Rev. Brian Scott Kelley, civil rights activist and homelessness advocate in Boston, dies at 92 – Episcopal Information Service

The Rev. Brian Kelley.

The Rev. Canon Brian Scott Kelley, an episcopal priest, poet, civil rights activist, and compassionate advocate for the marginalized and vulnerable, died peacefully on April 6, 2021 at his Concord, Massachusetts residence. He was 92 years old. “Brian’s central belief was that God was calling us from our pews in partnership to respond to the needs of the world,” recalls Rev. Jep Streit, retired dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in Boston, of which Brian was a member of the clergy and the cathedral of social action. He adds, “A priest called to a new church must often gently and lovingly dismantle projects and ministries that are no longer relevant. My arrival was just the opposite – I directed and expanded the visionary ministries Brian established. “

Brian was born in Quebec City, Canada on September 20, 1928, to Mary Scott Kelley and Arthur Reading Kelley, of a long line of Anglican clergymen. Brian was an accomplished scholar with a thirst for knowledge and a lifelong learner. After receiving a Bachelor of Arts from Bishop’s University in Sherbrooke, Quebec, and a Masters of Education from McGill University in Montreal (where he met his beloved wife Sara), Brian followed in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps and became a bishop priest. After graduating from Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1957, Brian served and was ordained in the Diocese of Quebec. In 1960 Brian and Sara (who were married on September 9, 1956 in Greenwich, Connecticut) returned to Massachusetts, where Brian was the rector of Saint John’s Church in Charlestown.

During his time at Episcopal Divinity School, Brian had endeavored to challenge the Church’s conscience about social and racial inequality. After returning to Massachusetts, he became active in the civil rights movement and joined the Episcopal Society for Cultural and Racial Unity. In 1962 Brian traveled to Albany, Georgia to join the “Albany Movement”. He marched with protesters and gave testimony in the courtroom during the trial of Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy. In June 1963, Brian joined a delegation of episcopal clergy who traveled to Jackson, Mississippi, to attend the funeral of famous civil rights activist Medgar Evers, and later that summer attended the March in Washington. Brian traveled south again in June 1965 and went to Philadelphia, Mississippi, to join those who continued James Meredith’s march on fear after Mr. Meredith was wounded by a rifleman. Sara also took part in the movement and marched in March 1965 in the last leg of the Selma to Montgomery March for Voting Rights.

Brian continued to write and preach on social and economic justice, including injustices, which he saw in his adopted home, Boston. After earning a PhD in education from Harvard University in the early 1970s, Brian was assistant principal of one of the first pilot schools in Boston. The Massachusetts Experimental School System focused on creating opportunities for student learning through experience and group relationships, and encouraging students to “make constructive changes in the urban environment, using cultural, ethnic, economic, and religious differences as a potential source of enrichment perceived as a threat. “

Concerned about the plight of the growing number of homeless and disenfranchised in Boston, Brian resumed full-time service at the cathedral. He founded Social Action Ministries, an interfaith organization dedicated to the needs of the city’s most vulnerable people. “In its day, no one in Boston did anything to get all of us – politicians, government officials, lawyers, people of faith, religious institutions – to take a broader view of the poorest and our responsibility to them,” explains Philip Mangano, who is with Collaborated with them was Brian of Social Action Ministries, now known as the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance (MHSA). “This long civil rights history, shaped by his resilient faith, has served him well in his interactions with mayors and officials to seek their support for the most vulnerable. He raced around Boston on his Raleigh bike, meeting with everyone who asked and worked to develop effective initiatives, and was a hero and symbol, as a priest and canon, of God’s grace for many, including me Thousands more. “

Today, MHSA draws on the expertise of nearly 100 member agencies across the state to develop and advocate innovative housing and support services for the most vulnerable populations in the state. The MHSA’s annual Canon Brian S. Kelley Public Servant Award recognizes those whose work best reflects Brian’s commitment to ending the homelessness crisis. “There isn’t a single movement in Boston that has to do with seeking help for the poor, promoting economic and social justice, and alleviating what makes people poor who haven’t left their mark. In particular, he has been a force behind the fight against the homelessness scandal in Boston, ”said Joe Finn, President and Executive Director of MHSA.

As a lifelong poet, Brian was able to spend more time writing in his retirement and joined several poetry groups including the Writers Workshop at UMass Boston’s Joyner Center and the Antlers Writing Workshop in Wonalancet, NH. Brian’s poems are published in several collections. Upon hearing of his death, a co-poet said to Brian, “Our loss of a wonderful man, an uplifting preacher in our chapel, our sweet close friend, a great dancer, a beloved family man, a determined conservationist, and a gracious man poet. Thank God for him and our time together. “

Before Brian and Sara, an early childhood educator, joined Concord in 2016, they lived in the South End of Boston for 50 years, raising their three children. Throughout their lives together, Brian and Sara have been dedicated patrons of the arts, attending plays, concerts, readings, and countless museum exhibitions. Avid hikers, skiers, gardeners and contra-dancers enjoyed year-round activities with family and friends at their second home in South Tamworth, New Hampshire, which continues to be a gathering place for everyone.

Brian is survived, along with his wife, by his son Michael Scott Kelley (Alicia) from Maynard, Massachusetts, daughter Charlotte Kelley Kingham (Barry) from New York City, and daughter Jennifer Kelley Reed (Jeffrey) from Newton, Massachusetts. and from his esteemed grandchildren: Kristen, Julia and Daniel Kelley, Madeleine and Nicholas Reed, and Victoria and Will Kingham. Brian, a dedicated father and grandfather, enjoyed doing “mischief” with his grandchildren and enjoying their activities and adventures together over the years. Brian is also survived by his sister, Helen Morrison, who lives in Montreal, as well as numerous nieces, nephews and cousins, many of whom he directed at their weddings. He was died of a daughter Allison Brooks Kelley and his siblings Frederick Kelley, Frances Kelley and Rosemary Cartwright.

Brian was a devoted husband, father, grandfather, sibling, and friend. He was the essence of his being until the end, a kind, compassionate and loving person.

“Brian reflected on a transcendent love throughout his life and influenced thousands of lives during his pastoral career,” notes Joe Finn. Mr. Mangano adds: “We all loved him and” tolerated “Brian’s vastness without knowing that we were osmosis to stretch our spirits and souls away from him.”

The family would like to thank the dedicated caregivers who supported Brian in his later years.

Memorial services will be held at a later date in both Concord, MA and South Tamworth, NH. Instead of flowers, donations in Brian’s name can be made to the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance, PO Box 8638, Boston, MA 02114,, or to the Manna Program at Saint Paul’s Cathedral, 138 Tremont St, Boston. MA 02111, MANNA (Many Angels Are Needed Now and Always) is a department of the homeless community in downtown Boston.

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