United Methodists this past year mourned the passing of groundbreaking bishops, founders of Africa University, giants of the U.S. civil rights movement, and a mathematician who charted the way for astronauts.
Here are 34 remembrances, listed in order of date of death or memorial service.
Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News.
Bishop R. Kern Eutlser
While still in seminary, the future Bishop R. Kern Eutsler got a crash course in congregational leadership.
Eutsler helped take over preaching and pastoral duties at a tall-steeple New York City church after the senior pastor died — all while completing his studies at nearby Union Theological Seminary. In 1943, he earned his Master of Divinity with honors.
Those lessons served Eutsler in good stead. Friends remember the bishop as both a master of the pulpit and administration, who was nevertheless down to earth. Eutsler died Jan. 2 at age 100 in his native Virginia.
After serving multiple appointments in Virginia, Eutsler served as bishop of the Holston Conference from 1984 to his mandatory retirement in 1988. He continued to be a mentor in retirement at Reveille United Methodist Church in Richmond, Virginia, where he had previously been a pastor.
“Kern Eutsler was a near-perfect embodiment of why the symbol for the episcopacy is a shepherd’s crook,” said the Rev. Douglas Forrester, the church’s lead pastor. “He was strong yet compassionate, gifted yet gracious, a giant amongst his peers yet always making time for pastors like me.”
Photo by Tessa Tillett Photography, courtesy of United Methodist Churches of Indiana.
Bishop Michael J. Coyner
Throughout his ministry, Bishop Michael J. Coyner worked to bring people together.
His unexpected death also brought together United Methodists of varied views in an outpouring of love, prayer and grief. A constant refrain in their tributes was Coyner’s fairness and faithfulness.
“Bishop Mike,” as people called him, died Jan. 8 at the age of 70, less than two weeks after being diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus that had spread to his liver.
Coyner was bishop of the Dakotas Conference from his election in 1996 to 2004, when he returned to his native Indiana. There, he served three four-year terms and oversaw the merger of the North and South Indiana conferences in 2010 into a single Indiana Conference. In 2012-16, he also was board president of the General Council on Finance and Administration, the denomination’s finance agency.
“One of his favorite phrases when people asked where he stood theologically was he would say that he is centered in Jesus Christ,” said Bishop Frank Beard, who served as a district superintendent under Coyner before becoming bishop of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference.
Photo courtesy of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.
The Rev. Lisa M. Scott-Joiner
The Rev. Lisa M. Scott-Joiner was a dedicated chaplain who helped fellow United Methodist chaplains follow their call. She died Jan. 11 at the age of 57 in St. Louis.
Scott-Joiner, board certified with the Association of Professional Chaplains, served as chaplain supervisor at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. She previously held senior pastor positions at a number of churches in Illinois and Missouri. She also was a past president of the St. Louis Caucus of Black Methodists for Church Renewal.
Starting in 2017, she served as a board director for the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry. She chaired the board’s administrative matters committee and served on the endorsing committee that worked with chaplains.
Bishop William McAlilly, Higher Education and Ministry board president, said Scott-Joiner would be missed throughout the United Methodist connection.
“She was dedicated to the work of preparing and credentialing new United Methodist chaplains and leaves behind a deep legacy of service to the church,” said McAlilly, who also leads the Memphis and Tennessee conferences.
Photo courtesy of the World Council of Churches.
The Rev. Pablo Sosa
The Rev. Pablo Sosa knew how to make congregations sing, and his hymns have become part of worship around the globe. He died Jan. 11 in Buenos Aires at age 85.
Sosa served as a pastor in the Evangelical Methodist Church of Argentina and professor of liturgy and hymnology. He edited several hymnals and wrote countless songs in the Latin American Protestant repertoire such as “Santo, Santo, Santo,” “El Cielo Canta Alegria” and “Cristo Vive.” In 2018, he was honored as a Fellow of the Hymn Society of the U.S. and Canada.
Jorge Lockward, longtime United Methodist worship leader and chair of the World Council of Churches worship and liturgy committee, said Sosa’s music made the gospel accessible.
“Every year he wrote a Christmas song that became famous over the radio as well as in church,” Lockward said. “Pablo, through his ecumenical engagement in song, also did more for real ecumenism than all of the meetings that theologians and church leaders have.”
Photo courtesy of The McDuffie Progress.
Linda Green, who helped keep the church informed about the work of bishops and the rise of Africa University, died unexpectedly Jan. 27.
As a reporter for United Methodist News Service from 1995 to 2009, she covered most of the denomination’s general church agencies as well as the Council of Bishops.
