lew Mudge was a truly great church leader who lived out the rare combination of being both a prophet and a pastor,” said General Assembly Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons. “His enormous intellect and integrity were apparent throughout his extensive history in the ecumenical movement, the classroom, and beyond.”

Former General Assembly Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick said Mudge “was probably the greatest ecumenist in the PC(USA) in our time.”

At the time of his death, the indefatigable Mudge was a member of the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy, where he was spearheading an effort to apply Christian social ethics to the global financial crisis as a way to advocate for more just social order throughout the world. Over the years he served on numerous boards, councils and committees, including the group that produced the final version of “The Confession of 1967.”

Mudge edited or authored 12 books, including of One Church: Catholic and Reformed (1963), The Crumbling Walls (1970), The Sense of a People (1992), The Church as Moral Community (1998), Rethinking the Beloved Community (2001), and The Gift of Responsibility (2008). He also produced countless reports and scholarly articles for too many publications to count. No writer in recent memory was so prolific.

Mudge is survived by his wife of 52 years, Jean, a writer/filmmaker; and three adult children: Robert, William and Anne. Memorial services will be held Oct. 19 at Princeton Theological Seminary and later in the fall at First Presbyterian Church of San Anselmo, adjacent to the SFTS campus.

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