United Methodists over the past 12 months have marked the passing of influential church leaders, the inventor of a beloved children’s toy, and the woman believed to be the last remaining U.S. Civil War widow.
Here are 39 remembrances, listed in order of date of death. This list includes five deaths from late 2020.
Helen Viola Jackson
Helen Viola Jackson, a charter member of the Elkland Independent Methodist Church in Marshfield, Missouri, was believed to be the last remaining U.S. Civil War widow when she died Dec. 16, 2020, at age 101.
So how is it that a war widow died more than 150 years after that war’s conclusion? The Great Depression offers one explanation.
Jackson grew up one of 10 children on a farm near Marshfield. When she was a teenager in the 1930s, her father asked her to do chores and provide care each day for James Bolin, an elderly widower and Civil War veteran who fought for the Union in the border state of Missouri. With no funds to pay her back, Bolin offered to marry Jackson instead so she could receive his soldier’s pension.
She was 17, and he was 93 and in failing health when they wed in 1936. He survived for three more years. They never lived together, and after he died, she did not apply for his pension. In an oral history, Jackson later said she never spoke of the wedding to protect Bolin’s reputation as well as her own.
She also never remarried. But she did keep the Civil War-era Bible that Bolin gave her, which contains the only known record of their marriage. That record was good enough for various heritage organizations when she finally shared her story in 2017.
Beyond her role in American history, Jackson was involved in both church and civic life. She helped organize the Cherry Blossom Festival in Marshfield. The ladies’ ministry at Elkland Independent Methodist bears her name. She also gave the church its grand piano.
“Helen was very instrumental in the development of our new church,” said Nicholas Inman, the church’s pastor and her longtime friend. The congregation left The United Methodist Church about 12 years ago.
“She was instrumental in service. She organized funeral dinners and would help prepare communion if needed. She was faithful to be in Sunday church as long as her health permitted.”
Elizabeth Anne Connaughton Hearn, wife of the late Bishop J. Woodrow Hearn, met her future husband while competing on the Louisiana Tech University debate team. She went on to graduate summa cum laude from the university in Ruston, Louisiana, with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and accounting.
She died Dec. 17 in Galveston, Texas, at age 89. She was laid to rest Jan. 2 next to her husband in Ruston, where their relationship began. Her husband of 68 years preceded her in death by four months.
Hearn — who went by Anne — was a much in-demand Sunday school teacher and frequently led classes at various schools of Christian mission. As a pastor’s wife, she also made sure the parsonage was open to all. Her radical hospitality continued as her husband became bishop in Nebraska and then the Houston-based Texas Conference. Her fondest memories included inviting the entire annual conference for a cake and ice cream social.
Throughout her life, she also assisted numerous nonprofits, serving as board member with Wesley Community Center in Houston and the Lydia Patterson Institute in El Paso, Texas. She and her husband also raised five children.
“Mrs. Anne Hearn was a gentle and kind woman who loved her family,” Texas Conference’s Bishop Scott Jones told the conference. “She faithfully supported Bishop Hearn’s ministry and influenced many with her faith and her love. She will be missed by many.”
The Rev. Mark Beeson
The Rev. Mark Beeson and his wife, Sheila, began Granger Community Church in their living room in 1986. Over the decades, the congregation grew into one of the largest in The United Methodist Church with more than 3,000 in weekly attendance and a multi-campus ministry. Beeson himself was recognized with the Foundation for Evangelism’s Distinguished Evangelist award in 2013.
He died Dec. 17 after a 15-month battle with pancreatic cancer.
Until his retirement in 2019, Granger Community Church remained part of the United Methodist fold. But last year, the megachurch negotiated an agreement with the Indiana Conference to depart the denomination so the congregation could select Beeson’s successor rather than accept a bishop-appointed pastor.
Nevertheless, United Methodists remember Beeson as someone who contributed much to the denomination. His alma mater United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, awarded Beeson a Highly Distinguished Ministry award for his many contributions to the church and community.
“In the church world, Mark was one of the most creative and innovative ministers I know and one of the first to develop high-quality contemporary services, which are now commonplace throughout the nation,” said the Rev. Kent Millard, United’s president and former pastor of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Indianapolis.
“Granger grew so rapidly because of Mark’s focus on ministering to children, youth and families and on meeting the spiritual needs of working-class people.”
The Rev. Kelly Bender
While a college student, the Rev. Kelly Byron Bender helped register Black voters in Mississippi in 1965 and that same year he participated in a sit-in in the Kansas governor’s office on behalf of fair-housing legislation. That commitment to civil rights shaped his ministry. The United Methodist pastor died Dec. 23 at age 74 in Phoenix.
The native of Pratt, Kansas, served multiple Kansas churches and helped create the first hospice care center in Manhattan, Kansas. After eight years as pastor of the city’s College Avenue United Methodist Church, he influenced the appointment of the Rev. Fred Allen as successor. Allen was the first Black pastor to an all-white congregation in Kansas and in the South Central Jurisdiction.
Bender later took an appointment in the Desert Southwest Conference, where he retired in 2012. However, he continued to serve as pastor to the United Methodist Outreach Ministries’ New Day Centers homeless shelters in Phoenix. In 2018, he came out of retirement to accept an appointment as senior pastor of First United Methodist in Tempe, Arizona. He was still serving in that role at the time of his death.