One of her major ongoing stories was the startup and early growth of Africa University, and she traveled frequently to different African nations to cover the news of the church. Her 2002 story about AIDS orphans in Africa won the Donn Doten Award of Excellence for Writing from the United Methodist Association of Communicators.
Linda Bloom, assistant news editor at UM News, worked as a fellow reporter with Green.
“Her expertise at cultivating news sources throughout The United Methodist Church was aided by her warmth, her humor and her faith,” Bloom said.
Photo courtesy of Tom M. Wages Funeral Home.
The Rev. Herschel Hoover Sheets
The Rev. Herschel Hoover Sheets wrote what many consider the definitive history of the North Georgia Conference. Still, the United Methodist leader had far more than Georgia on his mind. He died Feb. 8 at age 91 at The Oaks at Ashton Hills Assisted Living Center in Covington, Georgia.
In his 50 years of ministry, he held just about every leadership role a United Methodist clergy member could, save bishop. He also served as a religion professor at United Methodist-related Young Harris College and adjunct professor at his alma mater Emory University’s Candler School of Theology.
He left his mark on the global church as a multiple-time delegate to General Conference — twice as delegation head — and to the World Methodist Conference. He wrote eight books and was a frequent speaker on church governance. In all his roles, he sought to empower laity.
“He was always willing to teach, educate or answer any question. His presence among us will be greatly missed,” said Bill Martin, the North Georgia Conference’s lay leader.
Photo by Kenneth J. Guest.
The Rev. Frances Helen Foley Guest
The three and a half years that the Rev. Frances Helen Foley Guest spent with her Methodist missionary parents in a Japanese prison camp during World War II shaped her ministry for the rest of her life.
Guest’s parents — Walter Brooks Foley and Mary Rosengrant Foley — were assigned first to India in 1926, and then to the Philippines in 1935. When the Japanese occupied Manila, the family entered an internment camp. Four days after the internment ended, a bomb fell directly on the Foleys’ room at the camp. Her father, 45, died from the blast, and her mom lost an arm. Guest was 20 years old.
The Methodist Board of Foreign Missions recognized her resilience and abilities by naming her the first recipient of the Crusade Scholars program (now known as World Communion Scholars). But, years before the Methodist Church granted women full clergy rights, she was discouraged from becoming a minister. That changed when at age 51, she entered seminary and became a pioneering clergywoman in the Florida Conference.
Guest died Nov. 26, 2019, at 94. New York’s United Methodist Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew celebrated her life at a Feb. 15 memorial service.
“She created a set of stories that allowed her … to tell what had happened, but framed it theologically in a way that was about life, not death,” said her son, Ken Guest.
Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News.
The Rev. John Wesley Z. Kurewa
United Methodists remember the Rev. John Wesley Z. Kurewa, a founding father and first vice chancellor of Africa University, as a leader who followed the direction of the Holy Spirit in every move he made. Kurewa died Feb. 15 at age 87.
The former secretary of Zimbabwe’s Parliament was involved in the development of the university from the beginning. He served as on-site manager of the Africa University project in 1987 — a year before General Conference approved the establishment of a United Methodist-related university in sub-Saharan Africa. The university opened as Zimbabwe’s first private university in 1992.
As vice chancellor in 1992-97, he served as the equivalent of a U.S. university president. Kurewa returned to Africa University in 2000 as associate professor in the E. Stanley Jones Chair of Evangelism. In 2015, the Foundation for Evangelism in Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, endowed a professorship in Africa University’s Faculty of Theology named for Kurewa.
“In this man, we found perfect harmony of spirituality and academic excellence, true to the great Wesleyan heritage that sees no contradiction between education and spirituality,” said the Rev. Forbes Matonga, a United Methodist leader in Zimbabwe.
Photo by NASA.
Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson
Katherine Johnson broke barriers for women and African Americans as she charted the way for astronauts to break across the final frontier. Johnson died Feb. 24 at the age of 101 at a retirement home in Newport News, Virginia.
United Methodists remember Johnson counting steps as a child on her way to worship at what is now St. James United Methodist Church in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. That early love of numbers helped Johnson grow into a renowned mathematician whose pioneering work for NASA took center stage in the book and movie “Hidden Figures.”
As the New York Times said in her obituary, they asked her for the moon and she gave it to them. She helped get astronauts Alan B. Shepard Jr. and John Glenn to space and back. She also calculated the precise trajectories that would let Apollo 11 land on the moon and return to Earth.
In 2015, President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2017, NASA dedicated a building in her honor. In 2019, she received the Congressional Gold Medal.
