In Memoriam: Howard R. Moody

Howard Moody. Image courtesy of the New York Times.

Howard Moody. Image courtesy of the New York Times.

On Tuesday, September 12, the Reverend Howard R. Moody, Minister Emeritus of Judson Memorial Church, died at the age of 91. Born April 13, 1921, Moody’s 35-year ministry at Judson had an enormous impact on Greenwich Village and New York City. He worked for social justice for those outside the system, reformed local politics, and offered the artistic community of the neighborhood a space to work. He created a legacy of openness and justice which continues at Judson Memorial Church and in the Greenwich Village community today.

The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation presented Judson Memorial Church a 2011 Village Award for taking meaningful action for social justice, offering a home for the arts, and offering spiritual guidance to all since its opening in 1890, at the edge of the Italian South Village. The same qualities that prompted this award were many of the qualities Howard Moody championed at Judson in the 60s and 70s. Besides a vocal ministry, he established pioneering programs that responded to the community’s needs.

The Reverend Howard Moody. Image courtesy of Judson Memorial Church.

The Reverend Howard Moody. Image courtesy of Judson Memorial Church.

In 1959, Moody led Judson Church to set up the first drug treatment clinic in the Village, the Village Aid and Service Center. The center employed a psychologist and a street worker and detoxed and counseled heroin addicts, keeping the program in place until government programs were established to do this work.  In 1967, Moody was a co-founder of the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion, a national network of Protestant and Jewish clergy who helped women find safe, confidential, and compassionate abortions before they were legal. He even developed a “ministry of presence” for prostitutes, providing a safe space and on the ground ministry for this marginalized population. When AIDS hit the Village in the 1980s, he set up a support group and conducted memorial services for victims whose own churches refused.

He was also a friend to the arts, establishing space for arts groups within the church’s building. Judson Poets Theater and the Judson Dance Theater were housed at the church. Moody was arrested (among many others) in 1970 for hosting an art show in the church that used the American flag to make political statements—two of which the NYPD considered to be flag desecration. In the late 1960s, Moody served on the advisory committee for the development of Westbeth, affordable housing for artists of all disciplines.

The People's Flag Show is censored by the city. Image courtesy of Judson Memorial Church.

The People’s Flag Show is censored by the city. Image courtesy of Judson Memorial Church.

Moody’s legacy can be seen in programs offered today at Judson Church, including an immigrants rights task force working to help those immigrants in the Unites States facing deportation and the Bailout Theater, a free monthly entertainment and dinner for all interested.

Obituaries of Moody can be found in the New York Times and on the Judson Memorial Church website. In addition, Judson Church offers a series of published sermons written by Moody on its website.

You can learn more about Howard Moody and Judson Memorial Church and their legacy on GVSHP’s Civil Rights and Social Justice map.

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Sheryl Woodruff was GVSHP's Senior Director of Operations until December 2014.

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