Rev. Albert Mitchell Pennybacker Jr., 91, passed away Oct. 27, 2022 in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. “Penny” was a highly regarded minister and ecumenical leader who was a veteran of postwar global ecumenical efforts, especially under the aegis of the Geneva-based World Council of Churches (WCC), and of the Civil Rights Era in Northern Ohio. He served as associate general secretary of the National Council of Churches from 1993-99. He directed its Washington office from 1996 as an ecumenical lobbyist and liaison in Congress, working as well with the U.S. Department of Defense on the ethics of sanctions. Penny was a delegate to WCC assemblies in Evanston (1954), New Delhi (1961), and Uppsala (1968). He worked with the United Christian Missionary Society and the Consultation on Church Union in efforts involving international networks of progressive interfaith and ecumenical action on labor and human rights, anti-apartheid activism, world peace, global equity, and religious persecution, notably engaging and visiting South Africa and Cuba.
In a preaching career that spanned 35 years, Penny served as the pastor of Taftville Congregational Church in Connecticut and held three pastorates in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ): Central Christian Church in Youngstown, Ohio; Heights Christian Church in Shaker Heights, Ohio; and University Christian Church in Fort Worth, Texas. He was a trustee of the Disciples Divinity House at the University of Chicago and Texas Christian University, where he lectured at TCU and at Brite Divinity School. He was a visiting professor at Yale Divinity School in 1989, and also taught at Lexington Theological Seminary during the 1990s. He held an honorary doctorate from Bethany College, W.Va. He was a member of Central Christian Church in Lexington.
He was a founder of the African-American Heritage House at the Chautauqua Institution in New York and was a chaplain there as well. His U.S. social justice activism included roles in the Norwich, Conn., Council of Churches, the Greater Cleveland Church Council, Fair Housing Inc. of Cleveland, the Black Jail Chaplaincy Program of Tarrant County, Texas, Clergy and Laymen (and Laity) Concerned, and the civil discourse advocacy organization, the Interfaith Alliance. In recent years, he lent his name to key civil union rights lawsuits in Kentucky and was a familiar voice and presence in city and state social movements.
Penny was born in Chattanooga, Tenn., the son of Agatha Lewis Walker and Albert Mitchell Pennybacker Sr. He attended the McCallie School, Vanderbilt University and Yale Divinity School. In 1951, he married Martha Hackney. She first assisted him in an undergraduate pastorate in Roaring Springs, Ky. They were married until her death in 2013. In 2017, he married Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, who survives him. Other survivors include the children from his first marriage: Susan D. Pennybacker, Chapel Hill, N.C.; Janet P. Scott, Lexington, Ky.; David W. Pennybacker (Laura Weisheimer), Rowlett, Texas; granddaughters Wynston and Spencer, Dallas; and his and Joan’s extended families. A funeral service was held Nov. 9 in Shaker Heights, followed by a service at Central Christian Church on Nov. 10.