“It was a tremendous challenge to follow behind the pastoral ministry of Kelly Bender, who was such a dynamic and beloved pastor of College Avenue UMC,” said Allen, who is now retired after leading the denomination’s Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century.
“Had it not been for Kelly’s prophetic teaching and preaching themes of social justice, dismantling of systemic racism and his modeling of inclusivity, my appointment to College Avenue UMC could not have gotten off the ground.”
Ann Fort, a Colorado United Methodist, embarked on her first trip to Kenya as a 74-year-old widow. She returned 19 times, often leading fellow United Methodists on mission teams.
She made her last trip in 2019 at the age of 95 and bade farewell to her Kenyan friends, saying the next time she hoped to meet them was “on the other side, in heaven.”
Fort died about a year later on Dec. 24 at the age of 96 after a brief battle with cancer. She was a longtime member of Hope United Methodist Church in Greenwood Village, Colorado.
Fort, affectionately known as “Mama Kenya,” leaves a legacy of schools, water projects, churches, orphan care, university scholarships and medical assistance. She established the Ann Fort Kenya Fund through the United Methodist-related Center for Health and Hope.
“She planned (so) her mission work would continue,” said the Rev. Donald E. Messer, the center’s executive director. “AIDS orphans are going to school, and even college, because her compassion extended beyond her lifetime. She not only loved singing ‘This Little Light of Mine,’ but she intended it to keep it shining!”
Professor Munashe Furusa
Church leaders remember Professor Munashe Furusa as a champion for educational access for underprivileged students and an important voice for United Methodist-related higher education.
Africa University’s fourth vice chancellor died suddenly Jan. 13 in Mutare, Zimbabwe. He was 59.
As vice chancellor, he held a role at the pan-African United Methodist university that is the equivalent of a U.S. university president. Furusa, who took on that role in 2014, was shaped by his experience as the first person in his family to obtain a higher education degree.
He served as dean of the College of Arts and Humanities at California State University, Dominquez Hills, before being named vice chancellor. He held a Doctor of Philosophy degree in African Literature and Critical Theory, a Master of Arts and a Bachelor of Arts Honors in English, all from the University of Zimbabwe, as well as a diploma in education from Bondolfi Teachers College in Masvingo, Zimbabwe.
“Innovation was his middle name,” said James H. Salley, associate vice chancellor for Institutional Advancement for Africa University.
“Furusa set up an innovation hub on the campus that allowed opportunities for students and faculty to bring new ideas to us and have the hub turn those innovations into realities.”
Patrick Matsikenyiri — hymn writer, song leader and world-renowned music teacher — died Jan. 15 in Mutare, Zimbabwe, of complications related to COVID-19. He was 83.
Matsikenyiri, a native of what is now Zimbabwe, was a global ambassador for African sacred music, working with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, the World Council of Churches and various ecumenical organizations. He helped put together the hymnal “Ngoma: dze United Methodist Church Ye Zimbabwe,” among other African music collections. He also was a hymn writer in his own right with his compositions, such as “Tino Tenda, Jesu (Thank You, Jesus),” included in U.S. United Methodist songbooks.
However, many United Methodists may know him best as a founding director of Africa University’s choir, which has performed at multiple annual conferences and regularly brightens the mood at the denomination’s General Conference. He also established the pan-African United Methodist university’s music education program, the first of its kind in Zimbabwe.
The Rev. C. Michael Hawn, professor emeritus of church music at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, considered Matsikenyiri a valued friend.
“Patrick Matsikenyiri was nurtured and encouraged by Methodist missionaries who led a movement to help shape a United Methodist Church that was Wesleyan and African in spirit and song,” Hawn said. “The songs he composed, the choirs he nourished, and the students he taught gave witness to a vibrant faith under the most difficult of political and social circumstances in Zimbabwe.”
Dennis Bradley Kiesey, who went by Brad, grew up on a 40-acre farm in Washington County, Iowa, and was an avid musician. He played saxophone in dance bands across the country and sang in his high school choir.
He was practicing law when met his wife, future Bishop Deborah Lieder Kiesey, who shared his love of music. He continued to practice law in Washington County as his wife took on different clergy appointments, including serving as bishop of the Dakotas and Michigan conferences before her retirement in 2016.
He died Jan. 27 in Iowa City, surrounded by family after an eight-month battle with cancer. He was 75.
In addition to his integrity and skills as an attorney, friends remember him for his generosity and wide range of interests. He served with Washington Kiwanis AMers, Old Capitol Barbershop Chorus, United Methodist Men, Southeast Iowa Antique Car Club and various church choirs over the years.
“Brad’s deep faith was evidenced by his willingness to always be of assistance to others,” wrote Bishop Laurie Haller, who leads the Iowa and Dakotas conferences. “I am deeply grateful for the goodness of Brad’s life, the love that he had for his children and grandchildren, and the many lives that were transformed by his grace and kindness.”
Bishop F. Herbert Skeete
Bishop F. Herbert Skeete stepped up to serve in whatever way the church needed. The retired United Methodist bishop died Feb. 11 at age 90.
