The Rev. Dr. John Burton Wolf, 92, a Unitarian Universalist minister, father, and grandfather died on September 19 in Tulsa, OK.
Dr. Wolf, author of the book, The Gift of Doubt, was the senior minister of All Souls Church in Tulsa for 35 years, before becoming the Minister Emeritus in 1995. Through his leadership, All Souls grew to become one of the largest Unitarian Universalist churches in the country and helped to establish two other Unitarian Universalist churches in Tulsa. Hope Unitarian Church was founded in 1969 and Church of the Restoration was formed intentionally as a multiracial congregation in the Greenwood District in 1988.
During Dr. Wolf’s tenure at All Souls, he preached about civil rights, reforming the funeral home industry, the importance of public education, and the arts. His sermons were frequently covered by the media. In 1973, after Dr. Charles Mason, the Tulsa Public Schools superintendent at the time, boasted to the press that he did not “…know what the word integration means,” Dr. Wolf’s sermon The Last Days of Dr. Mason was printed on the front page of the Tulsa World. Dr. Wolf invited his congregation to join him at the school board meeting later that week. Dr. Mason resigned at the meeting and Tulsa Public Schools were integrated the following September. Another sermon that landed on the front page of the Tulsa World was titled Tulsa is a Hick Town, in which Dr. Wolf advocated for the creation of a Performing Arts Center in downtown Tulsa. The Tulsa Performing Arts Center celebrated its 40th year anniversary this year.
An impassioned speaker, Dr. Wolf condemned racial prejudice and championed the rights of racial minorities, women, gays and lesbians, including women’s reproductive rights.
In 1965, he hosted Tulsa’s first interfaith and interracial worship service as a local response to the civil rights marches in Selma, AL. Following the service, he and other prominent representatives of Tulsa’s clergy led a civil-rights march through downtown Tulsa.
During Tulsa’s centennial year, Dr. Wolf was selected by Tulsa People Magazine as one of The Hundred Tulsans Who Made a Difference. Dr. Wolf was inducted into the Tulsa Hall of Fame in 2015 and has received numerous distinguished awards from the interfaith community of Tulsa.
In the 1980’s with the establishment of cable television, Dr. Wolf became a pioneer of television ministry among Unitarian Universalists. His “Faith for the Free” program began on local access stations and were eventually broadcast across the country.
Dr. Wolf was born in Bloomington, Illinois on Sept 6, 1925 to Walter and Helen (Young) Wolf. He graduated from Illinois Wesleyan University in 1949 with a Bachelor of Science degree in pre-medicine and earned his Bachelor of Divinity Degree from the Federated Theological Faculty of the University of Chicago in 1952. Dr. Wolf was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Meadville Lombard Theological School in 1976.
He served churches in Racine, WI and Meadville, PA before coming to Tulsa in 1960. Dr. Wolf served on many denominational boards and commissions including terms as Vice President of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association and Trustee of the Unitarian Universalist Association.
Dr. Wolf was a Navy veteran of World War II, serving as a signalman in the Armed Guard and in the Pacific. He was commissioned into the Navy Chaplaincy Reserves during the Korean War.
After retiring from the ministry in 1995 he remained in Tulsa with his wife Barbara N. Wolf. He remained active locally and nationally in causes for education and interfaith understanding.
Survivors include his wife of 65 years, Barbara N. Hudgins Wolf; their son John David Wolf (wife Anita Jacobson Wolf) of Claremore; their daughter Catherine Elizabeth Wolf of Tulsa; grandson Aaron Michael Wolf-Johnson (wife Kayla Wolf-Johnson); and great-granddaughter Willow Rose Wolf-Johnson of Tulsa.
Please send condolences for the family to All Souls at 2952 S. Peoria Ave, Tulsa, OK 74114.
Contributions in honor of Dr. Wolf can be made to “All Souls” care of the “John B. Wolf Memorial Fund.” The memorial fund will be distributed based on his wishes and the wishes of his family.