Carolyn Bond, who also grew up at St. James in White Sulfur Springs, said Johnson’s hometown knew little of her achievements until the release of the movie “Hidden Figures.” The city’s public library now bears Johnson’s name.
“I had no idea she did all of those things,” Bond said in 2017. “She never said anything about working with the space program, but she did always ask us how we were doing in school.”
Photo by Sally Morrow, Religion News Service.
Roy Larson, a former United Methodist pastor turned prominent religion reporter, died Feb. 25 at age 90.
The former Chicago Sun-Times religion editor famously investigated then-Cardinal John Cody in the 1980s for corruption. After working for the Sun-Times from about 1969 to 1985, Larson was editor and publisher until 1994 of The Chicago Reporter. He also helped found the Catalyst, covering education and school reform.
Before his journalism career, he served multiple Chicago-area congregations as a pastor.
“There was a kindness that he had that was a gift,” said former Sun-Times photographer John White told the newspaper. “When he was talking to you and communicating to you, you felt the humanity.”
Photo courtesy of the Great Plains Conference
Those who knew her best remember Nancy Brown as someone who cared deeply for her church and her community.
Brown, a founding member of United Methodist Church of the Resurrection and a former state legislator in Kansas, died March 9 of complications from cancer. She was 77.
She chaired Resurrection’s first visionary committee, early church councils and its social action committee. She also led countless mission trips to multiple countries including Russia, Ukraine, Honduras, South Africa and Zambia. Today, the congregation has the denomination’s largest attendance in the U.S.
She served The United Methodist Church at the conference and international levels. She was a volunteer in mission, a two-time General Conference delegate, an ambassador for the Healthy Families, Healthy Planet initiative and board member of the United Methodist Commission on the Status and Role of Women.
“Nancy’s impact on Resurrection, and around the world, was incalculable,” the Rev. Adam Hamilton, the church’s founding pastor, wrote in a Facebook post.
Photo courtesy of the Iowa Conference.
Virginia Schoenbohm Clymer
Virginia Schoenbohm Clymer, active United Methodist and widow of Bishop Wayne Clymer, died March 21 at age 96.
Both her first husband Wilko Schoenbohm, founder of Courage Center in Minneapolis, and her second husband Bishop Clymer, preceded her in death.
She taught elementary and junior high school for several years in Iowa and later was a child psychiatry instructor and speech therapist in Minnesota. After 32 years working in special education, she retired in 1986. She was a longtime volunteer, including providing a variety of services to her beloved church, Hennepin Avenue United Methodist in Minneapolis.
“While many still recall her genuinely sweet and kind personality, they will also tell you that it belied her fierce commitment to caring for ‘the least of these,’” said the Rev. Frenchye Magee, the congregation’s associate pastor.
Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News.
The Rev. Joseph E. Lowery
The Rev. Joseph Echols Lowery, a United Methodist pastor who loved to preach and was never afraid to speak truth to power, died at his home in Atlanta on March 27. He was 98.
Lowery walked with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and gave the benediction at President Barack Obama’s first inauguration. Obama also presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.
With King, he was among the 60 Black ministers who formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957. In 1965, King asked Lowery to chair the delegation delivering the demands of the Selma-to-Montgomery March to Alabama Governor George Wallace. Wallace ordered state troopers to stop the marchers by whatever means necessary. Marchers were tear-gassed and beaten on the day that became known as “Bloody Sunday.”
In 1995, Lowery led the 30th anniversary re-enactment of the historic march and Wallace — a fellow United Methodist — personally apologized for his conduct as governor.
Lowery served churches in Birmingham, and Mobile, Alabama, and in Atlanta.
“While Rev. Joseph Lowery was, without question, an important figure in the civil rights movement, it may be less well known by many that his greatest love was being a pastor,” said his friend, retired Bishop Woodie W. White.
Photo courtesy of United Methodist Women.
The Rev. Sherrie Dobbs Johnson
The Rev. Sherrie Dobbs Johnson served at all levels of The United Methodist Church. The former district superintendent and wife of retired Bishop Alfred Johnson died March 27 of complications related to COVID-19. She was 71.
Initially a communicator, she directed public relations at the United Methodist Publishing House in Nashville, Tennessee, and later at what is now Clark Atlanta University, a United Methodist-supported historically Black college.
She served as managing editor for United Methodist Women’s Response Magazine in New York City from 1981 to 1991 before becoming an ordained elder in the Greater New Jersey Conference. She later was pastor in local churches in New Jersey and New York.
Andris Salter, a UMW executive and Johnson’s friend of more than 20 years, described Johnson as a loving, kind woman with a great sense of humor.
