Rev. Vin Harwell


The Rev. Vin Harwell (1947 - 2000) was born in York, Alabama. He graduated from Eckerd College in St. Peterburg, Florida, and later from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Before becoming a Presbyterian minister, Harwell was a middle manager at Sears, Roebuck & Co. He was also a mentor to Jeb Stuart Magruder, an aide to Richard Nixon, who pleaded guilty to crimes during the Watergate scandal. 

Harwell moved to the Washington, D.C. area in the early 1980s to serve as pastor of Mt. Vernon Presbyterian Church in Alexandria, Virginia. During this time, Harwell began the difficult struggle to come to terms with his sexual and life identify. In 1987, he met Julian H. Preisler, the person who was to become his life-partner. His marriage of many years to Mary Ann Harwell ended in divorce, but he maintained a close and loving relationships with his two children and former wife. In 1988, Harwell became interim pastor of Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church. The following year he accepted a position as pastor and head of staff of the First & Central Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, Delaware.

Throughout his career, Harwell was committed to social justice, equality and religious pluralism in society as well as the church. He served on the boards of several Delaware social justice organizations and was one of three recipients of the American Civil Liberties Union in Delaware's Gerald E. Kandler Award for "Outstanding Leadership in the Cause of Civil Liberty in Delaware" in 2000. He also served in leadership positions in the Presbyterian Church (USA): as chair of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship and the National Association of Endowed Presbyterian Churches. He also served on the national committee of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians and the Task Force on Interfaith Worship.

Harwell's interest in spirituality lead to his study of Christian Spirituality at San Francisco Theological Seminary later in his pastoral career.

After a four-year battle with colon cancer, Harwell resigned from his position at First & Central Presbyterian Church in February, 2000, and died two months later. His life partner, Julian Priesler, remembered him in this way: "He had a passion fo everything he did. He had a passion for life and for the causes he believed in and real passion for justice for everyone."

(The biographical information above was taken from obituaries in The News Journal, Wilmington, Delaware, and The Washington Blade, April 28, 2000.)

Biography Date: December, 2003


Presbyterian Church (USA) | Clergy Activist | National Gay & Lesbian Task Force | New Jersey


“Rev. Vin Harwell | Profile”, LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, accessed May 27, 2024, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/profiles/vin-harwell.


“Vin Harwell was my youth minister at Harvey Brown Presbyterian Church in Louisville, KY during the 1975 to 1976 school year.  I knew him when he was married and in seminary.  He had a daughter.  I am trying to remember if he had his 2nd child.  Vin was a great listener and helped me through some turbulent times growing up. I will always be grateful for his ministry.  ”
 – as remembered by Rev. David Mitchell on February 14, 2024

“I was privileged to be chosen as Vin’s secretary at Park Lake Presbyterian Church in Orlando, Florida soon after my divorce from my husband of 20 years.  My daughter was a freshman in college and my son was 6 years old.  Vin gave me the emotional support that I desperately needed.  Vin was the only minister that I knew of who would counsel Gay couples who were rejected in other religious settings.  At that time we did not know (and perhaps neither did Vin) that he was homosexual.  I was Vin’s secretary for only a little more than a year.  Before Vin left Orlando he said, if you ever need anything just call and I will be on the next plane.  When he was distressed he would go into the sanctuary and play the organ to relieve stress.  Vin was an amazing, caring example for humanity.  He was such a positive impact for me.”
 – as remembered by Sylvia Duer on August 7, 2021

“I was in school with Vin Harwell at Louisville Seminary;  I did not know him well but in 1974 Louisville was hit by a really powerful tornado that uprooted countless trees in the Louisville area.  The following winter there was a tree planting event one cold wintry day and Vin's two children, Amy and Vince (?) wanted to plant a tree. The scheduled day was a very cold one but they went with their father and with me to Crescent Hill where they worked very assiduously to dig holes to plant a tree or two. I just thought they were great kids and he was a great father. ”
 – as remembered by Phil Hanna on June 19, 2018

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