The Rev. Harold Robert ("Hal") Fray Jr. died on Wednesday, February 11, in Green Valley, Arizona at the age of 84. Hal was the senior pastor at the Eliot Church of Newton from 1962-1972. He was pastor there through the years of the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War protests, and was very active in both.
Harold died of a cancer that had metastasized to his brain, but he was in hospice care, at home and in full use of his faculties up to the very end. He very purposefully traveled around the country to say farewell to old friends and colleagues around the country in the last year and a half, went to church last Sunday to say farewell there, and was surrounded by family at the very end.
Here is a link to an autobiographical summary by Harold of his passion for justice: http://www.arockinmyshoe.com/theocracy.html
Below is a sermon delivered by the Rev. Tony Kill speaking about Harold's ministry at Eliot Church.
To Become Better Citizens and Truer Christians
A Second 160th Anniversary SermonThe Eliot Church of Newton
Anthony S. Kill
We decided to spread the celebration of our church’s 160th anniversary out over two Sunday, so that we could remember together the story of our church in different ways. The October 16 sermon focused on some pieces of the early history of Eliot Church. Today I’d like to lift up some more recent history in the life and times of Eliot. We heard in today’s scripture passages Micah’s words “And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
And Jesus’ words “The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Over the decades, the leaders and members of Eliot Church have taken those words to heart, and have struggled to embody them – as individual Christians and as a congregation. But what does it mean exactly to be a church that does justice, with kindness and humility as well? What does it mean to be a servant church in the world.
At no time in the church’s history was that a more difficult and divisive question than in the decade of the 1960’s.
For some that is remembered as the most troublesome period in this church’s life. For others, it is remembered as the most faithful or prophetic period in the church's life. And I suspect that in many ways both perspectives are true. Let me set a little background. The Rev. Ray Eusden had been the pastor of Eliot Church for 33 years – from 1926 to 1959. During that period, Newton was a stable, conservative city, staunchly Republican. And Eliot Church reflected the city of Newton. In fact, several of the early Mayors of the city of Newton were members of Eliot Church.
The end of the 1950’s saw the Great Fire, which completely destroyed the Eliot Church building. The cost to rebuild was $500,000 more than the amount covered by insurance, and demographic studies showed that the Protestant population of Newton was declining. But the congregation of 500 members decided to rebuild. There was great enthusiasm and high commitment around this effort. As Ray Eusden said at the time “We came to realize that you cannot burn a church -- only a building. People are what make a church, their spirit keeps it living.” They had a new building by the end of 1957, and by December of 1962, the mortgage was paid, and the church was debt-free.
But the 1960’s brought far bigger challenges than a fire or a building program for the church. The winds of change were starting to sweep our nation and our world. -- mounting unrest over the condition of our inner cities -- growing racial tension around issues of civil rights and voting rights -- and an increasingly unpopular war in Southeast Asia. But by and large, the mainline churches represented a refuge from the cares and troubles of the times, a haven from all these tensions Some theologians and sociologists were suggesting that the local parish had become irrelevant to the Christian mission, and that real ministry would only happen in the factories, and on the campuses, and in the streets of the cities. In 1961, Gibson Winter wrote a book titled “The Suburban Captivity of the Churches” which described how the mainline churches had become captive to the social and cultural values of its members. and expressed the concern that local congregations would never change, could never change, and never keep up with the needs and concerns of the larger society. Then the civil rights movement blew wide open. In the early summer of 1963, a call went out for a March on Washington to support the civil rights bill that President Kennedy had sent to congress. Six Eliot Church members went, including the pastor, Harold Fray, and the associate pastor, Chuck Harper.
That same summer, an Eliot church member, a college student, was working at the Highlander Center in Tennessee. (The Highlander Center is an adult education center that trains grass roots community workers involved in social and economic justice movements.) One night, the local sheriff and a posse raided the Center and the student was arrested. An appeal went out to the members of Eliot Church for bail money and defense funds for the student.
Then questions started to be raised: Why had the pastors of Eliot joined that radical march on Washington? And weren’t some people saying (and writing) that the leaders of the Highlander Center had communist leanings? Were Eliot Church members being asked to contribute funds to defend communism?
The following year, in 1964, the pastors and some lay members of Eliot Church used their vacation time to participate in the Mississippi Summer project. The civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery Alabama took place in March 1965, and at least one Eliot member (who was an Andover Newton seminary professor) participated. In April of that year, one of the Civil Rights workers who was killed in Alabama was James Reeb, a young Unitarian Universalist minister from Boston.
On April 4, 1965, the congregation of Eliot Church unanimously adopted a human rights resolution, which advocated passage of the voting rights act, supported any church member who wished to participate in civil rights marches and demonstrations, and acknowledged the need for the church to become involved locally in hands-on efforts to turn around “subtle systems of discrimination (that) deny full human rights to Negroes in the Metropolitan Boston area”.
