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June 16, 2004

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Publication Date: Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Going by the Book: Woodside Village Church pastor retires, returns to intellectual pursuits Going by the Book: Woodside Village Church pastor retires, returns to intellectual pursuits (June 16, 2004)

By Andrea Gemmet
Almanac Staff Writer

After more than eight years at the helm of the Woodside Village Church, the Rev. Robert Hamerton-Kelly is retiring from pastoral life and planning to spend more time delving into the intellectual side of religion. A reception celebrating his retirement as senior pastor was held at the Woodside Road church on June 13.

Although he was the dean of the chapel of Stanford University for 14 years, he has spent much of his 40 years as a minister in academia, teaching religion, classics and Greek as a professor and lecturer, most recently at Stanford University. A senior research scholar at the Center for International Security and Arms Control for 11 years, the author of seven books and a contributor to or editor of 33 more, the Rev. Hamerton-Kelly says he has "good contacts in the intellectual world."

Retiring this year at age 65 fulfills a long-standing promise he made to himself, he says.

"I consider the opportunity to sit in one place and read and write to be quite relaxing," he says.

The congregation will also be bidding farewell to his wife Rosemary, who spearheaded a number of outreach programs at the Village Church.

"Rosemary has been very well-received as a preacher of children's sermons. Many people have said (her sermons) are more accessible than mine," the Rev. Hamerton-Kelly says with wry humor.

The church's deacon, Chet Yee, says the Rev. Hamerton-Kelly arrived at the church with a reputation for being a thoughtful and thought-provoking preacher.

"He constantly spoke out against things he felt were not correct in politics and society, and sometimes that put him in a tough position," Mr. Yee says.

He's long been an opponent of the nuclear arms race, and most recently, the Rev. Hamerton-Kelly has spoken in opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Mr. Yee says.

"He preached on that quite often, and a number of people thought it was unpatriotic, but he said no, I love my country, but some things need to be brought out in the open and discussed," Mr. Yee says.

The Rev. Hamerton-Kelly says he enjoyed his time in Woodside.

"It was challenging, I think we made some headway, and attracted some new people," he says.

During his tenure in Woodside, the Rev. Hamerton-Kelly started the Woodside Forum series, which hosts prominent speakers on a broad range of topics to give lectures open to the community. Previous speakers have included Condoleeza Rice and former Defense Secretary William Perry.

A native of South Africa, the Rev. Hamerton-Kelly and his wife began a trust fund that provides 200 schoolchildren with lunch three days a week in his mother's hometown of Bloemfontein, he says. Mrs. Hamerton-Kelly is credited with beginning an outreach program at the Bayshore School in South San Francisco to provide academic support, community events and books.

"It's been a very positive eight years. He's done a great deal to pull together the congregation and make us a much more outward-looking group, as opposed to an internally focused group," says Jim McKinley, the Village Church's moderator this year. "We've gotten very worldly in our reach."

The Rev. Hamerton-Kelly says he is leaving the church at a good time, saying it has good strong leadership and is financially strong as well. He plans to continue heading the Bible study group he has led since 1973, which will now be meeting at Palo Alto's First Methodist Church, and will remain active in the Colloquium on Violence and Religion he co-founded.

He said he will certainly miss leading services, but after preaching 421 sermons at the Woodside Village Church, it's time for a break.

"I think we can be quite satisfied that we really made a difference," he says.

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