In his 16 years as an active bishop, Skeete carried out a long-sought conference merger, supported global missions and played a key role in making the vision for Africa University a reality.
Skeete — who went by Herb — was bishop of the Philadelphia Episcopal Area, encompassing the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, from his election in 1980 to 1988, and then bishop of the Boston Area until his retirement in 1996. In the Boston Area, he oversaw the union of three conferences into what is now the New England Conference.
As president of the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, Skeete shepherded the proposal for Africa University in Zimbabwe through the denomination’s decision-making. He later was president of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, where he continued to champion world Methodism.
In retirement, the bishop continued to serve, acting as mentor and taking on interim roles whenever called. That included serving as interim pastor of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Harlem and later interim bishop in Zimbabwe.
“As a bishop, he was always pastor to the people,” said retired Bishop Ernest Lyght. “I experienced him as colleague and as friend — one who was willing to give you advice if that is what you asked for, but he did it in a calm and friendly manner.”
The Rev. Thomas Butts Jr.
The Rev. Thomas Lane Butts Jr., an outspoken pastor who put his ministry on the line during the civil rights movement, died Feb. 15 at age 90.
Butts served United Methodist congregations in Illinois, Florida and Alabama and served as a district superintendent in the Alabama-West Florida Conference in 1972-76.
His most harrowing experience came as a young pastor in the late 1950s in Mobile, Alabama. Butts joined an interracial group of clergy in signing a petition calling for the desegregation of Mobile city buses. Members of the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross on his parsonage lawn and then burned another cross on the church lawn. Church members withheld their offering.
However, Butts persisted in ministry through those difficult days. He eventually became pastor and later pastor emeritus of First United Methodist Church in Monroeville, Alabama. His parishioners included two of the area’s most well-known residents — Alice Lee, a pioneering lawyer, and her younger sister, “To Kill a Mockingbird” author Harper Lee.
“Tom Butts was a consummate pastor; a powerful, convincing preacher, and an innovative congregational and community trailblazer,” said Jan Love, friend and dean of Emory University’s Candler School of Theology.
“As a curious and well-read intellectual, he was a delightful conversationalist but always accessible to those with or without much education. He cared passionately about the health and well-being of the communities in which he served, which led him to support a range of work related to social and racial justice. In many respects, he was one of a kind, the likes of which are rare to behold and a joy to encounter.”
The Rev. Junius Dotson
The Rev. Junius B. Dotson, the top executive of Discipleship Ministries, died Feb. 25, less than a month after announcing his battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 55.
His sudden passing brought together United Methodists of varied theological views in an outpouring of grief and love for a leader whose ministry touched lives across the denomination.
Before coming to Discipleship Ministries in 2016, Dotson was both a church planter and megachurch pastor. Those experiences served him good stead when, under his leadership, Discipleship Ministries introduced the “See All the People” initiative. He also held multiple denominational leadership roles in addition to helming the agency devoted to disciple-making.
He was one of 16 church leaders who negotiated the Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation, the widely endorsed proposal that seeks to resolve the longtime United Methodist debate over homosexuality through a denominational split. He hoped to create a pathway for LGBTQ people to be included in all aspects of United Methodist life. He also was a leader in the denomination’s effort to dismantle racism.
“He had an indelible way of pulling leaders to their full potential,” said his fiancée Toska Medlock Lee, who has known Dotson since they were undergraduates at the University of Texas at Arlington. “His other legacy is his ability to see a hopeful future for our denomination.”
John A. Lovelace held multiple key posts, including editor of the United Methodist Reporter, in a long journalism career covering religion. He covered eight General Conferences, among them the 1968 Uniting Conference that formed The United Methodist Church. He died March 9 at age 89 in Dallas.
He was associate editor for the Fort Worth, Texas-based All Church Press, a nondenominational newspaper, when he covered the Uniting Conference. Later that year, he joined the new denomination’s staff as news editor of Together and Christian Advocate. He would go on to serve as founding editor of Newscope, a United Methodist Publishing House newsletter that has since ceased publication. In 1981, he joined the staff of the independent newspaper United Methodist Reporter and retired as its editor in 1997. UMR closed in 2013.
Over the course of his career, Lovelace served as mentor to multiple journalists who covered the changing landscape of Methodism. Among those who relied on his advice was Garlinda Burton, former director of United Methodist News and a deaconess.
“He was always direct and passionate, yet thoughtful and patient, and he taught me how to love the church by telling the truth about its triumphs and failings,” Burton said. “He also could work stale puns in ways that made me double over with laughter! John taught me to be a better writer and chronicler of the church in action, and I will always be grateful to him.”
Ida Mae Cumbest
Ida Mae Cumbest — who died March 9 at age 99 — played at her own funeral at Caswell Springs United Methodist Church in Moss Point, Mississippi.
She started taking piano as a 6-year-old in hopes of playing for the church. She got her wish and began playing piano and organ in 1942 at what is now Caswell Springs United Methodist. She would go on to accompany services at the church for 75 years, and she earned the Guinness Record in 2011 as the longest-tenured church pianist and organist in the world. The record held for five years.