Those were bold and rare words for a white suburban congregation in 1965! Clearly, for many in this congregation, the call of the Gospel was a clarion call to hear and address the systemic issues of injustice and inequality in society, both politically and personally.
It the subsequent months, Eliot Church was diligent about following through on its commitment. That summer, when the building that housed the Head Start program of St Mark’s Social Center in Roxbury was demolished as part of the Boston urban renewal project, Eliot Church agreed to provide space for the program here at the church, and every weekday morning, 50 African American children were bussed to our building for an all-day head start program, till their own building was rebuilt months later.
Early in 1965, the Rev Chuck Harper, who had been associate pastor and Christian Education director here, had his job title changed to “Minister on Special Assignment” so that he could devote his full attention to the mandate of finding ways for Eliot Church to honor its commitment to “identify itself with the pressing social needs of Newton and metropolitan Boston.” He was sent off for training at the Urban Training Center in Chicago, and returned to network with other churches around the city.
By 1966, Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries was formed with 6 member churches, with Chuck Harper at its executive director, and another Eliot Church member at the chairman of the board. Their first project was a commitment to develop housing for low and moderate income families in Boston’s South End.
The third major engagement for Eliot Church during the 1960’s and early 70’s was the Peace Movement during the Viet Nam War. There had been some tension, conflict and disagreement about the church’s involvement in the Civil Rights movement and local social justice issues, but the war in Viet Nam was far more contentious.
The Rev. Harold Fray, the pastor here from 1962 to 1972, was a veteran of World War II and had vivid memories of walking into the Buchenwald death camp just after it was liberated. So he was no pacifist. But he was very concerned about the direction of the War in Viet Nam, and increasingly outspoken about it. The coalition called Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Viet Nam was formed in October of 1965. Pastor Fray became part of it by 1966, and became the first chair of the Massachusetts Chapter of Clergy and Laity Concerned. Both the Newton Peace Center and the Committee for Religious Concern for Peace were housed in offices at Eliot Church. Harold was a speaker at the large protest rally on the Boston Common and Arlington Street Church in October of 1967 where over 250 young men either burned their draft cards or turned them over to clergy. Because of that event, Rev. William Sloane Coffin, Dr. Benjamin Spock and three others were arrested, indicted and convicted of conspiracy. They became known as the Boston Five.
The war churned on, while opposition to it increased around the nation. When President Nixon announced that American military forces had invaded Cambodia in April of 1970, the Executive Committee of Eliot Church approved a demonstration against the war by Eliot Church members that would take place on the church lawn, and would last 8 weeks. A casket draped with an American flag was carried from the sanctuary and placed on a table on the lawn surrounded by men, women and children from the church. Across Center Street, the American Legion mounted a counter-demonstration supporting the war.
Many in the congregation were actively involved in these anti-war protests, and saw them as a way to express their deeply held Christian convictions about public policy in a public forum. Others in the congregation viewed the Eliot protest as unchristian as well as unpatriotic, and joined the counter-demonstration. They saw the casket as an attempt to dishonor the dead and shame their sacrifice. This was a very conflicted, divisive time in the church as well as in the nation.
Some congregations did not survive the upheaval of the 1960’s. Eliot church survived, but in a sense it became a new church, with a new sense of vision, mission and its place in the world. This transformation was not without a cost: Both its membership and its income declined markedly during this time, as the church faced conflict and criticism to re-invent or re-position itself. There was also much concern that pastoral care and pastoral connection suffered from so much focus on controversial political and social justice issues.
The subsequent years of the 1970’s brought new ministries to Eliot that I don’t have time to mention here – ministries with a more personal, pastoral focus Most notably, there was Fred Rosene’s hugely successful outreach to the youth of the city of Newton through the Beginnings program in the church basement, and the church’s great work with resettlement of the Boat People of Cambodia.
As I reviewed this history, I felt very proud of the passion and conviction that moved the members of Eliot Church during that trying time. In fact, I felt the struggle of people on both sides of the issues, trying to discern what course of action true Christian virtues and values would call them to take.
We don’t know what new challenges of mission and ministry God may be calling us to in the next 160 years – or in the next 6 years, or 6 months! But if we have any aspiration at all to be faithful to the call, we too will be caught up in tension and conflict: How do we be pastoral in our care for each other, and at the same time passionate in our care for the justice of the Kingdom of God? How can we be political without being partisan? Or is it inevitable that we will be called partisan and unpatriotic any time we take a stand for or against the policies of any particular party, whether the issue be war or welfare or health care or housing or human rights?
And how can we call ourselves Christians in the world today and not have strong opinions – even sometimes opposing opinions – on these very issues? I only pray that we will have the courage to name and face the issues, and strive to respond to them in a truly Christlike manner as boldly, humbly and honestly as our forbears have before us.