Archdeacon David Woeller, former general secretary, dies at 80

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Note: This is an amended version of a July 17 story.

Archdeacon David John Woeller, who served as a priest in the Anglican Church of Canada for more than 50 years, six of them as general secretary of General Synod, died July 12 at the age of 80.

Mr. Woeller worked for General Synod in various capacities before accepting the church’s second-highest position of general secretary in 1987. From 1971 to 1974 he headed the Latin America area desk for the former World Mission department, and from 1965 to 1970, he was director of personnel and training for World Mission’s predecessor, the Missionary Society for the Church of England in Canada. These work included the supervision of volunteers oversees and the dismantling of the Indian residential schools run by the Anglican Church of Canada.

As general secretary, among his notable contributions were the introduction of pay equity and sexual harassment policies, the management of the General Synod Handbook and the expansion of the general secretary’s role in the wider ecumenical community.

“David brought deep personal concern, and a wide pastoral experience, which made of him, not a tired ecclesiastical bureaucrat, but a contemplative and seeker,” Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan, director of the national church’s faith, worship and ministry department, said of her colleague in a speech delivered when he (Woeller) was presented with an honorary doctor of divinity by Trinity College in 1993. Ms. Barnett-Cowan noted that while working at the Latin America desk, Mr. Woeller helped develop “the highly praised Partners in Mission consultation process, whereby each province of the Anglican communion learns to receive the gifts of others as it shapes its own directions.” He was always “eager to learn from the experience of others, and he helped to build that curiosity into our structures as a communion.”

Mr. Woeller was also known for his commitment to social justice issues and wrote letters to the editors of various publications to express his opinion. “It is urgent that we give thought and time to the direction our society is taking and be willing to critique what is happening, to take stands and to be involved in dialogue wherever possible,” he said in a Trinity College convocation address in 1993.

Mr. Woeller was ordained deacon and priest in 1952 and his ministry began in the diocese of Edmonton’s parish in Kitscoty, Alberta, where he joined new graduates who rose to the challenge of serving, in his own words, “the much neglected and scattered rural parishes.”  He also worked in parishes in the diocese of Toronto, Niagara and Montreal. In 1975, he joined the diocese of Huron as program officer, and later, as executive officer.

A native of Kitchener, Ont., Mr. Woeller was a graduate of the University of Manitoba and Trinity College, in the University of Toronto. He is survived by his wife Elizabeth, four children and their spouses, 11 grandchildren and one great grandchild.

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