- Tuesday, May 20, 2014
For years the Rev. Wayne L. Fehr could not envision a future direction for his life after his wife, Alice, died in 2010 from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. Fehr pared down his personal possessions and moved into Harwood Place, an assisted living complex for retirees. At age 75, Fehr said, he was one of the youngest residents.
“My life changed drastically,” said Fehr, who retired as rector of St. Thomas of Canterbury Church, Greendale, in 2006. “I could not teach or preach for almost two years. I forgot about everything else.”
It would not be the first time his life took a dramatic turn. After dreaming of ordination to the priesthood from an early age, he was ordained into the Society of Jesus in 1969. But he began to struggle with celibacy. At age 47 he married an Episcopal priest and was formally received into the Episcopal Church about 18 months later.
“That marriage did not last, but the faith which she planted flourished,” Fehr said. “I found a spiritual home here in the Episcopal Church.”
Initially Fehr worked in a variety of lay-ministry roles. His most memorable years, he said, were five he spent working at the St. Barnabas Center in Oconomowoc, where priests accused of sexual misconduct receive treatment.
“That really changed my life,” Fehr said. “Prior to that I was an academic. While there I saw great contradictions. I certainly wasn’t streetwise, and in many ways I’m still not.”
As a result of his work there, Donald R. Hands and Fehr wrote Spiritual Wholeness for Clergy: A New Pschology of Intimacy with God, Self, and Others, which was published in 1993 and has sold 16,000 copies.
Fehr became an Episcopal priest in 1988. He has a doctoral degree in systematic theology from Yale University and developed a reputation in the Diocese of Milwaukee as an academic theologian. In 1999 the editor of the diocesan newspaper asked him to write a monthly article answering readers’ questions about theology. For years he received more questions than he could answer each month. His replies were invariably direct and accessible.
Fehr married Alice in 1997, and before her death he had been compiling a collection of some of the best articles from the long-running series. His supply work as a priest and his work on the book stopped while he grieved.
Gradually his vocation as an Episcopal priest drew him out of his loneliness and despair. Despite his initial refusals the calls for supply work never stopped. At first he accepted several such opportunities and said he found the opportunity to administer the sacrament again had a healing effect on his soul. Soon after he resumed work on the book. Fehr published Tracing the Contours of Faith: Christian Theology for Questioners in September.
Fehr said he deliberately structured the book for people seeking a better understanding of Christianity. Several congregations, including St. John Chrysostom in Delafield, have reported using it with success, according to Fehr, who has made a number of personal appearances to discuss theology and promote his book.
“I’ve taken any opportunity that’s come along to talk about theology, especially theology that is suitable for adult education classes.”
Image of the Rev. Wayne L. Fehr by Steve Waring