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Herman Will, former church peace worker, dies

10/7/2003 News media contact: Linda Green · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn

A photo of Herman Will is available.

By United Methodist News Service

Herman Will Jr., who spent 37 years working for peace and justice and wrote a history of Methodism's peace witness, has died.

Will, 88, a former staff executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, was remembered Oct. 4 at a memorial service. He died Sept. 27 in Des Moines, Wash.

"Herman Will was an unrelenting guardian of justice and was unafraid to witness to the church's commitment to world peace and attendant issues," said the Rev. Thom White Wolf Fassett, former top executive at the board in Washington. The two men worked together for four years before Will retired in 1980.

After retiring from the board, Will was hired to write a history of the church's peace witness, titled, A Will for Peace (Peace Action in the United Methodist Church: A History).

Will embraced religious pacifism and became involved in the national youth movement of the former Methodist Episcopal Church at age 19. He served as youth secretary for the Methodist Commission on World Peace and was president of the National Council of Methodist Youth from 1939 to 1940.

He was a delegate to the 1939 Uniting Conference of the Methodist Church, which merged three branches of Methodism that had been separated over issues of race and lay representation.

Because of his pacifist leanings, he became a conscientious objector when drafted during World War II. He performed alternative service primarily as the director of the Castaner Project, a rural hospital and service project in the mountains of Puerto Rico that was operated by the Church of the Brethren. He traveled, speaking and organizing for the International Fellowship of Reconciliation in Cuba and Mexico.

Will also worked with members of the Fellowship of Reconciliation on issues of desegregation and racial justice, culminating in the 1942 creation of the Congress of Racial Equality.

He served as administrative secretary for the Board of World Peace of the Methodist Church in Chicago. When the Board of Christian Social Concerns, now the Board of Church and Society, was formed in 1960, he moved to Washington, directing the peace division until he retired in 1980. He also played a role in the creation of the Church Center for the United Nations in New York in 1963.

Fassett said that Will's abilities as a lawyer, along with his knowledge of the church and its public policy agenda, served the denomination "in powerful ways to witness to the convictions that were embodied in the Social Principles."

In 1994, responding to a query from grandson Alexander Lwazi Will, the retired church executive offered words of advice. "Don't believe all you hear on TV or read in the papers," he said. "Be independent in your thinking. Remember that the U.S. has one form of democracy and that political leaders here are greatly influenced by campaign contributions from wealthy and powerful individuals and corporations and their lobbies, and less by labor unions, mainline churches and social reform organizations. We are a very violent nation and have more people in jail than any other country in the world.

"Religion can help you to be more concerned about others, less about yourself, and to seek justice and peace."

Will is survived by Margarita, his wife of 61 years, six children and 11 grandchildren.

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The United Methodist Board of Church and Society provided information for this report.

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