A 1992 video recording of Cumbest playing some of her favorite hymns accompanied her funeral service.
Her son, Mark Cumbest, told the Biloxi Sun Herald that he estimated his mother played music for more than 11,000 weddings, funerals and worship services. She also played for 58 years at the baccalaureate services of a local high school, and provided music for the Salem Methodist Camp Meeting.
“She never asked for payment,” her pastor, the Rev. Kevin Trantham, told the newspaper. “That’s such a foreign concept in this day and time.”
Andy Turner Arant Sr., a longtime leader at various levels of The United Methodist Church, died March 17 at age 86.
A member of Indianola First United Methodist Church in Mississippi, Arant — called “Turner” by his friends — served his congregation, the Mississippi Conference and larger denomination.
At various points, he was a General Conference delegate, United Methodist Committee on Relief board member and member of the Connectional Table, which coordinates denomination-wide ministries. He also served with the United Methodist Higher Education Foundation and World Methodist Council. He was a member of Gideons International, which provides Bibles worldwide.
One of his greatest joys was the 20 years he spent going to Honduras on medical mission trips.
Arant also was a pioneer in the catfish farm industry and was always happy to talk about how the catfish biz was faring. He helped organize Delta Pride Catfish Processors, Delta Western, Farmers Grain Terminal, Community Bank and served on the board of each of these companies.
“Turner was a pillar of the congregation at Indianola First,” said the Rev. Trey Skaggs, the church’s pastor. “He was a champion of children's/youth ministry as well as international missions. As Turner's life grew to become more and more about seeking the Lord, his deep faith became contagious to all he engaged.”
The Rev. James M. Wall
The Rev. James M. Wall, a United Methodist elder, loved the Christian faith and journalism.
The Georgia native found a way to combine both passions as editor and publisher of The Christian Century — a magazine of U.S. mainline Protestantism — from 1972 to early 1999.
He died March 22 at his home in Elmhurst, Illinois. He was 92.
Wall had special interest in the intersection of faith and modern culture. He began writing movie reviews in the early 1960s, including favorable reviews of then-controversial films like “Bonnie and Clyde” and “The Graduate.” Ultimately, he played a key role in establishing the Motion Picture Association of America’s film rating system. He later wrote about film and faith in one of his three books, “Church and Cinema. A Way of Viewing Film,” as well as in his blog, “Wallwritings.”
“He was a gifted editor,” current Christian Century editor/publisher Peter Marty said in the magazine’s remembrance. “And he had a few very particular and focused passions that caught the admiration, and sometimes the ire, of Century readers.”
The Rev. David Atkinson
Fellow United Methodists remember the Rev. David Atkinson for his warmth, humor and ability to make people smile with his stories — even in challenging times.
Those skills touched lives beyond Collierville United Methodist Church in Tennessee, where he was senior pastor since 2015. Atkinson also volunteered as a General Conference marshal, giving his time to bring calm to some of The United Methodist Church’s most tense moments. His common blessing was, “Be at peace.”
Marshals are responsible for assisting visitors and checking credentials at the denomination’s top lawmaking assembly. Atkinson was organizing the marshals for the coming General Conference.
He died April 7 at age 60 of complications related to COVID-19.
“David loved the church, loved God and wanted to be the best pastor to any church he served,” said his longtime friend, the Rev. Sky McCracken.
Bishop Daniel C. Arichea Jr.
Bishop Daniel C. Arichea Jr. — a Bible scholar who championed full inclusion of LGBTQ people in church life — died June 1 in Taguig, Philippines, of complications related to COVID-19. He was 87.
As a Bible translator, Arichea helped make Scripture more accessible to people in multiple countries, including his native Philippines. In 1969, he joined the United Bible Societies, a worldwide network aimed at increasing access to the Bible. He served as a Bible translation consultant in the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia, and later contributed to the Good News Bible translation in the U.S.
As a bishop, he led United Methodists in the Baguio Episcopal Area in the northern part of the country from 1994 until his retirement in 2000. He also made an impact on the global denomination.
At the time of his death, Arichea was a board member of Reconciling Ministries Network, an advocacy group seeking LGBTQ equality in the church.
“As a gay man, it meant a lot to me that a bishop of the church affirmed me and loved me and accepted me,” said the Rev. Israel I. Alvaran, a Reconciling Ministries Network organizer and Philippines native. Alvaran got to know the bishop when the two were teaching at United Methodist-related Union Theological Seminary in Manila.
“Bishop Danny, for me, was the face of the church that loved unconditionally. He basically exemplified grace in true Methodist fashion.”
James E. Dorff
James E. Dorff, a former United Methodist bishop remembered for his ability to bring people together, died June 7 after a three-year struggle with pancreatic cancer. He was 73.
As bishop, Dorff helped lead the formation of what is now the Rio Texas Conference — bringing together the formerly separate Southwest and Rio Grande conferences into a single, bilingual regional body.
Dorff, called “Jim” by his friends, also guided various denomination-wide ministries. He helped launch Imagine No Malaria — the United Methodist initiative to combat the deadly disease in Africa. He also served as president of the denomination’s Board of Higher Education and Ministry for nearly four years.