“She loved good coffee, good food, good friends and to dance. … She loved parades and fireworks,” Salter said. “Usually on the Fourth of July, she went to several communities just for the fireworks. She brought fireworks, wherever she went.”
Photo courtesy of Eaton Funeral Home Inc.
United Methodists who like to track legislative action at General Conference owe a debt to Clyta Faith Richardson, who helped bring the denomination’s lawmaking assembly into the computer age. She died April 21 in Watertown, Massachusetts, at the age of 104.
Her late husband H. Neil Richardson was a noted Old Testament professor. Richardson, who went by Faith, left her own mark on the church. She served as secretary of a local church, administrative assistant to the late Bishop James K. Mathews and secretary to the Council of Bishops. In 1984 and 1988, she was secretary of the General Conference — essentially the top organizer of the big meeting.
During the 1988 gathering, she worked with computer programmer John Brawn to create an electronic database to track petitions submitted to the denomination’s top lawmaking body. The Petitions Entry and Tracking System, or PETS, served as the predecessor for the current online tracking system.
“That legislative tracking system was put into place in 1992. Up to that time, the conference killed several hundred trees in the process of sending paper petitions to the legislative assembly,” said the Rev. J. Richard Peck, a veteran staff member of 12 General Conferences.
Photo courtesy of Mitchell-Wiedefield Funeral Home.
Downing Kay, believed to be the longest-lived native Marylander in the state’s history, died May 15 at age 112. As The Baltimore Sun recounts, she also was a lifelong member of what is now The United Methodist Church.
Her memories included dancing to the Victrola, stretching a can of tuna for a week during the Great Depression and tending to her World War II victory garden.
In the last years of her life, the former schoolteacher lived in Towson’s Pickersgill Retirement Community, where she delighted in playing Scrabble and taking Zumba classes.
Kay was a longtime member of Grace United Methodist Church in Baltimore, where she regularly attended worship until the last two years of her life.
“She had a real love of community and so she really attended to people,” said the Rev. Amy McCullough, the congregation’s lead pastor. “She had a sparkling personality. She was someone who loved life, and you could tell that. She also loved God and loved the church.”
Photo courtesy of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference.
Marie White Webb
Marie White Webb dropped out of college to support her husband’s United Methodist ministry and later became a pioneering church historian in her own right. She died peacefully May 18 in Prairie Village, Kansas, at the age of 99.
Twice widowed, she was preceded in death by her husband of more than 50 years, the Rev. James Kerr White, and then her second husband, Bishop Lance Webb.
In her own way, Webb was a minister too. She taught Sunday school for children and youth, volunteered with many United Methodist Women units and served as president of the Ministers’ Wives Association.
After her youngest entered kindergarten, she went back to school, ultimately earning a master’s degree with honors in U.S. history. Her thesis led to the publication of “The Methodist Antislavery Struggle in the Land of Lincoln,” in the journal Methodist History. She later served as chair of what is now the Illinois Great Rivers Conference Commission on Archives and History — the first woman in that role. She also helped organize the Dirksen Congressional Research Center, which supports scholarly research on the U.S. Congress.
“Marie was a delightful person,” said the Rev. Miley Palmer, a retired Illinois Great Rivers Conference pastor who shared her interest in church history. “She wrote well. I always looked forward to getting a letter from her, especially at Christmastime. The letters she wrote were just real gems.”
Photo courtesy of the United States House of Representatives via Wikimedia Commons.
Former U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson
Former U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson’s national service spanned years as an Air Force pilot, a prisoner of war and a Republican member of Congress. The United Methodist also was a devoted alumnus of Southern Methodist University, which used his $100,000 donation to create a scholarship for military veterans in his name.
He died of natural causes May 27 in the Dallas suburb of Plano, Texas, at age 89.
Johnson flew combat missions during the Korean and Vietnam wars. After the North Vietnamese struck down his plane in 1966, he endured torture and captivity as a prisoner of war for nearly seven years. For a time, he shared a cell at the Hanoi Hilton with the late U.S. Sen. John McCain — though the two would have a chilly relationship in later years.
After his release, Johnson directed the Air Force Fighter Weapons School, better known as “Top Gun” institute. After retiring as a colonel, he eventually entered politics. He won a seat in Congress in a 1991 special election and earned a reputation as one of the body’s most staunch conservatives during his 25 years there.
Former President George W. Bush, a fellow United Methodist, said in a statement: “Laura and I are grateful for this man of humility and patriotism, and we take comfort knowing that he is with his beloved wife, Shirley, again.”
Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News.
