Rev. G. I. Keirn (1854 – 1922) Obituary

Gideon Isaac Keirn, D.D.

On October 25, 1922, G. I. Keirn, D.D., minister of the Independent Liberal Church, Unitarian-Universalist, of Atlanta, Ga., died of angina pectoris. He had been seriously ill during the summer, but had sufficiently recovered to return and open his work for the fall and winter. Funeral services were held in the church at Atlanta on October 26, conducted by T. D. Fisher, D.D., Rev. B. H. Clark, and Dr. John Rowlett. The remains were taken to Cincinnati, Ohio, for cremation. A brief service was conducted by Rev. Harry A. Hersey of Muncie, Ind., an old friend of Dr. Keirn. A memorial service was hold in the Universalist church at Muncie, on Sunday, October 29. A widow survives him.

Dr. Keirn was born in Columbus City, Ind., on September 24, 1854. He was educated at St. Lawrence University and Canton Theological School. Upon his graduation from the latter in 1879, he was ordained to the Universalist ministry at Mount Vernon, N.Y. He held successful pastorates at Norwood, Mass., Portland, Me., and Charlestown, Mass. In the spring of 1899 he was commissioned by the Universalists to proceed to Japan as the superintendent of the mission work of that organization. Here he remained for nine years, filling the office of teacher, preacher, and organizer. Upon his return to the States he assumed the pastorate of the Universalist church at Muncie, Ind.

In 1915, upon the urgent request of his denomination, he returned to his old post in Tokyo, where he remained until 1917. Returning to the States he accepted a double commission from the Unitarian and Universalist bodies, to take charge of the joint work of the denominations in Atlanta, Ga., where he remained until his death.

Dr. Keirn was a vigorous and plain speaking preacher, whose obvious sincerity and open-mindedness to new truth won for him a large and devoted following in his many parishes. Churches grew under him. Despite a rather uncompromising temperament where moral issues were involved, his manliness and sympathy drew to him the men of the community irrespective of their church relations. Men in general liked him and they waited upon his leadership. Dr. Keirn was essentially a scholar and devoted his gifts to the congregations to whom he ministered, believing that thereby the larger community was the hotter served.

For eleven years he served the Universalist denomination as its superintendent in Japan. Here he showed himself an indefatigable worker, preaching, teaching, writing, in season and out. Believing that the situation called for a vigorous presentation of “a theology,”‘ he writes, ”which is reasonable and which readily converts itself into life,” he devoted himself, not as many would have had him, to social work in the Empire, but to the spreading of his message through the printing-press. He published seventy-five pamphlets, and wrote a book, “The Essential Elements of a Living Religion,” in which he successfully set forth the liberal and progressive interpretation of Christianity. This book was much commended in Japan and was translated into Japanese, in which language it has had a wide circulation. It is one of the most valuable contributions that liberal Christianity has made to the life and thought of Japan.

After his second return from the Orient, Dr. Keirn joined the Unitarian fellowship without, however, relinquishing his membership with the Universalists. Upon being asked to take charge of the situation arising out of the union of the Unitarian and Universalist churches at Atlanta, Gn., he accepted what was a difficult post. Busy and successful as his life had hitherto been, his labors at Atlanta were to prove the busiest and most distinguished of them all. Coming to a field discouraging by reason of the existence of divergent points of view and temperaments. Dr. Keirn, by his persistence, patience, and tact, successfully welded together the varying elements. The Atlanta church, now a real and working institution, is his monument. Forceful, kindly, lovable, Dr. Keirn won for himself a dignified position in the city’s life.

Source:  The Christian Register found in Google Books November 9, 1922 Volume 101, Page 1076 – 1077