Dorff was scheduled to retire in September 2016. But in December 2015, he announced that he was voluntarily resigning as bishop and surrendering his clergy credentials. In his announcement, he admitted to resigning after a complaint was filed. However, United Methodists testify that the nature of his departure should not define Dorff’s ministry.
“He was such a good friend to so many people, and he touched so many people’s lives,” said Mary Brooke Casad, friend and a fellow United Methodist leader from north Texas.
Carolyn Ruth Oehler
Carolyn Ruth Oehler was a passionate advocate for women’s empowerment and racial equality — especially in her beloved United Methodist Church.
Her dissertation examined feminism within the denomination. She later authored the churchwide study on inclusive language titled “Words That Hurt, Words That Heal, Language About God and People” as well as a history of the United Methodist Commission on the Status and Role of Women.
For 10 years, she was executive director of the United Methodist Women-owned Scarritt Bennett Center in Nashville, Tennessee. There, she initiated a citywide “Celebration of Cultures,” now administered by the city. She and center staff also established the “Diversity in Dialogue” program, setting up small groups of mixed races to talk together. The program became the leading diversity-training program in the region.
Oehler died June 13 in Brentwood, Tennessee, at age 80.
“Carolyn was one of the bravest women I have known,” said Garlinda Burton, a deaconess and former top executive of the United Methodist Commission on the Status and Role of Women.
“She challenged Christians to re-imagine the language we use to describe people and the Divine, which broadened our understanding of and relationship with God. She was fearless in challenging institutional sexism in seminaries, in the process of ordaining and licensing clergy, and in the church at large. She pushed doors open for women like me and helped change us all for the better.”
Bishop Joseph H. Yeakel
United Methodist friends remember Bishop Joseph H. Yeakel as a wise, caring leader who did not seek his own glory but instead sought to include others in glorifying God. He also was not afraid of change.
He died July 4 at age 93 with all five of his children by his bedside. He lived at Danbury Woods Senior Living Center in Wooster, Ohio. At the time of his death, Yeakel had been a United Methodist bishop longer than any episcopal leader still living.
In his more than 70 years of ministry, he led the church through a time of significant transition. As head of the Evangelical United Brethren’s Board of Evangelism, he supported the EUB-Methodist union in 1968 to form The United Methodist Church.
Four years later, he was elected bishop. His first assignment from 1972 to 1984 was to the New York West Area, which includes what is now the Upper New York Conference. He next served the Baltimore-Washington and Peninsula-Delaware conferences until his retirement in 1996.
He also served as president of the General Council on Finance and Administration, the denomination’s finance agency, and twice as president of the Board of Church and Society, the denomination’s social-witness agency. His bishop colleagues elected him to serve as Council of Bishops president in 1992-93.
“Bishop Yeakel was a voice for justice and was always one of the first to speak truth when it was most needed,” said Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, current Council of Bishops president, in a statement.
The Rev. Myron Wingfield
Over the years, the Rev. Myron Wingfield wore many hats. He served as a United Methodist pastor, district superintendent, agency executive and most recently as executive director for connectional ministries in his home California-Pacific Conference. But perhaps his greatest impact is seen in the ministries of clergy across the denomination.
Wingfield, although fully vaccinated, died of complications from COVID-19 and pneumonia on July 27 as the delta variant was spiking across the U.S. He already had a compromised immune system. He was 60.
Wingfield grew up in Martinsville, Virginia, where his father served as the pastor of the Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church. After seminary, he moved to California, where he served as pastor and conducted outreach ministries in other countries, including Russia. He also served on the California-Pacific Conference’s board of ordained ministry.
That experience served him well as an executive with the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, overseeing its Division of Ordained Ministry. His work included training district superintendents across the denomination. He also helped administer the Ministerial Education Fund and the Central Conference Theological Education Fund — two denominational funds that support clergy studies.
“Rev. Myron Wingfield excelled in all the roles he served in our United Methodist connection,” said Bishop Grant Hagiya, who leads the California-Pacific and Desert Southwest conferences.
“Myron had so many gifts, but he always brought a sense of humanity and relationship building in all he did. His down-to-earth perspective and sense of humor lightened any meeting or event.”
The Rev. Eddie Fox
The Rev. H. Eddie Fox grew up in the Appalachian foothills and never saw an ocean until he was 21. But as head of World Methodist Evangelism, he traveled millions of miles to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ on every inhabited continent in the world.
Fox, an ordained United Methodist elder in the Holston Conference, died July 28, at age 83, in his hometown of Sevierville, Tennessee.
From 1989 to 2014, Fox led World Methodist Evangelism — a part of the World Methodist Council.
Whether it was delivering bicycles to Cuban pastors, helping local churches in Eastern Europe after communism’s collapse or creating a New Testament edition designed for effective witnessing, Fox created a legacy that is large and lasting. He became synonymous with Methodist evangelism, admirers say.
“He was dynamic and alive with his passion for the gospel, especially evangelism,” said the Rev. Maxie Dunnam, a longtime friend who was on the committee that hired Fox. “There was a sense in which you felt drawn in from the moment you met him.”
Bishop Beverly Shamana
Bishop Beverly Shamana played the piano, directed choirs, turned gourds into works of art and answered a call to ministry that led her to become the second female African American bishop of The United Methodist Church.
