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In Memoriam: James E. Fitzgerald, 1945-2006


February 6, 2006 | bpfna

from the website of The Riverside Church, New York,
a BPFNA Partner Congregation

June 26, 1945 - January 28, 2006

Rev. Dr. James E. Fitzgerald, Riverside Church’s Social Justice Minister and a passionate crusader for social justice both in the U.S and abroad, died January 28, 2006 at 10:00 p.m. He spent his life championing the causes of society’s most vulnerable members. Jim Fitzgerald bravely and faithfully fought a difficult battle against prostate cancer for the past 2 1/2 years. Upon hearing of Fitzgerald’s death, Reverend James A. Forbes Jr., Senior Minister of The Riverside Church, said, "Jim was a champion of spiritual empowerment for social transformation. He gave us a wonderful lesson in how to live with illness and how to die with grace. We will miss him greatly."

As pastor, teacher, and church administrator, Reverend Fitzgerald took a leadership role in promoting ideals of diversity and community development. His responsibilities at Riverside were a perfect match for the skills he had developed in his preceding life’s work.

Starting in May of 2002, Fitzgerald worked with The Riverside Church’s social justice ministries in further developing their global, national and local outreach and awareness, affecting policy change and development.

He oversaw the Social Service ministries, including the church’s Food Pantry, Homeless Shower Project, and Clothing Ministry for the poor. Jim Fitzgerald also participated in the life of the Riverside congregation as an ordained clergy member. A close colleague and staff member at The Riverside Church remembered Jim as "a man of humility and compassion who wasn’t afraid to fight for what he believed in."

During his tenure thousands attended the various conferences, meetings, rallies, forums and prayer vigils highlighting the issues of peace and war, poverty and corruption, racial diversity, gender inclusion and interfaith alliances. In the true Riverside tradition, Fitzgerald kept the doors open for disenfranchised groups who needed a place to have their voices heard.

In 2002, prior to Riverside, Jim served as Executive Secretary, Project Redevelopment 2000 for the General Board of Global Ministries, the United Methodist Church. He also coordinated and administered the "Hope for the Children of Africa" project created by the United Methodist Council of Bishops with the goal of building 2 school/homes in war-torn areas of 11 different African Annual Conferences, and building Sister Conference partnerships while raising $12 million in the process.

For over 15 years Dr. Fitzgerald served as Senior Pastor of the Vanderveer Park United Methodist Church in Brooklyn, New York. During his pastorship, the multi-cultural Sunday morning congregation doubled in size to more than 400, and expanded to 2 Sunday services. The total budget for ministry increased from $85,000 in 1985 to over $700,000 in 2000, when Reverend Fitzgerald passed on the baton to the next Senior Pastor.

From 1982 to 1985 he was challenged as Pastor at St. John’s-Ridgewood United Methodist Church in Ridgewood, New York to serve an historic German congregation as it began the process of rebuilding in a changed, mostly Hispanic community. Those multicultural and diversity lessons learned, as pastor would serve him well as he moved on to train seminarians later in his life.

As a seminary teacher in 1996 Jim taught a course at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado, again exploring the issues surrounding "Ministry in A Multi-Cultural Context". He also took on the responsibility of Workshop Leader in the Field Education Department at Union Theological Seminary in New York City from 1991-1993, where he designed workshops for students preparing for multi-ethnic and transition congregations.

Jim’s work as a member of the New York Annual Leadership Conference of the United Method Church continued for decades. He served as Co-Chair for the Board of Church and Society from 2003 to 2004, a member of the Board of Trustees, from 1997 to the present, and as Secretary from 1997-2000. From 1994 to present he served as a member of the United Methodist City Society Board of Directors. He was also a member of the New York Annual Conference Delegation to Africa University Dedication in 1994. In June of 2004, the Methodist Federation for Social Action presented Jim Fitzgerald with the Gwen and C. Dale White Award for dedicated labors of decades, breaking down the barriers of division and bringing order to chaos in countless causes championed by the MFSA.

Reverend Fitzgerald was also very active outside of the United Methodist Church structure. He was a delegation member of the 2003 Prayer Pilgrimage for Peace in Washington and Baghdad and a participant in the first African-American led, Inter-faith, Multi-racial delegation to visit high U.S. and Iraqi governmental representatives and United Nations officials. The delegation traveled on a six-day trip to Baghdad in pursuit of nonviolent alternatives to war and to see conditions in Baghdad first hand. The Delegation returned from Baghdad with a peace proposal for the U.S. government. Reverend Fitzgerald received his Doctor of Ministry from Drew University School of Theology in Madison, New Jersey in 1994, his Master of Sacred Theology from Union Theological Seminary New York in 1979 and his Master of Divinity from Union in 1971. His received his Bachelor of Arts from the University of Denver in 1967.

James Fitzgerald was born and raised in Denver, Colorado, with family roots in rural Nebraska. He and Jill E. Kuhn of Fairfield, Connecticut, married in 1973. Their children are Brian (22) and Kristen (21). One brother, Thomas, also survives him. Jim enjoyed a large family network of aunts, uncles, in-laws, nieces and nephews.

Funeral services were held February 4, 2006, at The Riverside Church.

See this article and audio links on The Riverside Church's website
Visit the website for The Riverside Church


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