Jim Forest’s activity as a writer began in New Jersey at age five, in 1946, when he produced a handwritten family newspaper using an alphabet of his own design. It was an excellent publication whose only shortcoming was that no one could read it. A few years after achieving literacy, he was often found hanging around office of the town’s weekly newspaper, watching linotypers setting type from molten zinc. Before long he was hawking The Red Bank Register on Broad Street, delivering papers door to door, and starting his own mimeographed publication using an alphabet that others could read.
His engagement in Christianity began about the same time that he was selling newspapers. At age 12 he was baptized in an Episcopal parish in Shrewsbury, New Jersey, though it wasn’t until he was in the U.S. Navy, stationed in Washington and working at the U.S. Weather Bureau, that he began to see life his vocation in religious terms. In 1960, he joined the Catholic Church. His religious life took another turn in 1988 when he and his wife, Nancy, were received into the Orthodox Church. He became secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship and edited its publication, In Communion.
In 1961, after obtaining an early discharge from the Navy on grounds of conscientious objection, he joined the Catholic Worker community, led by Dorothy Day, in New York City; during that period of his life he became managing editor of The Catholic Worker. Later he was a reporter a New York City daily newspaper, The Staten Island Advance, and worked part-time for Religious News Service, a press bureau. From the mid-seventies, he edited Fellowship, magazine of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. After moving to Europe, he was editor of Reconciliation International.
Another dimension of Jim’s life has been peace work. In the late sixties, Jim was responsible for Vietnam program activities of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. One aspect of his FOR work was to travel with and assist Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk and poet. In 1969-70, Jim was imprisoned for thirteen months as a consequence of his involvement in the “Milwaukee Fourteen,” a group of Catholic priests and lay people who burned draft records. After leaving prison, he was a member of the Emmaus Community in East Harlem, New York.
In 1973, he became publications director for the Fellowship of Reconciliation. In 1977, he moved to Holland to head the staff of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation. He was IFOR’s General Secretary for twelve years.
In connection with work on two books about Russian religious life, Jim traveled widely throughout the former USSR. His experiences in Russia were a factor in his becoming an Orthodox Christian.
An occasional teacher, in the early seventies Jim lectured at the New York Theological Seminary and the College of New Rochelle. In 1985, he taught at the Ecumenical Institute, Tantur, near Jerusalem, and in 1999 was part of the summer faculty of the Department of Religion at the University of Dayton.
Jim led retreats in the United States and England and lectured at hundreds of parishes, theological schools, colleges, and universities.
An influential factor in Jim’s life was his friendship with Thomas Merton who dedicated Faith and Violence to Jim. Merton’s letters to Jim have been published as part of The Hidden Ground of Love (Farrar Straus & Giroux, NY).
In 1989, Jim received the Peacemaker Award from Notre Dame University’s Institute for International Peace Studies. He served on the advisory board for the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award.
He was the father of six children and grandfather of many. Since 1977, he and his wife Nancy made their home in Alkmaar, Holland, a city northwest of Amsterdam. He died there on January 13, 2022 at age 80, only days before the passing of his friend and mentor Thich Nhat Hanh.
- Great attention to the details of living a devotional Christian life
- Always shows deep respect for saints and their stories
- Advocate of peace, nonviolence and reconciliation