Shamana, who oversaw the California-Nevada Conference from 2000 to 2008, died Aug. 1 at home in Eagle Rock, California. She was 81 and died of complications from Parkinson’s disease.
Shamana was born Beverly Martin. While serving as executive secretary for the Commission on the Status and Role of Women in what was then the Pacific and Southwest Conference in the mid-1970s, she answered the call to ordained ministry.
Not long before her ordination, she changed her last name. “I wanted a name that transcended time, space and ethnicity. I wanted a name that was universal,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 2000.
As bishop, she served as president of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society and as a member of the Connectional Table. She traveled with a Council of Bishops peace delegation to Pakistan and the Middle East, and made episcopal visits as well to Angola and to Africa University in Zimbabwe. She also wrote a book for Abingdon Press titled “Seeing in the Dark: A Vision of Creativity and Spirituality.”
Larry Hygh Jr., former communicator for the California-Pacific and California-Nevada conferences, did his doctoral dissertation on the denomination’s first four African American female bishops, including Shamana.
“Bishop Shamana believed in and expressed a collegial form of leadership,” Hygh wrote in a remembrance. “She said, ‘I don’t have to have all of the answers myself, and I believe that wisdom resides in the body, and that the Holy Spirit gives wisdom to all of us.’”
Jeffrey Joe Swenson was a trailblazer, serving as a supportive clergy spouse to his wife at a time when few men took on that role. He and future Bishop Mary Ann Swenson met in 1967, after his service with the U.S. Navy doing rescue work off the coast of Vietnam. He later said it was “love at first sight.”
He earned a fine arts degree from the University of Puget Sound in 1970. Two years later, he did buildings and ground maintenance for the Claremont School of Theology while his wife attended the United Methodist seminary. As the future bishop took on different appointments, he immersed himself in the community, hosted events and volunteered in various ways.
After his wife’s election to the episcopacy in 1992, the two moved to Denver and he volunteered at Bikes and Berries bike shop. The couple received a tandem bike for their 25th wedding anniversary, and they often would ride it together to wherever the bishop was preaching. He also accompanied his wife on world travels as she continued to work with the World Council of Churches in retirement.
Swenson died of cancer Aug. 22 at the couple’s home in Pasadena, California. He was 78. The two were coming up on their 53rd wedding anniversary on Aug. 31.
“That gift of love and Jeff’s own call to ministry have been foundational in every place they have served,” preached the Rev. Kathy Cooper-Ledesma, senior pastor of Hollywood United Methodist Church in Hollywood, California, during the memorial service for Jeff Swenson. The Swensons have attended the church for 10 years.
“Jeff’s way, Jeff’s countenance was steady and supportive and encouraging,” she said.
Ernest “Rip” Patton Jr.
Ernest “Rip” Patton Jr. was a truck driver and jazz musician, a storyteller and singer, a civil rights activist and a persistent practitioner of nonviolence.
Most famously, he was a Freedom Rider in 1961 — putting his life and freedom on the line to desegregate interstate travel. He also was a devoted member of Gordon Memorial United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tennessee. He died Aug. 24 at age 81.
Patton was a student at Tennessee State University when he participated in the Nashville lunch counter sit-ins to protest segregation and unequal service. At age 21, he joined the Freedom Rides. The young, integrated and nonviolent group of bus travelers were met with mob violence in Alabama and prison time in Mississippi.
He became a drummer for the Gordon Memorial choir as well as a truck driver. He also remained a tireless advocate for civil rights, sharing stories of the movement with new generations. In 2014, he also helped start Nashville’s first Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School. He delighted in encouraging young scholars in their education and civic engagement.
“Rip did not share the stories to gain applause and affirmation or even to celebrate the past,” the Rev. Janet Wolf, his friend and fellow United Methodist, wrote in a remembrance. “He sang and told stories, shared words and his witness to gain co-conspirators in creating a common good, a world in which everyone ‘has a right to the tree of life.’”
Zenaida P. Lumba
Zenaida P. Lumba, a deaconess who helped nurture the deaconess movement in the Philippines, died Aug. 26 at age 81.
A deaconess is a laywoman called by God to full-time vocation in ministries of love, justice and service. Deaconesses serve in other parts of the world as well, but the movement especially flourishes in the Philippines.
Lumba was part of that flourishing. She served as president of Harris Memorial College. The school was founded in 1903 specifically to train deaconesses, and Lumba herself was a graduate in 1959. The college has since expanded its offerings under Lumba’s watch.
She also worked as a teacher, registrar and academic dean at the college and started a scholarship trust fund to help those without the means to attend the school. Throughout her ministry, Lumba remained committed to supporting the calling of deaconesses.
“Harris Memorial experienced dynamic change under her administration,” said Eulene Mendillo Granadosin, chair of the Harris Memorial College Alumni Federation and a fellow deaconess. During an online video tribute, Granadosin said Lumba “was a leader who carried the torch fearlessly — unapologetic, decisive, innovative and creative beyond measure.”
The Rev. Stanley Miller
The Rev. Stanley Miller, who led the Cleveland branch of the NAACP for six years, died Sept. 9 of esophageal cancer. The recently retired United Methodist pastor was 73.
