The Right Reverend Paul Moore, Jr., 1919-2003
The chasm between white and black is so deep, the distrust so ancient, the arrogance of whites and the anger of blacks so built into their very being that many feel racism can never be overcome. Old-fashioned though it may sound, I believe love can eventually heal this fissure in our common humanity. I am not speaking of sentimental feelings. This will need to be a long love, a patient love, and, on the part of African Americans, a painfully forgiving love. Nor would I blame them for not wishing to make such a painful, psychic sacrifice. This forgiveness cannot be asked for, however, until society changes substantively.
- Paul Moore, Jr.
Paul Moore was a prominent Church leader, who believed strongly in the Church’s role as a vehicle of conscience and a moral force in society and civic life. An ardent worker for social justice, civil rights, public policy, and peace throughout his life, he was born into a wealthy family from Morristown, New Jersey, and raised in the Episcopal faith. As he recalled decades later, he had a "protected youth.”
After receiving his Bachelor of Arts from Yale in 1941, he served in the U.S. Marine Corps, reaching the rank of captain during the Second World War earning the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, and the Purple Heart. Aware of the benefits and limitations of a privileged upbringing, Paul Moore's world view was dramatically altered by his combat experiences, and by his exposure to the philosophy of the "slum priests" of the Oxford Movement, the Anglican priests who ministered at the London docks at the turn of the century and the Roman Catholic trench worker priests’ movement after World War II. Of his activism, Moore said, “I always had at the very guts of my belief that we are all children of God – that you couldn’t go to church and worship at Mass, the Eucharist, and ignore Christ’s presence in the poor.”
After being wounded in the fall of 1942, Moore returned home to recover. In 1944 he married Jenny McKean, and entered the General Theological Seminary in 1946. While a senior, he joined two faculty members in establishing a ministry to the oppressed in urban slum areas to combat the flight of affluent parishioners to suburban churches, opening the rectory to the homeless. Moore was ordained in 1949. His earliest parish postings in inner-city neighborhoods laid the groundwork for a life long activism in areas of racial justice, urban ministry, and political enterprise. With C. Kilmer Myers, later bishop of California, Robert Pegram and his wife Jenny, he established a pioneering urban parish in downtown Jersey City, at Grace Church Van Vorst. He served there until 1957 when he was called to establish an urban ministry from Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Indianapolis, Indiana. While in Indianapolis, Dean Moore worked alongside Malcolm Boyd in social action, and supported Boyd’s efforts to merge religion with the arts. Moore’s study on the urban work of the church is documented in his book The Church Reclaims the City(1964).
Moore was consecrated bishop suffragan of Washington, D.C., in 1964. His involvement in the civil rights movement and opposition to the Vietnam War in the 1960s brought him national recognition prior to his election as bishop coadjutor of the Diocese of New York in 1969. During his tenure as bishop suffragan, Moore directed Operation Connection, an interfaith coalition for urban economic development that brought black and white leadership together. He also served as chairperson of Delta Ministry, established by the National Council of Churches in 1964 to provide direct relief services, community development, and a ministry of reconciliation between the black and white communities of Mississippi.
As diocesan bishop from 1972 to 1989 and into his retirement, Moore continued his activism within the Church and in the political arena. He also found time to restart construction on the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, which ceased in 1941 when the diocese perceived other more pressing priorities. With Cathedral Dean James P. Morton, Moore’s vision for the Cathedral gave it new life, and its liturgy came to integrate the cultural life of the city, including music, dance and art, and to serve as a spiritual center for the progressive social movements of concern to the citizens of New York. He was passionately dedicated to the vibrant life of cities, and was particularly influential in bringing a new civic attention to the plight of New York City during the worst of the urban crises of the 1970s.
Moore believed that the Gospel stood for the inclusiveness of all its followers. His life was spent fighting for progressive causes including the ordination of women and homosexuals into the Episcopal ministry, federal assistance to the homeless, and the establishment of AIDS ministries. As an early advocate of women's ordination, he was the first Episcopal bishop to ordain an openly gay woman, Ellen Barrett, to the Episcopal priesthood in 1977. Moore’s book Take a Bishop Like Me (1979) chronicles this event and the struggle for gay rights in the church. At the time of his death, he was active in the Timor Project to protect human rights in East Timor and had spoken out against the war in Iraq.
His activism and influence earned Bishop Moore popular tenure to the title of ‘The Bishop of New York,’ which stayed with him throughout his retirement as a tribute to a leader who could make his easy presence felt in the nation’s center of wealth and power much in the tradition of his predecessors, William Manning and Horace Donegan. Even in his last years, he continued to speak on behalf of the oppressed in the most forgotten places of the globe. His autobiography Presences: A Bishop’s Life in the City was published in 1997.
His personal papers are located at The Archives of the Episcopal Church. [Sources]