The Rev. J. Randolph "Randy" Taylor, 72, a warm-mannered theologian and social activist who was a main player in the 1983 merger ending the Civil War-era schism between the main branches of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, died Jan. 4 at his home in Montreat, N.C. He had multiple myeloma.
Dr. Taylor was a fifth-generation minister who had served as pastor of Washington's Church of the Pilgrims from 1956 until 1967. There, he was among the first white ministers locally to take up the cause of civil rights. He also made the church a place for experimental ministry, taking in for soup and Gospel the counterculture youths who had descended on nearby Dupont Circle.
From the late 1960s until the 1983 "reunion," he had served as a co-chairman of a committee seeking to mend the split between the Northern branch of the church, the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., and the smaller and mostly Southern branch, the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.
As a representative of the Southern branch, he worked to prod its leaders toward accepting the long-standing overtures of their Northern counterparts, in the process brooking cultural and political differences over race, rites and the role of women.
Like other major Protestant denominations, the Presbyterian Church split in 1861 when its Northern-based leaders insisted on loyalty to the federal government after the Civil War began. Attempts at reunion had been tried since the 1890s and in earnest since the late 1930s. Prospects for a reunion improved as conservatives split from the Southern church to form their own denominations.
In an interview with Time magazine in 1983 just before the end of the 122-year-old split, Dr. Taylor said that Presbyterianism was "a family that was split mainly by culture, politics and war. Slowly we've come to realize that we need each other."
Logistics were just as significant a division, and Dr. Taylor and others also had to figure out how to merge everything from administrative staffs to pension plans to colleges and seminaries.
He was overwhelmingly elected as the first moderator -- the highest elected official -- of the merged church, called the Presbyterian Church (USA). With more than 3 million adherents, it became the fourth-largest Protestant denomination and the largest stream of Calvinism in the United States. He toured widely as moderator, preaching to Northern members to be more open to evangelization and to Southern members to be more attuned to social justice issues.
Mr. Taylor was born in China to missionary parents and raised in Charleston, S.C., and Nashville. His degrees all were in theology, including a bachelor's from Davidson (N.C.) College; a master's from Union Theological Seminary (Richmond); and a doctorate from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.
As a young and energetic pastor at Church of the Pilgrims, he alienated some more conservative members -- including some Southern members of Congress -- with his civil rights stands.
In the late 1950s, he promoted a relationship with the mostly black Church of the Redeemer in Washington and its pastor, the Rev. Jefferson P. Rogers, at a time when such arrangements were unusual.
When the leadership of the Southern Presbyterian church declined to officially support the 1963 March on Washington, Dr. Taylor turned Church of the Pilgrims into a base for its members who attended, and he led the group to the march.
Dr. Taylor also participated in civil rights marches in Selma, Ala., in 1965. It was on a flight home from Selma that he and other ministers helped to conceive For Love of Children, a group formed initially to help abandoned and abused children housed in the District's overcrowded "Junior Village."
Dr. Taylor promoted the Mustard Seed Ministry, which offered shelter, relief and a "Ministry to the Hippies" of Dupont Circle. He would often make the rounds as the church was transformed into a site for guitar-playing and love-ins.
He also had served as head of the Council of Churches of Greater Washington in the 1960s.
He served as pastor of Central Presbyterian Church in Atlanta from 1968 to 1976 and pastor of Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte from 1976 to 1985.
Dr. Taylor served as president of San Francisco Theological Seminary from 1985 until retiring in 1994.
Survivors include his wife, Arline, of Montreat; six children; and 12 grandchildren.