Saturday, March 8, 2014

Spotlight: Paul Burt

Jason writing again! So, as I started researching the different people writing the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) to inquire about refugees, in almost every case, I was finding that the people writing were students from the different universities. But when I went to research Paul Burt, I found out that he was not a student, but rather a minister.

As Sarah has mentioned, I am a United Methodist pastor and the United Methodist Church's campus ministry is called the Wesley Foundation. Now, based on the letterhead from the letter, I knew that the person writing from University of Illinois was associated with the Wesley Foundation, which was a point of excitement as a Methodist. In my research, what I came to learn was that the University of Illinois was the very first school to establish an official Wesley Foundation in 1913 and Paul Burt was the second campus minister for that Wesley Foundation. In doing more research, I found out that there was actually a book written about Burt's ministry, "The Ministry of Paul Burt: In Spirit and in Truth". The author, Barbara Burt Arnason, is his daughter. So, of course, I bought it and it is mostly comprised of people's thoughts and reflections on his life and ministry. So, in this spotlight, I'll give a condensed biography from the book and then share some quotes that I found that give insight into his passion for helping refugees as well as his connection to the AFSC. So this is Paul Burt!

Paul Burt was born in Rome, Italy on July  21, 1893.

He went to school in Rome and then New Jersey, and graduated from Wesleyan University in Connecticut. 

He did his ministerial training at Drew Theological Seminary and graduate work in history at Yale University. He taught for a few years at Wesleyan, traveled for a year at Methodist Missions in Japan, Korea, China, Malaya, India, and the Philippines and then served as a chaplain in the U.S. Navy during WWI. In 1919, he married Elizabeth Rue. 
He served for a period with the Methodist Church in the Mediterranean Area, he then served as Associate Minister of the American Church in Paris. He returned to the US in 1924 and served a church in New York before, in 1928, moving to Urbana, Illinois to serve as the minister of Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church and also serve as the Director of the Wesley Foundation at University of Illinois. Dr. Burt formed the Association of Wesley Foundations and served as the first President. Dr. Burt retired in June 1962 and passed away in Urbana on November 30, 1974. He had one daughter and three grandsons at the time of his death. 

As I glanced through the remembrances, sermons, letters, etc., I began to get a sense of Dr. Burt's commitment to pacifism, his interactions and respect for the Quaker religion, and social activism as a way of living out ones faith. Below are just a few of the stories/quotes that helped round out this picture of Paul Burt:

Wilbur Luce joined Dr. Burt's church when he was a student at the University. He grew up as a Quaker and when a Quaker couple, the Satterwhite's, moved in next door to the Burts, they began a Quaker meeting. Dr. Burt told him about it and Wilbur became a charter member of the Monthly Meeting. He had a dual membership and served both communities.

"Paul Burt was a pacifist...He was a vigorous expositor of and participant in the cause of pacifism. As with most things that he espoused, and indeed as with most things he abhorred and condemned, he manifested his stand in a spirit of kindness and consideration. He always attempted, through love and reason, to gain support for those things that he believed to be in accord with ideals of the founder of his religious belief." "He supported, in person, the claims of others whom he believed to be sincere conscientious objectors." - Ben Stalvey

"One early spring day during the Korean War, Paul Burt joined concerned members of his congregation in a Quaker-sponsored week-long vigil before a factory at Newport, Indiana, about fifty miles from Urbana." - James Ayars

"I remember a time in the summer of 1948 when Dr. Burt was not available. He had gone to Europe on an American Friends Service Committee shipboard orientation tour. It was an educational tour for students." - Jane Gothard

In talking about WWI,
"There is a noticeable omission in Paul's discussion of the war: hatred of the Germans. Nowhere did he use the derogatory term "Boches," so common at the time. He wrote often about "the war situation," about drills and parades-with some enthusiasm-and about the chic or lack of it in uniforms. But he did not express anti-German sentiments. His love of German-Switzerland, his German brother-in-law, his two German nephews, one of whom was a namesake, and his knowledge of German may not be explicit reasons for his attitude, but I think they must have been on his mind." - Barbara Burt Arnason    

To learn more about Dr. Paul Burt, feel free to find this book put together by his daughter. As Sarah and I continue to do, we give thanks for those, like Paul, who worked to help those they understood to be in need!


  1. Grateful to find this appreciation of the Burts, who were mentors to my parents & benign presences in our lives as we grew up. Only regret, that when I took a masters degree in Greek at Illinois (1958-1959), I did not really establish my own bond with the Burts, though I did meet James & Rebecca Ayars.

    1. I'm so glad that you found this blog and can add another voice of affirming the Burt's positive influence. Something I have learned is that we are all more connected than we realize, and that our actions certainly spread further than we dream! Thank you for your comment - feel free to email me at the blog email if you would like to share any more!


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