The Rev. Dr. Alan Francis Geyer died on November 28, 2011, at the age of 80. Six children from two marriages survive him in addition to Barbara Green, his wife of 26 years. He was an active presence at the National Cathedral for nearly 30 years, culminating with his service as resident ecumenist (1994–1996), canon and special assistant to the dean for ecumenical affairs (1997–1999) and canon ethicist (2000–2005).
An ordained Methodist elder who took the reins of Newark’s Trinity United Methodist Church in 1958, following the death of his father as its senior pastor, Geyer was a fifth-generation ordained clergyman. Having received his B.A. in sociology from Ohio Wesleyan University in 1952, he went on to receive an S.T.B. cum laude in 1955 from Boston University. His dissertation, American Protestantism and World Politics, 1898–1960: a Typological Approach to the Functions of Religion in the Decision-Making Processes of Foreign Policy, earned a Ph.D. from Boston University in 1961.
Canon Geyer had been serving as assistant professor of political science and sociology at Lycoming College from 1957 to 1958, returning home to Newark, N.J., upon his father’s death. The completion of his Ph.D. coincided with his appointment as assistant professor and founding chair of the George Hammond Sullivan Department of Political Science at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Va., where his popular courses included “Politics and the Novel.”
In 1965, Geyer was called to the Church Center for the United Nations to serve as director of international relations for the United Church of Christ, after which he moved to Chicago to edit The Christian Century from 1967 to 1972. He then founded the Peace Studies department at Colgate University, where he served as Dag Hammarskjöld Professor of Peace Studies and Political Science.
The Churches’ Center for Theology and Public Policy, an organization founded by Canon Geyer, drew him to Washington, D.C., in 1977 and ultimately to the National Cathedral, where he served as a regular panelist and roundtable participant. With an affability that belied his devotion to social justice, he became a compelling voice at the Cathedral regarding the threat of nuclear weapons. He served as the center’s executive director for ten years before joining the faculty of Wesley Theological Seminary as a professor ethics and ecumenics. Serving concurrently at the Cathedral, he advised the dean on the moral implications of ongoing policy debates.
In addition to his regular duties at the Cathedral related to educational programming and bridge-building, Geyer will be remembered for his unavailingly honest preaching that brought the plight of the poor and needy into stark relief with those in power and the wealthy. Among his later noted contributions was a catalytic role in the adoption of the Concordat that established ecclesiastical ties between the Episcopal Church in the United States and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. And his love of baseball, humor in his faith, and talents as an amateur musician will live alongside his scholarly achievements.
In his final book, Ideology in America: Challenges to Faith, Geyer argued forcefully that the Church must become more politically and intellectually engaged. Despite a distinguished career of leading such engagement by example, he remained a beloved pastoral presence. He will be sorely missed.