The Rev. John Mack

1/15/2008

John Mack died peacefully at 9:30 AM on Tuesday, January 15, 2008. Amazing Grace was playing in the background as his family sang along. John was most recently living in Washington, DC, but earlier had been very active in extra-parochial ministry in the Metropolitan Boston Association and was a long-time member at the Church of the Covenant.

The Memorial Service will be at Peoples Congregational United Church of Christ, 4704 13th St. NW, Washington, DC 20011 at 2:00 PM on Saturday, January 26. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to First Congregational UCC, designated for the Community Chorus or the Dinner Program for Homeless Women, 309 E Street NW, Washington, DC 20011.

 

John H. Mack; D.C. Pastor Preached Inclusiveness
By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 23, 2008; Page B07

The Rev. John H. Mack, 65, who extended the multicultural tradition of openness at First Congregational United Church of Christ and who made his church a leader in providing opportunities for the poor and excluded of Washington, died Jan. 15 of pulmonary failure at his home in the District. He was stricken with high-altitude pulmonary edema and pneumonia while trekking in the Himalayas in November.

Rev. Mack became pastor of the historic downtown Washington church in 1984 and led the 175-member congregation for 23 years. His wife, Barbara Gerlach, was a part-time minister at the church before their joint retirement in June.

Affiliated with the liberal-leaning United Churches of Christ, First Congregational has a long record of being at the forefront of social justice issues. Established in 1865 by abolitionists, it was Washington's first racially integrated church.

(First Congregational's old building at 10th and G streets NW is scheduled to be demolished, and a new church will be built on the original site. Since January 2007, the church has met at Washington's First Trinity Lutheran Church.)

Under Rev. Mack's leadership, the church provided refuge to the poor and homeless and welcomed gay men, lesbians and transgender members. He also took a leading part in the Downtown Business Improvement District and the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, which have helped spur employment and public safety efforts in the city's once-forlorn downtown neighborhoods.

"He came into that parish when the downtown and the city were down on their heels," said Terry Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, an interfaith consortium of 43 Protestant, Catholic and Jewish houses of worship. "He helped re-anchor the church and helped spearhead a commitment to the ongoing future of downtown."

Rev. Mack often spoke before the D.C. Council and took part in many efforts to improve conditions for immigrants and the poor. His church either originated or has housed several programs that feed hundreds of hungry Washington residents every day. He founded the Community Chorus at First Congregational, bringing church members and homeless residents together in a professionally run choir.

"He brought a vision that was dynamic and inclusive," Lynch said. "He was one of the players in reclaiming a proud, capable, inclusive Washington D.C."

John Hayward Mack was born March 7, 1942, in New York and grew up in New Canaan, Conn. He graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, N.H., and from Princeton University. He had thought about the ministry from an early age, but before attending a theological school, he joined the Marine Corps and served as commander of an infantry company in Vietnam.

"He was almost killed twice in Vietnam," his wife said. "The Marine Corps was an incredibly important experience for him as a leader. He said being a company commander was very much like being pastor of a church." After his military experience, Rev. Mack entered the Union Theological Seminary in New York and became an opponent of the Vietnam War. He received a master's of divinity degree in 1971.

Rev. Mack then moved to Scranton, Pa., where he and his wife -- who also graduated from Union Theological Seminary -- became co-pastors of a 600-member Congregational church. Their innovative partnership was the subject of a New York Times article in 1972.

In 1973, Rev. Mack moved to Massachusetts, where he directed a program for troubled teens and their families. The same year, he chaired a national conference on the emotional needs of Vietnam veterans. From 1976 to 1984, he led a social services center in Cambridge, Mass., that provided legal, counseling and mediation services to low-income people. Wishing to return to an urban church, Rev. Mack came to Washington, where First Congregational had a progressive record in racial relations, gay rights and women's issues.

Rev. Mack was a founder of the Downtown Business Improvement District and stepped into many community leadership positions. He was chairman of the board of the Dinner Program for Homeless Women and of CARACEN, an advocacy group for recent immigrants.

In 2006, Rev. Mack received the Faith in Action Award of the D.C. chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. Last year, he was honored as a distinguished alumnus of Union Theological Seminary.

Survivors include his wife of 38 years, of Washington; two children, Jessica E. Prentice of Washington and Peter L. Gerlach-Mack of Silver Spring; a brother, Talbot C. Mack of the Plains; a sister, Lucy G. Mack of Brookline, Mass.; and two grandchildren.