(Host) The Reverend William Sloane Coffin made many friends and acquaintances during his years in Vermont. Coffin died yesterday at his home in Strafford, where he’d lived since 1987.
VPR’s Steve Zind talked with people who knew Coffin about his faith, activism and influence.
(Zind) Martha Rockwell of Cabot was ten years old when her father introduced her to Coffin and his family at a skiing outing in New Hampshire.
The two families spent a lot of time together after the Coffins moved to Strafford. Rockwell remembers Coffin’s sense of humor and his love of sports and music, but most of all she recalls a man whose political views and actions were informed by a deep religious faith.
(Rockwell) “Well I think that it was the basis of it. I mean, ‘what is the right thing to do? What is the right way to live and where does that notion of what’s right come from’?”
(Zind) The inclusiveness of Coffin’s religious beliefs was especially important to Rockwell. She remembers the moment that Coffin placed his hand on her shoulder as he performed the Civil Union ceremony for her and her partner.
(Rockwell) “To know someone like that helped me on my way. Of course, being a gay person you’re basically excluded from all forms of organized religion. That, in my youth, was very painful. But Bill put his hand on my shoulder…”
(Zind) Rockwell says Coffin had a tremendous influence on her.
Jack Bixby didn’t know Coffin as well as Rockwell, but he felt the influence just the same. Bixby is a retired Brattleboro minister who met Coffin perhaps half a dozen times over the years. Bixby says Coffin profoundly influenced his approach to the ministry.
(Bixby) “He made for me and for thousands and thousands of others the whole notion of ministry something that suddenly seemed very relevant to the time in which we lived and in the issues that mattered at that time. I don’t know what would have happened had he not lived and witnessed as he did.”
(Zind) Bixby remembers Coffin as a dynamic preacher.
Over the years Kathleen Campbell saw Coffin preach at her church in Strafford. Campbell got to know Coffin after he and his wife moved to Vermont. Campbell says he was a very good preacher.
(Campbell) “Oh marvelous (laughs) Witty. Funny. And very persuasive.”
(Zind) Campbell and Coffin shared a love of music. He would call her to alert her when he planned a piano performance at church. Campbell says Coffin was a talented pianist who could have performed professionally.
(Campbell) “But he had to make a choice between professions. He dropped the music and did the ministry.”
(Zind) So began what Coffin referred to as his ‘lover’s quarrel’ with America. Through his ministry he became a passionate voice against war, poverty and racism. Coffin was 81.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.