Detailed biography of a less-than-perfect liberal church leader.
Son of famed U.S. Senator Frank Church, Forrest Church emerged from the heady 1960s as a national leader of the Unitarian Universalist Association and a noted but controversial spokesman for what former Newsday book critic Cryer calls “liberal religion.” The author, who conducted numerous personal interviews with Church and those close to him, provides a truly comprehensive, warts-and-all examination of the man’s life. Spending much of his late-’60s college career at Stanford as a rather stereotypically underachieving pothead, Church rebounded from this destructive path only to be faced with the grand question of his times: how to avoid the draft. His chosen answer was to enter seminary, and despite less-than-sincere reasons for doing so, he ended up as a devoted scholar of religion. Drawn eventually into work as a clergy member of the UUA, he spent his entire career at the denomination’s flagship church in New York City, All Souls. While expanding his church and its mission and gaining a national audience through numerous books, Church also brought about the destruction of his marriage and almost of his own career through infidelity. Cryer, a longtime member of All Souls, dispassionately chronicles his subject’s often-chaotic life—that of an overachieving, workaholic, alcoholic, ne’er-do-well-turned-denominational doyen. Church’s story ends with his death from cancer in 2009, covered poignantly by the author. Cryer’s prose is approachable, educational and engaging, and readers will relive the upheaval of Vietnam, the advent of AIDS, the religious controversies of the ’80s, and even 9/11.
Few readers will fully agree with what Church represented, but all will find his story instructive and masterfully told.