Harold Wesley Varner was born on July 19, 1941, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He was the son of George G. Varner and Marguerite Sims.
He earned a B.A. in psychology from Morehouse College in Atlanta where he had became acquainted with Martin Luther King. After graduating, he became active in King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference or SCLC. Varner worked in the Chicago chapter of Operation Breadbasket, a department of the SCLC led by Jesse Jackson. Operation Breadbasket advocated using boycotts to pressure white businesses to hire blacks and purchase goods and services from black contractors.
It’s possible that the influence of Jesse Jackson, who at the time was a student at the Chicago Theological Seminary, encouraged Harold Varner to consider the ministry. Jackson and Varner also had a common interest in jazz music, and Varner was the drummer in an eight-piece jazz band. Harold Varner moved to New York City and took an internship at St. John Lutheran in the Bronx. At the same time, he studied at the American Foundation of Religion and Psychiatry.
Harold Varner and Eileen Cook were married on June 12, 1965, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Varner enrolled in the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. He continued his involvement in the Martin Luther King organization and was in Memphis, Tennessee, with King on April 4, 1968. He was part of the Operation Breadbasket jazz band that was scheduled to play “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” later in the evening. Varner was about ten feet away from King when an assassin’s bullet killed the civil-rights leader.
A few weeks later, Harold Varner graduated from the seminary and was ordained in Rockford, Illinois. He accepted a call from First Lutheran as Associate Pastor and he and his wife arrived in Palo Alto in early July 1968. They set up housekeeping at 2994 Kipling Street. In May 1969, they welcomed daughter Kianya into the family.
In addition to serving as the associate to Pastor Robert Herhold at First Lutheran, Pastor Varner was active in the community. He was Executive Director of Action Coalition of East Palo Alto, founded the Black Business Coalition of East Palo Alto, and was a member of the Board of Directors of Drug Prevention and Rehabilitation in there. He served on the Palo Alto Board of Education as a member of the Citizens’ Advisory Committee of Multicultural Activities.
In the summer of 1969, he organized a successful multi-racial Vacation Bible School at First Lutheran. The children of Jerusalem Baptist Church in Palo Alto joined the children of First Lutheran. Pastor Varner commented at the end of the two weeks that the teachers had learned more than the students about the non-liturgical but conservative theological position of the Baptists, compared to the more formal and more liberal theological background of the Lutherans.
Pastor Varner became the sole pastor of First Lutheran after Pastor Herhold’s resignation at the end of 1969. Then in June of 1970, he himself resigned to accept a position at Canada College teaching psychology. He also served part-time at Messiah Lutheran in Redwood City, and later at St. Philip Lutheran in Oakland. He hosted a radio show, “Clergy on the Line” at station KGO. He and other civil-rights activists in the Bay Area were the subject of death-threats, possibly related to their anti-drug and anti-prostitution teachings. The Varner family’s second child, son Khalil, was born in 1971.
In 1973, Harold Varner’s marriage to Eileen ended in divorce. He married a second time in 1974 and apparently returned to Chicago. In 1978, he was removed from the pastor roster of the Pacific Southwest Synod of the American Lutheran Church. He converted to the Muslim faith and changed his name to Abukhalil V. Faheem. Harold Wesley Varner, also known as Khalil Varner Faheem, died August 15, 1996, at the age of 55, in Hoffman Estates, Cook County, Illinois.