2013: Notable passings in Methodism

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In 2013, church members marked the passing of a number of United Methodist and Methodist leaders who made significant contributions in their Christian walk.

Those to whom we said goodbye include a global ecumenical leader, a social justice advocate, a lay leader active at all levels of the church, a civil rights activist and a pioneering British prime minister who never forgot her Methodist roots.

Here are nine remembrances.

The Rev. Emilio Castro

The Rev. Emilio Castro, who helped define the global ecumenical movement, died April 6 in Montevideo, Uruguay. He was 85.

A clergy member of the Methodist Church of Uruguay, Castro is remembered as a church leader who combined faith with a commitment to justice during turbulent political times in Latin America and his work as top executive of the World Council of Churches from 1985 to 1992.

“Dr. Castro’s work and example were instrumental in the education of my generation of missionaries and mission thinkers,” said Thomas Kemper, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries and a former missionary in Brazil, in a statement.

The Rev. Bob Edgar

The Rev. Bob Edgar, a United Methodist pastor and a “tireless defender of the poor and an advocate for justice,” died unexpectedly April 23 of a heart attack at his home in the Washington area. He was 69.

Edgar, who was top executive of Common Cause, is the former top executive of the National Council of Churches and a former six-term member of the U.S. Congress from Pennsylvania. He was president of United Methodist-related Claremont (Calif.) School of Theology from 1990 to 2000.

“Bob was a valued friend, social progressive and committed Christian leader,” said the Rev. Larry Hollon, top executive of United Methodist Communications. “He brought a wonderful sense of humor to any gathering in which he was present. He was a tireless defender of the poor and an advocate for justice. His voice will be missed.”

Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher, who served as the United Kingdom’s first female prime minister from 1979 to 1990, died after a stroke April 8 in London. She was 87.

Less known about Thatcher is that she grew up deeply involved in the British Methodist Church and was a lay preacher at Wesley Memorial Chapel while a student at Oxford. Her Methodist upbringing played a key role at her funeral on April 17, The Telegraph in London reported. St. Paul’s Cathedral echoed to the rousing Charles Wesley hymn “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.” The choice reflected her wishes that the faith passed down to her by her father, Alderman Alf Roberts, be marked at the service.

She ultimately became a member of the Church of England after her marriage. But as The Telegraph also reported, she later explained the change was not that big. John Wesley, she said, “regarded himself as a member of the Church of England to his dying day.”

Gloria E. Holt

Gloria E. Holt, a longtime lay leader and volunteer at every level of The United Methodist Church, died Aug. 28, because of complications linked to her battle with breast cancer.

She was a member of the Commission on General Conference, former president of the United Methodist Association of Annual Conference Lay Leaders and presenter of the Laity Address at the 2004 General Conference. She also served on the Global Ministries Board of Directors, the Mission Volunteers Board of Directors, the United Methodist Board of Church and Society and in various capacities in the North Alabama (regional) Conference and ClearBranch United Methodist Church in Trussville, Ala.

“I will remember Gloria as a kind and gentle soul who always sought to see past our divisions to our common ground in Jesus Christ,” said the Rev. L. Fitzgerald Reist II, the secretary of the General Conference.

Evelyn Gibson Lowery

Evelyn Gibson Lowery, 88, died Sept. 26 in her home in Atlanta after a stroke on Sept. 18.

Lowery was a civil rights leader and the wife of civil rights leader and United Methodist, the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery. She founded the SCLC/W.O.M.E.N (Women’s Organization for Equality Now) in 1979 and created the annual Drum Major of Justice Awards, which are on April 4, the date of the Rev. Martin Luther King’s assassination.

“My beloved Evelyn was a special woman, whose life was committed to service, especially around the issues of empowering women,” said Rev. Lowey in a statement. “She was a wonderful mother and wife, and I thank God that she didn’t suffer any pain and that I was blessed having her as my partner, my confidant and my best friend for close to 70 years.”

The Rev. Hector Manuel Navas

The Rev. Hector Manuel Navas, 79, a founder of The United Methodist Church’s Hispanic/Latino caucus, died Sept. 18.

Navas was a founder of Methodists Associated Representing the Cause of Hispanic Americans, and served as a pastor, missionary and executive of different United Methodist institutions, and member of several boards and agencies at the general church and annual conference levels. He also was a U.S. Army veteran.

“With his death, MARCHA lost one of its most loyal members, and The United Methodist Church lost one of its most effective Hispanic leaders,” the caucus said in a statement.

Bishop D. Frederick Wertz

Bishop D. Frederick Wertz, who led the West Virginia, Washington and Harrisburg (Pa.) episcopal areas, died Oct. 16 in Carlisle, Pa. His passing came less than two weeks after his 97th birthday.

Elected to the episcopacy in 1968 — the same year as the merger that formed The United Methodist Church — he played a crucial role in uniting former Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren members.

“His episcopal leadership was about moving with a purpose together all these entities that could have been divided,” said the Rev. Bill Wilson, who was ordained an elder by Wertz. Wilson is now retired as West Virginia’s director of connectional ministries and assistant to the bishop.

Bishop Wayne K. Clymer

Bishop Wayne K. Clymer died Nov. 25 at age 96, just hours after speaking in the Twin Cities at the funeral of a longtime friend and fellow clergy member. He is remembered as a wise and deeply spiritual leader who modeled compassion and graciousness in his ministry and throughout his life.

He was elected bishop in 1972, leading first the Minnesota Conference until 1980, and next the Iowa Conference, until retiring in 1984. Between 1976 and 1984, he also served as president of the United Methodist Committee on Relief, the denomination’s relief agency.

“In the tradition of the early church’s desert mothers and fathers, Bishop Clymer was a contemporary spiritual father of the Minnesota Conference and much of The United Methodist Church,” said Bishop Bruce R. Ough, who leads the Dakotas-Minnesota Episcopal Area.

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black president and icon in the struggle against oppression, died Dec. 5 in his home at the age of 95.

Throughout his life, Mandela has had many connections to Methodism.  He was baptized a Methodist  and graduated from a Methodist boarding school where many future African leaders were educated. The anti-apartheid champion was mentored by Methodist preachers and educators and formed a bond with a Methodist chaplain while in prison. He continued to work with church leaders after his election. His survivors include his wife, Graça Machel, a United Methodist, widow of the former president of Mozambique and an advocate for women’s and children’s rights.

The World Methodist Council recognized Mandela as a "symbol of freedom, justice and peace" when presenting him with its 2000 peace award.

News media contact: Heather Hahn at (615) 742-5470 or[email protected].

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