Obituary: Theodore A. Webb, 96, was outspoken Unitarian Universalist pastor

The Rev. Theodore A. Webb died Oct. 6 at the age of 96. He spent decades with the Unitarian Universalist church.
The Rev. Theodore A. Webb died Oct. 6 at the age of 96. He spent decades with the Unitarian Universalist church.

The Rev. Theodore A. Webb, an outspoken clergyman who was an influential leader of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento, died Oct. 6 at 96.

The Rev. Webb, who was pastor of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento from 1971 to 1983, was a passionate humanist who preached a gospel of international understanding, peace and justice. A socialist with strong convictions, he practiced his faith through direct action as a speaker, writer and activist.

He was a lifelong peace advocate who spoke out against the Korean War, counseled young men on avoiding the draft during the Vietnam War and protested the Iraq War in 2003. In the 1950s, he provided sanctuary in his home to demonstrators opposing U.S. nuclear arms in the Cold War with the Soviet Union.

He traveled to Mississippi in 1965 for a weeklong peace vigil following the death of James Reeb, a Unitarian Universalist minister who died of injuries suffered in an attack by segregationists during a civil rights march in Selma, Ala. In 1972, he hosted a peace fair in Sacramento that drew Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern.

“He walked the talk,” his daughter Christine Webb-Curtis said. “But he rarely expressed his own personal convictions from the pulpit. He never wanted to impose himself on others in terms of their spiritual beliefs.”

The Rev. Webb was a scholar who was just as likely to quote political theorists and sociologists during services as the Bible. His sermons stressed humanism over traditional Christian beliefs about the divinity of Christ, and he told The Sacramento Bee in 1983 that he considered the Bible to be poetry.

He spearheaded a program at the Unitarian Universalist church called The Forum, a program of lectures by local intellectuals, government officials and religious leaders. He encouraged members to create a written history of the Sacramento church.

“As a lifelong atheist, I never thought I would belong to a church at all – but Ted Webb is the reason I belong to the Unitarian Universalist church,” Jeff Voeller said. “He was a very sweet man, a very gentle man.”

Born in 1918 in Bangor, Maine, the Rev. Webb graduated from University of Connecticut and Bangor Theological School. Ordained in 1945, he served at churches in Maine, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York and was executive director of the Unitarian Universalist district in Boston from 1962 to 1970.

After retiring, he served as an interim pastor at Unitarian Universalist churches in Baltimore, Iowa City, Minneapolis and Atlanta. He spent 25 years researching and writing a history of the Washburns, an influential Maine family in the 19th century that produced a governor, U.S. senator, congressmen, ambassador to France and founders of the Universalist Church, which merged with the Unitarians in 1961.

The Rev. Webb was a past president and board member of the Sacramento chapter of United Nations Association. In 1988, he received a distinguished life achievement award from California State University, Sacramento, his daughter said.

His wife of 63 years, Marguerite, died in 2005. In addition to Webb-Curtis, he is survived by a daughter, Roberta; two sons, Theodore and Noel; 10 grandchildren; six great-grandchildren; and one great-great-grandchild.

A memorial service is set for 1:30 p.m. Dec. 13 at the Universalist Unitarian Society’s temporary location for services, Sierra Arden United Church of Christ, 890 Morse Ave., Sacramento. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento or the United Nations Association.

Call The Bee’s Robert D. Dávila, (916) 321-1077. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Davila.