Fellow Ohioans remembered the pastor as a beloved preacher, education advocate and civic giant who made his community a better place to live.
He previously served as president of the Warrensville Heights City School District and currently was chair of the East Cleveland City School District Academic Distress Commission, helping to turn around a school system in crisis. He also was a member of the YWCA Anti-Hate Taskforce in Lorain County.
In March, he stepped down as pastor of Wesley United Methodist Church in Lorain and Rust United Methodist Church in Oberlin, Ohio.
“Stan was an activist and an agitator that was admired, even by people with opposing views,” Jeanine Donaldson, executive director of the Elyria YWCA, told the Morning Journal. “Rev. Stan’s death is a reminder that in comparison, so much of what we think important is not.”
Philippines Justice Ruben T. Reyes
Justice Ruben T. Reyes served as a respected jurist on the top courts of both his country and his church.
As a member of the United Methodist Judicial Council and former associate justice on the Supreme Court of the Philippines, Reyes had a broad knowledge of the law in varied contexts.
Fellow United Methodists say he also brought to his deliberations a passion for prayer and an ability to maintain good relations amid deep disagreements. He also was a friend and mentor to Filipino United Methodists ministering around the globe.
Reyes died Sept 13 in his native Philippines at the age of 82. At the time of his death, he was serving as vice president of The United Methodist Church’s Judicial Council.
“Ruben was devoted to God and committed to service in his vineyard,” said N. Oswald Tweh Sr., the Judicial Council’s current president and an attorney in Liberia. “He was called by God to be a member of the Judicial Council. He responded to his call by agreeing to serve. And he served well. He utilized his enormous gifts and talents, his analytical mind, in performing his duties as a member of the Judicial Council.”
The Rev. Taylor Boone
The name “Taylor Boone” sounds like a law firm. And the Rev. Taylor Boone was indeed a highly regarded San Antonio attorney for decades.
But well into his 50s, he answered a call to ministry. He enrolled in seminary, became an ordained United Methodist deacon and served as a part-time associate pastor focused on homeless ministries — all while continuing to handle the legal work of well-heeled clients.
Earlier in his career, Boone chaired a local United Methodist hospital board and took the lead in creating a partnership that would greatly expand United Methodist-affiliated health care across South Texas, including for the underserved.
Boone died Sept. 15, at age 72. Family members said he had been hospitalized for urgent surgeries that led to a compromised immune system. Despite being fully vaccinated, he died of complications from COVID-19.
Rio Texas Conference Bishop Robert Schnase said that as he drives around his episcopal area, he sees the United Methodist Cross and Flame in hospitals, clinics and other health care settings, all governed according to United Methodist Social Principles. He thinks of the lawyer-minister who made that happen — and who faithfully served San Antonio’s homeless.
“It’s hard to imagine anyone who has had more impact on Methodism and the Methodist purposes than Taylor Boone,” Schnase said. “The fruit has been incredible.”
Tennessee Justice Cornelia “Connie” Clark
United Methodists joined in tributes to Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Cornelia “Connie” Clark, who served her denomination in a range of ways, including chairing the board of the United Methodist Publishing House. Clark died Sept. 24 at age 71, after a short struggle with cancer.
Clark was appointed to the Tennessee Supreme Court in 2005 and served as chief justice from 2010 to 2012. Amid a busy legal career, Clark found time to serve The United Methodist Church, both at the local and general church levels. At her home church, First United Methodist in Franklin, Tennessee, Clark had stints as lay leader and member of the staff parish relations, finance and worship committees. She also was a veteran General Conference delegate.
In 2016, she became chair of the Publishing House, and helped guide that self-supporting agency through challenging times. She also chaired the Southeastern Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals from 2012 to 2016, and was vice chair of the trustees of Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tennessee, which recently became part of the University of Tennessee system.
“She loved her church and saw her work on the Publishing House board of directors as a way to share her love of Jesus with others,” said the Rev. Brian Milford, president and publisher of the Publishing House. “Her integrity and commitment to this work continues to inspire us all.”
Generations of harried parents have reason to thank James “Jim” Reese Herzog, even if they do not know his name.
Herzog, a lifelong United Methodist, is the creator of the “Wooly Willy” — which has kept countless children entertained on road trips and shopping excursions. The magnetic toy includes a hairless face that can be bewhiskered by sweeping metal filings with a magnetic wand.
After college and service in the U.S. Army, Herzog created the toy in 1955 while working for his family’s company that manufactured mica insulators for vacuum tubes. The company eventually shifted to making magnetic toys distributed across five continents.
Herzog was the longest living member of United Methodist Church of Smethport, where he served as a Sunday school teacher and trustee. He also was married for more than 69 years.
Herzog died Sept. 29 at age 93 in Coudersport, Pennsylvania.
“He was always somebody the trustees could go to, and he would have a wrench ready to tackle things that may have broken around the church,” said the Rev. Rob Hernan, the Smethport congregation’s pastor for 10 years and now pastor at Belmont United Methodist Church in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.
“He was a very humble fellow,” Hernan added. “You would never know he was inventor of Wooly Willy, if someone didn’t tell you. He didn’t lord over anybody.”