Yed Esaie Angoran, who served for decades in Côte d’Ivoire’s first independent government and was a leader in The United Methodist Church, died June 13 after a heart attack. He was 73.
He served as a minister of multiple government agencies under Félix Houphouët-Boigny, the country’s first president. He later served as spokesman for Côte d'Ivoire’s National Reconciliation Forum, a body created to resolve the country’s political and social tensions following a coup d'état, two civil wars and the advent of a civilian government.
Angoran’s governmental experience served him in good stead as he took on various leadership roles in the global United Methodist Church. He helped develop United Methodist missions in Senegal and Cameroon, was board president of United Methodist University in Côte d’Ivoire, and served as publishing coordinator of the Africa-French Edition of The Upper Room. He also was a delegate to each General Conference since 2012.
“Angoran was knowledgeable and a key leader in the conversations leading to our integration into the United Methodist family in 2008 and to the ongoing relationships with the global connection,” said Côte d’Ivoire’s Bishop Benjamin Boni.
Photo courtesy of Hecker-Parton Funeral Home.
Betty Ann Boulton
At age 5, Betty Ann Fisher Boulton began taking piano lessons and by age 12, she was a church organist. Her musical gifts also led to meeting her husband, the future United Methodist Bishop Edwin C. Boulton.
She died July 15 at age 88 at Mercy Hospital in Canton, Ohio, from complications following surgery. Her husband of more than 50 years preceded her in death in 2000.
The two met when he was a student pastor and she accompanied the choral productions he directed. Her musical career thrived as she followed her husband from one appointment to another with her serving as church organist and piano teacher. One older gentleman was so impressed with her, he rallied the town to buy her a grand piano.
She returned to college for a more systematic study of the pipe organ, ultimately receiving her Master of Music degree in organ performance in 1992 and performing in concerts across the United States.
The Rev. Lisa Boulton said that lifelong passion for learning inspired her to enter seminary at age 45 and earn her M. Div.
“My mother taught me by example: We are never too old to learn, grow and become more loving, compassionate, forgiving and present to social justice,” the younger Boulton said.
Photo courtesy of the Rodriguez family.
The Rev. Daniel Z. Rodríguez
The Rev. Daniel Z. Rodríguez, a widely known and beloved United Methodist Hispanic/Latino leader, died July 19 in San Antonio. He was 88.
During a 50-year ministry as a pastor, Rodríguez served as a district superintendent, conference council director and executive director of MARCHA, the Hispanic/Latino caucus in The United Methodist Church. He influenced three generations of lay and clergy leaders in mission with Hispanic/Latino communities in the United States and Puerto Rico.
His advocacy for mission with the growing Hispanic/Latino community was key in the United Methodist effort to develop ethnic local churches. While he answered the call to wider service in the general church, he was most devoted to serving as a pastor and other appointments in his beloved home Rio Grande Conference.
“For many of us who were privileged to share in ministry with the Rev. Daniel Z. Rodríguez, our fondest memory of him is as a caring mentor and role model,” wrote his friend, retired Bishop Joel N. Martinez. “His good counsel, his honest feedback, and his smiles and laughter were gifts we can never repay.”
Photo courtesy of The Tennessean obituaries online.
Ruth R. Handy
Ruth R. Handy, wife for nearly 50 years of the late Bishop William Talbot Handy Jr., died July 20 in Nashville, Tennessee.
Handy grew up in New Orleans and earned a bachelor’s degree from Dillard University, where she met her future husband. The university is one of the 11 schools supported by The United Methodist Church’s Black College Fund.
She played an integral role in her husband’s ministry as pastor and later bishop. She headed Sunday school programs, sang in the choir, worked with United Methodist Women and organized retreats for the wives of ministers and bishops.
She also was an elementary school and later physical education teacher. Like her husband, she also broke racial barriers and was the first African American teacher at Nashville’s Crieve Hall Elementary School. She also was a devoted member of the city’s Clark Memorial United Methodist Church.
Her survivors include her three children Mercedes Cowley, Deedie Davis and the Rev. Stephen Handy, lead pastor of McKendree United Methodist Church in downtown Nashville.
“Ruth Handy invested in women, particularly pastor's wives and United Methodist Women, because she understood the difficulty and necessity of being authentically who God designed you to be,” her three children said in a statement. “In her mind, there were no limits to what a woman could achieve in the church, regardless of the historical labels and barriers put before them.”
Photo courtesy of Africa University.
Kent McCuskey Weeks
Kent McCuskey Weeks, an attorney and educator, took the idea of a United Methodist university for all of Africa and gave it structure. He died July 30 in Nashville, Tennessee, at the age of 82.
