—Vernon Mansell Visick—
Vernon Mansell Visick was called home Sunday evening June 18, 2017, after a life of self-giving service, dying peacefully in his sleep after a brief kidney infection at the age of 78.
A memorial service for Vern took place in Decker Hall at Pilgrim Place in Claremont, CA, on Wednesday, July 12, 2017, at 3:30 p.m. with a reception following. A service was also planned in Madison, Wisconsin.
Vern was a stalwart supporter of Progressive Christians Uniting, being especially active in the Pomona Valley Chapter with the lectureship of Agenda for a Prophetic Faith. He was one of the founders of the Inland Valley Chapter of Citizens' Climate Lobby as well as a key organizer in the 2015 Conference “Seizing an Alternative: Toward an Ecological Civilization" initiated by Prof. John B. Cobb Jr.
Vern was the eldest of six children in a United Brethren pastor’s family. He visited Pilgrim Place in Claremont, California—his most recent residence—as a 7 and 8 year old when he spent the summers at Camp Bethel in San Dimas which his grandfather founded. He attended public schools in California, started college at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, and graduated from Whitworth College in Spokane, Washington. He intended to go to law school, but in college had some ethical questions that “could only be settled by some serious theological studies,” and he decided to take a break for a year to study theological ethics. He never returned to the idea of law school and graduated from Evangelical Theological Seminary in Naperville, Illinois. He was ordained in 1964 in the California Conference of the Evangelical United Brethren Church (now California-Nevada Conference of The United Methodist Church).
Vern then went to the University of Chicago Divinity School to study pre-ministerial development. He focused on Ethics and Society as well as Religion and Personality in order to develop strategies to understand and help resolve whatever conflicts students might be dealing with that impeded their spiritual growth or occupational choice. With his M.A. degree in hand, he went on to become Campus Minister on the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus to serve an ecumenical Campus Ministry, centered at Pres House, with a Danforth Study special assignment to study religion and politics as well as student development around spiritual and ethical issues. He worked there from 1975-1998 and earned the Francis Asbury award for “creativity in campus ministry programming” in 1996.
His Ph.D. thesis at the University of Chicago Divinity School was on Ethics and Society, which was the underlying theme were all the many subjects on which he gave seminars, arranged workshops, organized and nurtured “Events,” and wrote. He taught courses on Christian realism, problem-centered courses on topics such as the ethics of population growth, the ethics of sexuality, ethical deficiencies of mainstream economics, and more. He helped organize and then led for fifteen years the Agenda for a Prophetic Faith in Madison, the largest and longest running series of lectures on religion and politics in the country, and even served as an academic consultant on a movie: “Hellfire: Journey from Hiroshima,” focusing on the lives and art of the Japanese Atomic Artists, Iri and Toshi Maruki. Propelled by the prophetic voice he found in the work of Paul Tillich, Vern gravitated to people who were concerned about ethics and helped others to seek the prophetic element in their own efforts.
From 2003-2008 he was Director of New College—Madison, an “Experiment in Prophetic Ministry” which highlights the ethical issues that arise between the Church and the Research University, looking at the larger issues and implications of what is being taught. He also was a fellow at the AuSable Institute for Environmental Studies, and a long-term friend, colleague, and advisor to its director, Cal DeWitt with whom he shared their love for discussing the design and nature of institutions, and with whom he founded and led the Academy of Evangelical Scientists and Ethicists.
Vern pursued his interest in environmental, economic, and political ethics while at Pilgrim Place, and had several personal projects. These include working on his pilot’s license, learning how to tear down and rebuild a Saab 900, working on his still and video photography, and renewing his Nautilus workouts! He also was a fan of male vocal groups (his father had sung in the Navigators Quartet) and Gilbert and Sullivan in all forms.
Vern was Vice Chair of Wisconsin’s Official State Ceremony honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - now in its 37th year. He had served in this capacity since 1987. It remains the oldest “official” state ceremony honoring the life and legacy of Dr. King.
During his frequent return visits to Madison for the Oshkosh Air Show, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and other events, he was a regular at Geneva Campus Church where he refreshed relationships with numerous long-time friends, including many staff of InterVarshity Christian Fellowship.
Vern had a high regard for Reinhold Niebuhr and the prophet Jeremiah as trustworthy guides for these unnerving days. He was an organizer's organizer, and a true and loyal friend. His companionship, thoughtfulness, passion for justice, keen sense of humor and sharp intellect will be sorely missed. He had a great heart for the "least of these." He always was pushing all of us to do better. We have lost a great giant of justice for the planet.
Polly Gates with additions by John Forney and Cal DeWitt. Final editing, James Dwyer.