Harvard to retire this spring
After more than 33 years at the pulpit of First Presbyterian Church – a position that ministered to those in the pews and throughout the city – the Rev. Joe Harvard is retiring. Harvard, 72, announced his retirement to his congregation on Sunday, and sent out a letter to them as well. His last Sunday will be May 5.
It’s time, Harvard said. He and his wife Carlisle, who retired from her job at Duke six years ago, will travel and spend time with their children and grandchildren. Daughter Rebecca Harvard Leonard works for Habitat for Humanity in Durham and has two daughters. Son Bankston Harvard lives in Charleston, S.C.
Joe Harvard said he wants to stay invested in the Durham community. He has been an active leader in multiple interfaith activities, including Durham Congregations in Action. He frequently collaborates with Rabbi John Friedman of Judea Reform Congregation and Bishop Elroy Lewis of Fisher Memorial United Holy Church. All three men arrived in Durham in 1980.
“This is my home,” Harvard said. Harvard will see how best to invest his time, but plans to continue working on child poverty issues and fostering interfaith conversations.
“I love this community. It’s been a real joy to watch it grow and develop,” he said. “I’m grateful to be a small part of its transformation. There’s still a lot of work to do.”
Harvard said he steps aside from his pastoral role with mixed emotions and feels very fortunate to have had the privilege of being pastor of First Presbyterian for 33 years. He said the church has great days ahead.
In his letter to the congregation, Harvard notes that they are blessed with a great church staff.
“It’s been a joy working with Joe these past three and a half years,” said Lyn Francisco, administrative assistant at First Presbyterian. “I wish him all the best as he transitions to a new chapter in his life,” she said.
Marcia Owen, executive director of the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham, said Harvard “cultivates the peaceable kingdom here in Durham. He teaches that the true wealth of Durham is what we give to protect and secure our most vulnerable neighbors.”
Harvard has helped organize vigils in the wake of violence.
“He mourns with his neighbors for the lives who have been destroyed by violence in our city. He encourages us to follow the justice of God's love that seeks the dignity and safety of every Durham citizen,” Owen said. “Joe is humble in his faith and affirms the holiness of all persons, regardless of our beliefs or transgressions. He is a generous servant who gives his unlimited love to us all.”
Harvard isn’t the only longtime Durham clergyman to retire recently. Last spring, the Rev. Mel Williams of Watts Street Baptist Church, a friend and community partner of Harvard, also retired. At First Presbyterian, the congregation will hold a meeting Sunday and plan the next few months, after which an interim pastor will be chosen.