In the 1960s, when the Rev. Joseph L. Jensen Jr. marched on Washington to advocate for civil rights and journeyed to Selma, Ala., to assist with voter registration, some members of his congregation at Valley Forge Presbyterian Church disapproved. When he spoke from the pulpit about housing discrimination in Upper Merion, some left.
Years later, a few of those congregants returned to the church and admitted to him that there had been social injustices, including in their own backyard, Rev. Jensen's daughter Mary said.
Rev. Jensen, 94, pastor of Valley Forge Presbyterian from 1962 to 1984, died Sunday, Oct. 10, at Homewood at Plum Creek, a retirement community in Hanover, Pa.
"He was committed to the practical application of his religious beliefs and dedicated much of his efforts to pastoral counseling and to social activism, particularly civil rights and international peace," his daughter said.
Mr. Jensen and his wife, Ethel Sprague Jensen, were at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream" speech. "We recognized we were in the presence of history," Mr. Jensen's wife said.
In 1965, Rev. Jensen spent two weeks in Selma, helping African Americans fill out voter registrations. It was a dangerous time. Police had beaten protesters, and two Unitarian Universalist ministers had been murdered.
Back home, Rev. Jensen and his wife, members of the Upper Merion Fair Housing Council, picketed to ensure that black people were not being discriminated against. Sometimes they acted as "straw buyers." When an African American inquired about a house and was told it was sold, the Jensens contacted the real estate agent and feigned interest to see whether the house was really off the market.
They also participated in protests against the Vietnam War. Rev. Jensen collected contributions from his congregation for a fund to assist individuals and families in crisis.
In 1991, he received the Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award for his activism.
A native of Illinois, Mr. Jensen earned a bachelor's degree from Carroll College in Wisconsin. He graduated from the Princeton Theological Seminary.
During World War II, he could have been a chaplain, his daughter said, but he didn't want special treatment. Instead, he commanded a Navy PT boat, participating in the invasion of Normandy and serving in the Pacific.
After his discharge, he began his hands-on ministry at First Presbyterian Church in Mason City, Ill., where he worked with farmers in the fields. Other assignments were First Presbyterian Church in Miami and Westminster Presbyterian Church in Dayton, Ohio.
When he retired as pastor from Valley Forge Presbyterian, his wife retired as director of continuing education at Eastern University.
For the next 15 years, they worked at colleges around the country, she in administrative positions, he in athletic departments, setting up equipment, judging at track meets, and counseling students. Their last positions were at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., for nine years. They retired from their collegiate careers in 2000 and moved from Carlisle to Homewood in 2005.
Despite the seriousness of his life's work, Rev. Jensen "had a natural sparkle, good humor, optimism, and a fun-loving spirit," his daughter said. He played competitive squash with college students until he was 88, she said.
Rev. Jensen is survuved by his wife of 66 years and his children, Mary Joe, Mark, and Lynn, a brother, and eight grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 30, at Valley Forge Presbyterian Church, 191 Town Center Rd., King of Prussia.