Weeks crafted the legal blueprint and guided the creation of the legal entities that make up Africa University today. He also helped draft the legislation that the Parliament of Zimbabwe approved, permitting the first private university to operate in the southern African nation.
Weeks, who taught higher education law at Vanderbilt University for 25 years, also became a major donor to Africa University. He and his wife, Karen H. Weeks, established an endowed scholarship fund to support at least one Africa University student annually in perpetuity. In his honor, the university named the library’s Kent M. Weeks History and Archives Hall.
“We will always remember Dr. Weeks for his invaluable legal expertise… for being a great negotiator who played a pivotal role in negotiating with the Zimbabwean government for the Africa University Charter, and for his visionary work in establishing the governance structures of the university,” said Africa University Vice Chancellor Munashe Furusa.
Photo courtesy of the World Association for Christian Communication.
The Rev. William F. Fore
The Rev. William F. Fore, an ordained United Methodist minister from the California-Pacific Conference, was a television pioneer who aimed for the public airwaves to serve the public interest. He died July 30 in Dallas at the age of 92.
In 1953, Fore — who went by Bill — produced the first children’s religious TV program in the U.S. and shortly after brought “Exploring God’s World” to CBS. He would go on to lead film and television ministries for what is now the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.
Starting in1964, Fore served as executive director of the broadcasting and film commission of the National Council of Churches —a post he held for a quarter century. When Black Mississippians began boycotting local television station WLBT-TV in 1969 after the station refused to give airtime to a Black gubernatorial candidate, Fore secured ecumenical support for the lawsuit that ultimately cost the station its license.
He later played a key role in the early days of U.S. public broadcasting as chairperson of the Advisory Council of National Organizations to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. He also co-founded the National Coalition against Censorship, which aids libraries and other organizations facing censorship of books and films.
“Bill trained as a musician and could have pursued a professional music career,” said Nelson Price, Fore’s longtime friend who worked with him on TV programs. “Instead, his passion was communication and how the church could communicate effectively and make the communications media in our country serve the public.”
Photo courtesy of the Council of Bishops.
Bishop John K. Yambasu
United Methodists remember Sierra Leone Area Bishop John K. Yambasu for his courage, leadership and love of The United Methodist Church and Jesus Christ. He died in a car accident Aug. 16 while on the way to preach at a funeral. He was 63.
Yambasu had many titles — bishop, chancellor of Africa University and president of the Africa College of Bishops. But the one he most cherished was beloved child of God.
United Methodists around the world praised his faithful leadership in bringing together a diverse group of United Methodists to collaborate on a proposed agreement for separating the denomination, called the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation. They also recalled his leadership during the worst Ebola outbreak in history, a deadly landslide and more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic.
Born in southern Sierra Leone, Bishop Yambasu studied at United Methodist mission schools. He was ordained a deacon in 1987 and an elder in 1990.
He served churches in Moyamba and Freetown until he began to focus on Christian education and youth ministry. He also was the Sierra Leone Conference's director for Christian education and youth ministries and founded the Child Rescue Centre in Sierra Leone, serving as its executive director until he became a regional missionary in 2000. He was elected a bishop in 2008 and installed in 2009.
“Bishop Yambasu was a great visionary leader. Bishop Yambasu was a great fighter for the church,” said the Rev. Francis Charley, dean of the Sierra Leone cabinet. “In many instances, human as he was, though, he taught us many things. That’s why today we can stand for the church.”
Sparkman-Hillcrest Funeral Home, Legacy.com.
Martha Carson Hardt, wife for 73 years of the late Bishop John Wesley Hardt, died Aug. 22 at the age of 99.
A native of the East Texas town of Malakoff, she earned degrees from the two-year United Methodist-related Lon Morris College, where she met her future husband, and Southern Methodist University. They married when he was a seminary student at SMU.
She supported her husband as he served appointments across the Texas Conference and during his assignment as bishop of the Oklahoma and Oklahoma Indian Missionary conferences.
In 1988, after the bishop’s retirement, the two moved to Dallas where she joined First United Methodist Church and its Aldersgate Sunday School class. The Hardts also made repeated mission trips abroad, with a focus on Zimbabwe and Indonesia, and were dedicated supporters of the Lydia Patterson Institute in El Paso, Texas.
“Her involvement with the Aldersgate Sunday School class rooted them further in their Methodist roots,” said the Rev. Andy Stoker, senior minister of First United Methodist in Dallas.
“The class became more informed and greater stewards of the vision for a globally connected denomination. With Martha’s faithful service to the global United Methodist Church, we all became grounded in a passion for a radically-inclusive, missionally-minded local church.”
