The Young Alan Deale
Some said like "Rossano Brazzi"
This will be a self-indulgent and possibly indiscrete post about The Reverend Alan Glengyle Deale, who died Jan 29. Formally, says his widow, “Alan’s service will be done by Harlan Limpert along with Matthew Johnson, the minister of the Rockford Church, in Rockford on Feb 24, 2018 at 2:00 p.m. There will be a live feed so you will be able to watch it. There will also be a service in Portland later on March 24.”
In 1975 I began another of my unsuccessful attempts to become respectable. I’d left my street beat in SE Portland to be the education coordinator of Multnomah County Animal Control and thought I ought to find a church. “First Unitarian Church” said the letters on a square brick building downtown and I thought, “Aha, a practical minimalist place.” It wasn’t. I had been looking at the back wall of a half-block complex. The front was classic, dignified, not flashy — partly rebuilt after a church fire set by a deranged hippie street kid who’d been allowed to sleep on the pews. The minister at that time had been Clarke Wells, a wildly gifted man. I knew none of this.
When I took a seat in the balcony, a little skeptical, I looked down at Alan Deale in the pulpit wearing his red Harvard robe and thought, “Uh-oh. I’d better not repeat my old pattern of attachment to charismatic bad boys.” But I did, at least a little. I managed to keep it a friendship and benefited greatly. He went off into the mystery of death wearing his iconic red robe.
At the time I didn’t realize how much denominations and congregations are socioeconomic institutions. Portland, OR, has always had a close association with the “other” Portland, which was true of this congregation, though the direct line of ministers was through the Eliots of St. Louis, cousins of T.S. Eliot. Alan was of the New England pattern, in a way a return to the values of the Eliots: scholarship and public institutions (Reed, for instance), but also he was an institutionalist, who built on tradition and service. This is how he led the recovery of the congregation from the conflagration of the Sixties.
The Pacific Northwest District of the UUA was international, including British Columbia and Alberta. Historically it had been a territory stretching down to California and administered by Dr. John McLoughlin, a factor for the Hudson’s Bay Company. When I arrived in 1975, this was one of the most lively and innovative districts in the UUA with big charismatic men in most pulpits. Their invention of Leadership School was new and it “hooked” me. For several years as I tried to see my future lifepath, I wavered between two strong men: Mike Burgwin, who was my AC boss, and Alan Deale. It was the latter who won. His death ends as well a major cycle of my life, a completion. It was not a wrong choice, but a limited one.
Alan was a double PK (preacher’s kid), since his father had left his Congregational church to join the military as a chaplain during WWII, and then his church asked his mother to take the pulpit, which she did very capably. He had intended to be a doctor, but turned out to be less mathematical and more of a humanities type. He loved to quote James Joyce, esp the beginning of “Ulysses”, thus:
STATELY, PLUMP BUCK MULLIGAN CAME FROM THE STAIRHEAD, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressing gown, ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him by the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned:
--INTROIBO AD ALTARE DEI.
Halted, he peered down the dark winding stairs and called out coarsely:
--Come up, Kinch! Come up, you fearful jesuit!
Solemnly he came forward and mounted the round gunrest. He faced about and blessed gravely thrice the tower, the surrounding land and the awaking mountains. Then, catching sight of Stephen Dedalus, he bent towards him and made rapid crosses in the air, gurgling in his throat and shaking his head. Stephen Dedalus, displeased and sleepy, leaned his arms on the top of the staircase and looked coldly at the shaking gurgling face that blessed him, equine in its length, and at the light untonsured hair, grained and hued like pale oak.
Deale never really addressed his fascination with class, prestige, and the lure of forbidden Catholicism.
The tea after Meadville/Lombard awarded Deale a Doctor of Ministry
Naturally, being an older female, I was asked to serve it.
Alan preached when I was ordained in Helena, MT, at the Grand Street Theatre originally built as the First Unitarian Church of Helena with money from the copper magnates of New England. He relished the history. Russ Lockwood (the district exec and the dynamo that found the money for my circuit-riding ministry), Alan, and myself went on a walking tour of the town and inevitably entered the great ornate 1914 cathedral with soaring twin spires inspired by the Votive Church in Vienna, Austria. Magnetized by his approach/avoidance, Alan headed for the font of Holy Water and dipped in his fingers to baptize and bless me, to Russ’ worried disapproval. Just then a priest burst out of the Confessional and shouted at us. We ran for the street, barely renegotiating the broad flight of stairs. But my head was wet.
