Rev. Dr. John B. Wolf
UU Church Today, BeyondBelief

The Rev. Dr. John Burton Wolf | Transition in the life of All Souls Minister Emeritus

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.

9 Comments

  1. What a great man was John. Everything about him will be missed. All Souls was so lucky to have him for as long as they did. He performed my wedding, I’ll never forget the way he just looked so joyous like he was about ready to crack a joke at any moment & that’s just how he was. When my mom was ill he would personally visit her every time. And I remember how frustrating he was when I was a teenager – we wanted him to give us some ammunition against the Baptists (who were well armed) and he just wouldn’t do it. We didn’t appreciate that till we were much older. Such a great man. Honorable.

  2. In 1972 I spent many Sundays visiting churches in Tulsa. My goal was to visit at least 10 churches until I found one in which I felt at “home”. (I left a few before the service was even over). Then, I entered All Soul’s Church. Dr. Wolf’s sermon struck “home”. I found my church!
    My parents were Church of Christ followers and were concerned that the UNITARIAN church didn’t celebrate Jesus and biblical teachings. Long story short, I didn’t go to church again until 2006 but never forgot All Soul’s Church and mentioned it often to friends. Thirty four years later, I decided to go back to All Soul’s, but Dr. Wolf was (sadly) no longer the minister. Then, I heard Marlin! WOW! I was so inspired again and joined the church.
    Both of these great men represent ALL Soul’s (and my soul) in ways that no one else ever has. Dr. Wolf will be missed by so many. I will always remember and feel grateful for his teachings. I send prayers and loving thoughts to his family.

  3. John Michael Hutto

    Oh my, words fail me. My late wife, Janet,and I began attending ASUC in 1959, upon our arrival in Tulsa from college. We were soon taken with the power and intellect of his sermons..Without question John had the greatest impact on me and my values than any other person.In my view he was a giant

  4. Dr John Wolfe passed was my minister growing up at All Souls. He was such a wonderful person and I always thought he had a special smile for my sisters and me. Each Easter, I would always bring him a decorated Easter egg, even when I was grown. I remember when my sisters and I dressed up like KISS chatacters for Halloween in our teen years. We needed a Gene Simmons, so we painted his face and he laughed through it. He guided our youth group through Youth Sunday. He inspired me so much that I wanted to become a minister, too. Although I chose another career, his teachings were and still are part of my everyday world.
    He helped my mom through her divorce. He married me and my older sister. He led the funeral service for my grandmother.
    Although I have not seen him in many years, I will always have kind and loving thoughts of this beautiful man. He will be missed.♡

  5. Krista Henkel-Selph

    John and Barbara were introduced to me through my husband, Joe Selph, in 1988 and they became a big part of our spiritual and ethical lives, and remained as friends forever. John’s impact to UU’s is immeasurable and vast, and his influence to others became a beacon. How anyone could preach for 35 years and week after week, provide questions, answers and insight on so many topics that affect anyone, and everyone’s needs and yearnings, was amazing. His sense of humor was spot-on. How can I thank him …I will continue to question all that is put forth and try to be the kind person I believed him to be.

  6. I’ve missed John for many years, having moved to Sacramento in 1989. Having returned from time to time, I always managed to make a service at All Souls. What happened for me in my life can’t really be put into a clearly worded expression. Just know that John Wolf was part of what happened FOR me when I first began attending All Souls in Tulsa. It happened for me at 33. Now, I’m 80. Just over a half century is not too short a time to reap the benefits for getting one’s head on a bit more straight.

  7. John’s powerful thought and messages brought me back to a spiritual journey I had lost for many years.

    He dedicated my baby boy, which I consider an honor to this day.

  8. What John Wolf Meant to Me - BeyondBelief

    […] Read the tribute to the Rev. Dr. John Wolf from Rev. Dr. Marlin Lavanhar and Rev. Barbara Prose.  […]

  9. All Souls was my first UU church and John Wolf was the first UU minister I ever heard. I didn’t even realize at first how very fortunate I was to be in that congregation, but I figured it out pretty quickly! My boys attended the children’s programs there from Kindergarten through 9th grade. John was, and will always be, a legend in the Unitarian world and beyond. He was a champion of social justice and didn’t just talk the talk, he quite literally walked the walk. We know he wasn’t a saint, and he would have laughed that deep laugh of his if anyone had called him that. But he put his beliefs into action and inspired all around him to do the same. It was a privilege to have known him, to have been a member of his congregation, and to be the beneficiary of his deep and powerful wisdom.

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