Photo courtesy of the Council of Bishops.
Bishop J. Woodrow Hearn
Bishop J. Woodrow Hearn led two U.S. conferences and traveled the world as president of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, helping to revive Methodism in what was then the Soviet Union.
Hearn, who went by Woody, died Aug. 31 at home in Galveston Texas, after a recent diagnosis of melanoma. He was 89.
The bishop’s early career as an ordained elder was in the Louisiana Conference, where he was a pastor in Lafayette, Shreveport, New Orleans and Baton Rouge. He was serving Elysian Fields Methodist Church in New Orleans, when Hurricane Betsy clobbered the city on Sept. 9, 1965. He worked closely with the New Orleans Catholic Archbishop Philip Hannan on relief efforts.
In 1984, the South Central Jurisdictional Conference elected Hearn bishop and assigned him to the Nebraska Conference, where he served for eight years. He then served the Houston-based Texas Conference until his retirement in 2000.
During his tenure as bishop, Hearn was on the board of Global Ministries, serving as president from 1988 to 1992. Hearn was a force for United Methodist missions but also cherished and nurtured ecumenical relationships.
“His true love was the body of Christ, without any other tags on it,” said son Bruce Hearn, chaplain at Wesley Prep school in Dallas.
Photo by Maile Bradfield, UM News.
The Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell
The Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell called himself a “foot soldier” in the U.S. civil rights movement. However, many across his beloved United Methodist Church regard him as a general for justice.
He died of cancer Sept. 4 in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He was 86.
Caldwell participated in many of the civil rights movement’s landmark events — the March on Washington in 1963, the Mississippi Freedom Summer voter drives in 1964, the March from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965 and the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign. He marched alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1965 to protest school segregation in Boston.
Within his denomination, Caldwell — a co-founder of Black Methodists for Church Renewal and member of the Reconciling Ministries Network — also took an activist role.
He tirelessly and nonviolently advocated for both racial and LGBTQ equality — even when doing so put him at odds with prevailing state and church laws. As Caldwell saw it, he was following the call of Jesus to be inclusive.
“Gil’s passion for equality, justice and inclusiveness inspired others to embrace his dream of beloved community,” said the Rev. Don Messer, president emeritus of Iliff School of Theology in Denver and Caldwell’s friend of more than 56 years.
“He experienced personally the hatred of racism, but never failed to express love.”
Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News.
Gary Wayne Locklear retired three times but always rose to the occasion when called back into service in the North Carolina Conference, said his wife, Panthia. He died Sept. 10 from COVID-19 at age 72.
This June, the conference honored him for serving as conference lay leader for the past eight years.
A lifelong member of Sandy Plains United Methodist Church in Pembroke, North Carolina, Locklear taught Sunday school for more than 50 years and took on multiple lay leadership roles. He served as a home missioner, a United Methodist layman called to ministries of love, justice and service.
The Locklears are members of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, the state’s largest tribe and the ninth-largest non-federally recognized Native American tribe in the U.S. Friends say his heritage played an important role in his commitment to ministry. He did mission work in South Carolina, Alaska, Guatemala, Russia and Bolivia. In Bolivia, he laid brick for a rural health clinic that now serves 50,000 people. He also led disaster relief efforts after hurricanes Matthew and Florence.
“Gary was all about discipleship — his own discipleship and encouraging the discipleship of others,” North Carolina Conference Bishop Hope Morgan Ward said in a video tribute.
Photo courtesy of Glenn Schowengert.
Ina E. Schowengerdt, wife for more than 46 years of the late Bishop Louis Wesley Schowengerdt, loved music and The United Methodist Church. As she supported her husband’s ministry and raised two sons, she lived out both passions.
Schowengerdt died Sept. 16 at age 94 in St. Joseph, Missouri. After their marriage in 1951, she and her husband moved to St. Joseph where the future bishop founded Ashland United Methodist Church from the merger of two small congregations.
Schowengerdt, who played the bassoon and contrabassoon, toured with the Kansas City Philharmonic and St. Joseph Symphony. She later played with the St. Louis Symphony and St. Louis Opera. She left her musical career after her husband’s election as bishop to support him in his assignment to lead the New Mexico and Northwest Texas conferences.
After his passing, she returned to St. Joseph.
“She had a very deep faith, and church was very important to her,” said her son Glenn L. Schowengerdt. “After dad’s death, she wanted to be part of a Methodist church but had to have one with a strong choir. That led her back to Ashland.”
Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News.
The Rev. Hae-Jong Kim
Former United Methodist bishop Hae-Jong Kim died Nov. 3 in Fort Lee, New Jersey, after a long illness. He was 85.
