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Forrest Church: Graceful to the End

A quest to live a good life.

The Rev. Forrest Church—Frank Forrester Church IV by birth—spent much of his adult life thinking about regret, love, rejection, family, death, and the afterlife. As part of his pastoral duties at the Unitarian Church of All Souls on New York's Upper East Side, he counseled countless parishioners facing death or other severe life crises.

He also wrote 25 books on faith, love, family, and death, two of them after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2006. His works included “Freedom from Fear: Finding the Courage to Act, Love and Be”; “So Help Me God: The Founding Fathers and the First Great Battle Over Church and State”; and a biography of his father, "Father and Son: A Personal Biography of Senator Frank Church of Idaho."

Church became the senior minister at All Souls in 1978, retiring in 2006—although he continued to preach monthly until earlier this year. He died on Sept. 24, 2009, a day after his 61st birthday.

The Boise, Idaho, native grew up aspiring to be politician like his father, the four-term U.S. Senator from Idaho who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1976 and is best known for his leadership of the Church Committees, Congressional investigations of FBI and CIA covert operations. Forrest Church enrolled at Harvard Divinity School in the early 1970s, when he realized that as a politician, he would always be his father’s son; but as a minister, he could be himself.

Rev. Church was interviewed by AARP Radio last year upon the release of his 24th book, "Love and Death: My Journey Through the Valley of the Shadow." Since April, with his terminal cancer reaching more acute stages, he and writer Carl Lehmann-Haupt—himself a cancer survivor—met weekly to reflect on his impending decline.

The duo recorded hours of dialogue, energized by the awareness that their time together would be short, inspired by Rev. Church's quest to live a good life to the end—and by his determination to put into practice the advice he had given others over the course of his career. His thoughts are presented here in six chapters—acceptance, appreciation, time, religion, regret, and death—one of which will debut each week until Nov. 9; you're invited to share your reflections and feelings below.