One of the best-known preachers in the United Methodist Church, Harrell Beck was also a noted scholar, a beloved professor, and a compassionate, attentive friend. As both preacher and lecturer, he was able to captivate audiences, regardless of where his travels around the world took him.
Before joining the Boston University School of Theology faculty in 1954, Harrell taught for nine years at the American University in Cairo, where he also met and married his wife, Leila.
In his subsequent travels as student, preacher, and teacher, his studies took him to Harvard, Cambridge, Tubingen, Geneva, and the American University in Cairo. Along with his 33 years in Boston, he taught in Egypt, Kansas City, Denver, Chicago, and Winnipeg. During sabbaticals he served a church in Florida and lectured throughout Asia, including Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, and the Philippines. But no matter how far he would roam, his thoughts were never far from his roots in rural Nebraska, a reality he would often mention.
President of the New England section of the Society of Biblical Literature, Harrell also served as the President of the Massachusetts Bible Society Board of Trustees, and, at the time of his death, was serving on the Hymnal committee for the United Methodist Hymnal, where you can find several of his translations and contributions. Author of many articles and at least one Bible study guide for church use, Harrell reveled most in the successes of his students, often claiming that his students were his legacy – his prized works of art.
In his remembrance of Harrell at BU’s memorial service, friend and colleague Earl Kent Brown recalled,
“Harrell knew that injustice is rampant in our world. The plight of the refugees of the Middle East, of the starving in India, of the wartossed in both Iran and Iraq, of the hungry in Appalachia, of the abandoned in America’s prisons, of those repressed by racist and sexist institutions or ideas–all of these bore on his conscience and demanded his labor. Across the church his prophetic sermons have caused many to rethink social attitudes.”
Harrell died unexpectedly on December 10th, 1987. He will be remembered for his legendary gifts of personal charisma and preaching, weaving stories, anecdotes, and pearls of wisdom into powerfully persuasive calls to compassionate and prophetic action.
His contributions have been recognized with the establishment of both an annual lecture series sponsored by the Massachusetts Bible Society and by an endowed chair of Old Testament at the School of Theology at Boston University.