Alan was gatekeeper for the UUA because he was the chair of the Fellowship Committee that decided who would be endorsed to act as the minister of a congregation. UU’s are Baptist polity, which means that each congregation is in charge of itself and has absolute sovereignty, but few except the small fellowships forgo the guidance of the larger denomination. Therefore, having Alan as “my” minister meant I walked with the kind of protection that I’d had on the rez because of being married to Bob Scriver. I felt it as an obligation rather than a privilege and if I had not, he would have called me on it. Our relationship was gendered but not sexual.
Returning from attending Oxford on a great ocean liner, he had met Dr. Shirley Patterson, his first wife, a pediatric doctor with a later specialty in psychiatry. It was a romantic courtship on the high seas. Moved into their first New England parsonage, on the first morning waking there, she heard voices in the big Victorian house’s old-fashioned pantry and went down to discover the ladies of the church taking inventory of the linen and silver that came with the house. “Nothing personal, dear. Just routine.” They all had keys.
Alan in Rockford, IL, where he so loved mowing the vast lawn on a riding mower,
and was so proud to build an actual Belluschi church. It was a good place
to raise a family.
Divorce came in Portland after the children were raised. The second wife was Rev. Marguerite Hessler, a classy lady who ran the RE program and then became ordained herself. When they married, they lived in the West Hills in a modern house she helped to design. Alan loved architecture. She developed cancer in a facial sinus, which I’m convinced was caused by effluence from Hanford Nuclear Plant — since she grew up in St. Helens, it could have easily inhaled a tiny particle of something radioactive as a child.
The third wife, Dr. Leola Lorenzen, was an anesthetist, who also died of cancer, this time the lining of the thorax. There has always been suspicion that the drugs involved in surgery cause mutation.
Early in this marriage he brought Leola on a trip that passed through the Blackfeet reservation where I was camping in an old log railroad dormitory operating as a youth hostel, making a summer hideout from the Saskatoon Unitarian Congregation. “What are you doing?” he wanted to know, “Trying to be Ginger Renner?” (Ginger was an art dealer and expert.) Bob Scriver had not died yet and Alan bought one of his Lewis and Clark bronzes. Alan never discussed with me my desire to write.
Alan and Kathleen in the center of the retired ministers and spouses
Star Island retreat center
The fourth wife is Kathleen Hunter, a Canadian and American Unitarian Universalist who was probably the best fit for him, as interested in all the dynamics and adventures of the denomination as he was. They’ve spent decades of good times together.
Alan could not understand my lack of interest in what he considered success, though he was happy to support my decision to go to seminary — he just had the idea that I should go to Starr King or at least one of the other Berkeley clusters and get more “hip,” possibly get laid. But I wanted academic credentials — not so much Meadville/Lombard as the U of Chicago, sneaking in the back door, as it were. Can’t be done now. Timing is everything. M/L has dwindled and sold out.
It was the PNWD Leadership School that was the UU bolt of lightning. One of the gender expectations of women is that they will serve institutions, particularly religious ones. I thought that with the new organizational design, the self-study, and the defining of purposes, it would finally be possible to serve without compromising oneself. It wasn’t until 1988 that I gave up.
By that time the UUA itself had shifted away from its own tradition, mostly to preserve itself with high membership numbers, and Alan was sidelined. There was a curious dynamic here: as some demographic categories saw the UUA as a high status denomination (Episcopalian without the smells and bells) they were attracted by my same original idea of becoming respectable, but the fact of their joining (like the fact of me entering the ministry) diluted the very thing they were after. In the end 25 Beacon Street was sold for a repurposed warehouse that global warming will flood. It’s already started.
But Alan had a graceful retirement with Kathleen, a New England international marriage and active participation in the UURMaPA — the retired clergy organization. Attention to money meant comfortable living and the ability to travel. We stayed in touch now and then. Actually, his death won’t interfere with our relationship very much. In the end it wasn’t institutional.