The Rev. George Hill, who retired in 1986 as pastor of Calvary Baptist Church here, has been called to serve as interim pastor of Riverside Church in New York City, a nationally known stronghold of liberal Protestantism.
The prestigious New York church is seeking a new pastor after the resignation last year of the Rev. William Sloane Coffin to serve as head of Sane/Freeze, the merger of two peace organizations.
Hill, who was active in peace, ecumenical and social justice causes during his 14 years in the nation's capital, has been living in his native California since leaving here. Although technically retired and living in a church-sponsored retirement community, Pilgrim Place in Claremont, he has worked part time as interim minister for churches that, like Riverside in New York, are between permanent pastors.
Riverside Church, a massive Gothic structure near Columbia University in Manhattan's Morningside Heights, was built in the 1930s by John D. Rockefeller Jr. for the famed preacher, Harry Emerson Fosdick. It has ties to the United Church of Christ and American Baptist Churches and under Coffin, a Presbyterian, to the Presbyterian Church as well.
Riverside and Calvary share a tradition of strong preaching, and in recent years both congregations have sought increasing involvement in social problems.
During Coffin's 10-year leadership, his aggressive stance on peace and other social issues riled longstanding conservative groups in the congregation. Only months before he announced his new position, the church's Men's Class, the oldest men's organization in the church, forced a showdown in an unsuccessful effort to oust him.
The church, which was endowed by the Rockefellers, also faces a $1.47 million deficit.
There has been a growing tendency in congregationally governed churches -- in which the congregation is empowered to hire and fire its own pastor -- to employ retired pastors to keep the church functioning for a year or two while the search goes forward for a permament leader.
The experienced retiree can not only keep the institutional wheels turning but, with no vested interest in a permanent position and no emotional involvment with past disputes, can offer objective guidance in helping the congregation assess its goals and determine the type of leadership needed.
Riverside, which has been without a senior pastor since Dec. 20, last week designated a committee to seek a successor to Coffin. A church spokeswoman said the task is expected to take "at least a year."