Kim was considered a pioneer, planting Korean immigrant churches with zeal. He planted the first Korean church in New Jersey and 15 other Korean churches, including the Korean Community Church of New Jersey, and provided direct and indirect support to those churches.
But his ministry was not without controversy. Elected to the episcopacy in 1992, he served the New York West and Western Pennsylvania conferences before retiring in 2004 and then resigning as part of the resolution of a complaint filed against him.
The details of the January 2005 disciplinary complaint were kept confidential. As part of the resolution process, he resigned as bishop while retaining his clergy credentials. He resumed his ministry as a pastor of Alpine Community Church in 2008.
“Through his dedication, sacrifice, support and encouragement, the Korean church grew and bore fruit,” said the Rev. Sang-Kong Choi, pastor of Christ United Methodist Church of North Huntingdon in White Oak, Pennsylvania.
Photo courtesy of Alexander Funeral Home North Chapel, Legacy.com.
Polly Anne Hodapp
Polly Anne Hodapp — the wife for 58 years of the late Bishop Leroy C. Hodapp — was born five years before the Great Depression and died in Evansville, Indiana, just two days before her 96th birthday.
She met her future husband when they were students at what is now the University of Evansville, a United Methodist-related college. They married after he graduated from the theological school at Drew University in New Jersey.
She served at his side as the bishop led conferences in Illinois and Indiana. She also traveled to countries on every continent except Antarctica.
“She was unpretentious and had the gift of making you feel at ease whether it was at an annual conference, a Council of Bishops meeting, or in her living room,” retired Bishop John L. Hopkins said.
“Wherever Leroy was traveling, he called Polly nightly to check in and tell her how much he loved her. Their personal devotion to each other reflected their love for Jesus and his church.”
Photo courtesy of Faith and Intelligence Publishing House, Seoul, Korea.
The Rev. George Ogle
During his years in South Korea, the Rev. George Ogle was referred to by many titles: missionary, evangelist, organizer, educator, father of Korean workers and poor people, and a strong advocate of the Korean democracy movement.
Ogle, whose Korean name was Myung-geol Oh, died Nov. 15 at the age of 91. Earlier this year, the government of the Republic of Korea recognized him with the People’s Medal for his contribution toward Korean human rights and democracy.
Ogle first went to South Korea in 1954, soon after his ordination in a predecessor of The United Methodist Church. He spent most of the next two decades ministering in the country. But in 1974, the Korean government deported Ogle after he spoke for eight young men who were falsely accused and sentenced to death. Back in the United States, he did what he could to bring attention to the case and support the Korean people.
“He was an apostle of justice and a model who took the cross of Jesus Christ and lived faithfully to the call of Christ,” said the Rev. Kil Sang Yoon, retired from the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.
Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News.
The Rev. William Bobby McClain
The Rev. William Bobby McClain, the Black theologian and civil rights leader who championed the United Methodist worship book “Songs of Zion,” died after a short illness on Nov. 18. He was 82.
As a teenage pastor, McClain met the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Montgomery, Alabama. After completing seminary at United Methodist Boston University School of Theology, he returned to Alabama in 1962 to work with King and to serve as pastor of Haven Chapel Methodist Church in Anniston.
He would go on to be pastor of the historic and influential congregations Union United Methodist Church in Boston and Tindley Temple United Methodist Church in Philadelphia.
Throughout his ministry, he also remained a committed scholar and teacher. In 1978, he established and served as the executive director of the Multi-Ethnic Center for Ministry at Drew University, Madison, New Jersey. In 1999, he was named to the Mary Elizabeth McGehee Joyce Chair in Preaching and Worship at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington. He retired in 2013 as professor emeritus.
He also chaired the committee that produced the hymnbook “Songs of Zion,” which sold more than 2.5 million copies.
The Rev. David McAllister-Wilson, president of Wesley Theological Seminary, said McClain was one of the last of the young leaders of the civil rights movement.
“What will be the legacy of Dr. William B. McClain?” McAllister-Wilson said. “About 2 million biblically grounded, theologically sound, prophetically and pastorally infused sermons have been shaped by the teaching of Dr. McClain.”
Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for UM News. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]. Information for this story was compiled from reports by UM News staff Kathy L. Gilbert, the Rev. Thomas Kim, Sam Hodges, Linda Bloom, Eveline Chikwanah, Jim Patterson, Tim Tanton and Isaac Broune.
Deborah Coble of the West Virginia Conference, David Burke of Great Plains Conference, and Yvette Moore of United Methodist Women also contributed.
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