The Rev. Carl W. Halvorsen, pastor

Carl W. Halvorsen led S.J. churches.
Carl W. Halvorsen led S.J. churches.
Posted: February 01, 2013

The Rev. Carl W. Halvorsen was a pastor to Methodist congregations in South Jersey for four decades, and a devoted man of God for far longer. Yet that didn't stop him from engaging the Almighty from time to time in some stern, even impertinent, conversations.

In recent years, many were about his wife, Marcella, stricken with Parkinson's disease and then a stroke. He not only asked the proverbial question - why do bad things happen to good people? - but wrestled with the paucity of answers he got back.

"Dad had a knack for being able to ask tough questions, get no easy answers, and still believe," said his son, the Rev. Douglas Halvorsen. "The tension gave power to his ministry."

He never resolved "that cognitive dissonance - an all-powerful God in an evil world - but he trusted that one day it would be resolved."

Soon after his wife died in 2009, the elder Halvorsen slipped into the haze of Alzheimer's disease. He died at age 87 on Saturday, Jan. 26, at the Evergreens, a continuing care community in Moorestown.

His last congregation was First United Methodist Church of Moorestown, a senior pastorate of about a dozen years that ended when he retired in 1992.

Before that, he served in Jacobstown, Juliustown, Wrightstown, Lambertville, Bordentown, Toms River, and East Brunswick, punctuated in the 1970s by a six-year term as district superintendent of the United Methodists' Southern New Jersey Annual Conference.

He took a roundabout route to the ministry.

His grandparents were Danish immigrants who met early ends in Philadelphia, orphaning his father. Mr. Halvorsen was born in Colonial Manor, Gloucester County, and graduated from Haddon Heights High School, but there was no money to educate him further. He became a butcher's assistant.

In 1943, he went into the Navy. A pharmacist's mate third class, he was assigned to psychiatric wards for serviceman with "combat fatigue."

"He saw the devastating results of war, of men restrained in straitjackets," his son said. "He never became a pacifist, but he wrestled with the rubric 'a just war.' "

Discharged in 1946, he went to Asbury College in Kentucky, where he met Marcella Dillon. They were wed by her mother, the Rev. Charlotte Briggs Dillon, one of the first female Methodist ministers.

He graduated from Asbury in 1950, got his master of divinity degree from Drew University, Madison, N.J., in 1953, and was ordained in the South New Jersey Conference.

After the United Methodist Church emerged from a merger in 1968, he was called on to take regional and national roles. At the same time, he was a leader of the Good News movement, which urged the church not to stray from its evangelical roots.

"My dad stayed very loyal to the church," his son said. "But he always saw his calling as making it the best it could possibly be."

Mr. Halvorsen is also survived by sons Philip, Mark, and Roderick; daughter Kimberleigh; 19 grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren.

A funeral will be at 10:30 a.m. Friday, Feb. 1, at First United Methodist Church, Camden and Pleasant Valley Avenues, Moorestown, with private interment in Oakland Cemetery, Philadelphia.

Contributions may be made to Evergreens Campus Renewal, 309 Bridgeboro Rd., Moorestown, N.J. 08057.

Contact Kathleen Tinney at 610-313-8106.

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