On September 8, 1920, during harvest, William Edward Hordern (Bill) was born on a farm at Dundurn to Paul and Ethyl (Davis) Hordern. And 94 years later, as another Saskatchewan harvest comes to an end, he was called to another home.
His parents put a strong emphasis on education and he studied at Woodview School, took grades 9 and 10 by correspondence, attended the Dundurn high school, the University of Saskatchewan, and St. Andrew’s College.
His call to ministry arose from his concerns for the social stresses faced by people during the “Dirty Thirties,” the deep faith of his parents, and his experiences as a student minister with the United Church. He was ordained by the United Church of Canada and his first call was to Marsden and Neilburg where, due to wartime shortages, he usually rode a bike or a horse from one church to the next. Last spring he celebrated the 70th anniversary of his ordination.
In 1944 he married Marjorie Joyce whom he had met seven years previous, when she was the new school teacher at Woodview. Throughout their fifty-eight years of marriage she was a strong partner in his professional work.
In 1945 they went to New York City where Bill entered graduate studies at Union Theological Seminary. He went there to study with John Bennett and also spent significant time with Paul Tillich (who first interested Bill in Lutheran theology) and Reinhold Niebuhr (his doctoral advisor).
As graduation approached he sent letters to schools across Canada, seeking employment, but was rejected by all. He kept a letter that he had received from a school in Toronto that said explicitly that they did not hire Canadians.
He was hired by the highly ranked Swarthmore College (near Philadelphia) and then Garrett Theological Seminary at Northwestern University (Evanston, Illinois), until he received his first offer of a position in Canada, as president of Lutheran Theological Seminary (Saskatoon). Overjoyed to return to Saskatchewan, he quickly accepted, and arrived with his family in 1966. Over the next seven years he was also approached about, or offered, the presidency of Wartburg Seminary (Iowa) and the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, offers which he declined because of a strong sense that his calling was to be in Saskatchewan. He retired in 1985.
He was a prolific author with many of his books being adopted as textbooks by colleges and seminaries, and the books being translated into a dozen languages for use around the world. His Layman’s Guide was a Book-of-the-Month Club Selection. He was also one of the founding presidents of the American Academy of Religion, and was widely sought as a speaker. His personal theology was best expressed in his book, Living by Grace, and emphasized the importance of a generous acceptance of other people just as God generously accepts and affirms us.
He was widely respected and appreciated. Former friends, colleagues, and students mention the strength of his personal convictions and his ability to give students confidence in their own abilities and viewpoints, even when their views did not coincide with his. Every question was treated as being very important. During his time in the U.S. he gave support to the civil rights movement while living in a Republican dominated and segregated community. In Canada he was a strong voice for the ordination of divorced persons, and women, in the Lutheran Church, and a firm supporter of the New Democratic Party. Also important to his life were the Saskatchewan Roughriders, golf, baseball and Johnny Cash.
He was deeply grieved in 1974 when, within a two week period, both his mother, and his younger brother Bob, died. He was deeply affected by the death of his wife Marjorie in 2002, and the death of his daughter Joyce, in 2010.
When the seminary in Saskatoon feted his 90th birthday, and dedicated the William Hordern Chair in Theology, he was asked which of his accomplishments he was most proud of. Bill replied “My family.”
He is survived by his son Richard Paul and Nancy of Regina, son-in-law Randy Zutter of Sherwood Park, and son Davis William of Saskatoon; by his grandchildren Kjersten Anne and Aaron, and Marja Joyce, of Regina; and Elisabeth Joy of Sherwood Park; by his sister-in law Gladys Joyce of Vancouver; and numerous nieces and nephews and three cousins.
Bill was deeply loved and will be deeply missed. A celebration of Dr. Hordern’s life will be held on Saturday, November 15, 2:00 p.m. at Zion Lutheran Church, 323 4th Ave S, Saskatoon. As family members have allergy concerns we ask those attending to avoid wearing scented products such as perfumes, cologne, after-shave and similar products. Flowers are gratefully declined. Bill would be honoured by memorial donations. Special thanks are expressed to the staff and the community at Lutheran Special Care Home of Saskatoon.