William Randolph Sengel ’46

William Randolph Sengel ’46, pastor of the Old Presbyterian Meeting House in Alexandria, Va., from 1960-86, and the first moderator of the National Capital Union Presbytery, died at Westminster at Lake Ridge, Va., on Oct. 17. He was 88. The cause of death was respiratory illness. Sengel was a leader in both ecumenical and civil rights concerns throughout his ministry. He was born in 1923 and raised in Fort Smith, Ark. Following service in the U.S. Navy in WWII as a navigator aboard LST 996 in the Mediterranean, he completed his undergraduate studies at Davidson and then graduated from Yale University Divinity School in 1949. Upon graduation from Yale, he was awarded the coveted Wolcott Calkins Prize for excellence in preaching. Sengel continued to serve as a reserve naval officer until 1954. He served congregations in Radford, Va., and Fulton, Mo., before being called to the Meeting House. His service at the Meeting House in Alexandria included more than 700 weddings, 400 babies baptized, 400 young people confirmed, the receiving of nearly 2000 members into the congregation, and some 200 funerals. A member of the Committee of Twenty-Four, he was one of 12 representatives of the Presbyterian Church U.S. (known as the Southern Presbyterian Church) and helped bring about the union of his denomination with the northern church (Presbyterian Church U.S.A.) in 1971. In advance of that long delayed event, he had been elected the first moderator of the National Capital Union Presbytery, bringing into one body the Presbyterian churches of Northern Virginia, the District of Columbia, and nearby Maryland. Sengel also served on the boards of the National Council of Churches and the Consultation on Church Union. He filed dispatches to the Washington Post on the World Council of Churches conference in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1966. In 1970 he chaired the Presbyterian delegation to the World Alliance of Reformed Churches in Nairobi, Kenya, and was invited by Pope Paul VI to report on that meeting at the Vatican. In 1973 he published a book entitled Can These Bones Live?: Pastoral Reflections on the Old Presbyterian Meeting House of Alexandria, Virginia Through its First Two Hundred Years. As a local pastor Sengel shared in bringing integration to the Alexandria library and its schools. He participated in the Washington march of 1963 and showed in the witness at Brown’s Chapel Church in Selma, Ala., in 1965. Invited by Alexandria School Superintendent John C. Albohm to offer a eulogy for Dr. Martin Luther King at T.C. Williams High School in 1968, Sengel made a strong plea to stop the practice of flying the Confederate flag at more than 80 street corners in Alexandria as a gesture of racial reconciliation. The ensuing debate lasted more than a year and led at last to ending the practice. Following his retirement from the Meeting House, Sengel served as interim pastor to several local congregations and then served as chaplain at Westminster at Lake Ridge in Woodbridge, Va., for 14 years, until 2007. He and his wife Marian moved from their Alexandria home to Westminster that same year. Sengel is survived by his wife, Marian Stephens Sengel, 12185 Clipper Dr., Apt. 21, Woodbridge, VA 22192-2236, and his sons, Stephen Randolph Sengel, David Erwin Sengel ’73, and Mark Ashmore Sengel.