The Rev. William J. “Billy” Abraham
The Rev. William J. “Billy” Abraham brought a formidable intellect and vast scholarship to bear in helping to shape the traditionalist renewal movement within United Methodism. Abraham died in Dallas on Oct. 7. He was 73.
The longtime professor at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology also was an arresting figure — speaking with the lilt of his native Northern Ireland and sporting a long white-and-gray beard in his senior years.
A Perkins faculty member from 1985 until his retirement in May, Abraham had lately been leading the new Wesley House of Studies at Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary. Throughout his ministry, Abraham found plenty of theological sparring partners, and most emerged grateful for the experience.
“The word I can think of for him is ‘generous,’” said the Rev. Natalya Cherry, who teaches at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, Texas. Abraham was her dissertation adviser despite sharp disagreements. He also helped her and her family after a tornado destroyed their home.
“He relished the opportunity to be in relationship with people regardless of whether they agreed with him.”
The Rev. Kenneth E. Rowe
Methodist history would certainly have happened without the Rev. Kenneth E. Rowe. But colleagues say he did as much as anyone to make sure the story was told well — and in full. Rowe died Oct. 8, at age 84.
Rowe turned from parish ministry to scholarship early in his career and became the leading United Methodist bibliographer, as well as an essential player in the placing of the United Methodist Archives and History Center at Drew University.
He also taught church history for many years, and wrote or co-wrote key books on Methodism, including “The Methodist Experience in America.”
In his various roles, Rowe worked to have an account that went beyond the actions of bishops and other top leaders.
“He had a brilliant way of rethinking and reshaping our Methodist histories that allow our pasts to truly speak to and even shape United Methodism today,” said Ashley Boggan Dreff, top executive of Archives and History.
Dania Aben Soriano
Dania Aben Soriano, wife of retired United Methodist Bishop Leo A. Soriano, died Nov. 1 in her native Philippines. She was 70.
She was the daughter, wife, mother, sister and mother-in-law of United Methodist pastors, and she had her own far-reaching ministry. She earned a bachelor’s degree in social work at Wesleyan University in the Philippines, and met her husband in 1977 when the two were studying at Union Theological Seminary in Manila, Philippines. She later was commissioned as a diaconal minister. She also served a national officer of the Women’s Society of Christian Service as well as the National Clergy Spouse’s Association.
After her husband earned his medical degree, she joined him at a United Methodist Board of Global Ministries training project to encourage preventive health care. She was a consultant with the program until her husband’s election as bishop in 2000. She joined him as he served the Davao Episcopal Area in the southern part of the Philippines from 2001 to 2012. The couple had four children, who are now grown.
“Dania Soriano was a great supporter of the National Association of Filipino American United Methodists and was a faithful servant and generous leader in the Philippines Central Conference particularly in the Davao Episcopal Area,” said the Rev. Edgar De Jesus, the association’s president. She was a godparent at his wedding.
“Dania fought a good fight, finished the race and kept the faith!”
The Rev. Marshall Murphree
Born a Zimbabwean, the Rev. Marshall Murphree is remembered as a prominent scholar, evangelist and preacher. He died in October at age 90.
After graduating from the London School of Economics with a doctorate in social anthropology, Murphree returned home to Zimbabwe to work as a missionary before joining the University of Zimbabwe, where he became director and subsequently professor emeritus of the Center for Applied Sciences.
Murphree held various posts as a United Methodist leader of evangelism, interdenominational relations and religious education. He also initiated camp meetings in Zimbabwe in the Nyakatsapa, Zimunya and Nedziwa communities.
“Rev. Murphree was a giant on whose shoulders many others stood to accomplish great things,” said Larry Kies, a missionary and lecturer at Africa University. “His fluent Shona was an example for other missionaries. His stories and sermons always demonstrated deep theological and intellectual understanding. Yet, he was a personable man who loved and cared for others deeply … a true disciple of Jesus.”
Former Sen. Max Cleland
During the Battle of Khe Sanh in Vietnam, Joseph Maxwell “Max” Cleland lost his right arm and two legs when he picked up a live grenade dropped by a fellow soldier. He received Bronze and Silver stars for his valor.
His injuries in 1968 required that he use a wheelchair for the rest of his life. But they did not diminish his lifelong commitment to public service — nor his faith.
The Democrat went on to serve as top administrator in the U.S. Veterans Administration under President Jimmy Carter, a fellow Georgian. Cleland also served as a Georgia secretary of state, a U.S. senator and an appointed head of federal agencies under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
He also remained a lifelong member of First United Methodist Church in Lithonia, Georgia, and oft-invited speaker at United Methodist Sunday school classes around the Atlanta area.
Cleland died of heart failure on Nov. 9 at age 79.
His faith helped him through not only the trauma of war but also the bitter disappointments of politics, said the Rev. Gil Watson, a retired United Methodist pastor and Cleland’s friend of more than 50 years.
“He never saw himself as handicapped,” said Watson, who held Cleland’s Bible at his swearing-in to lead the Veterans Administration. “He saw himself as blessed to be able to serve those in need — the homeless, people facing racial discrimination and especially veterans.”
In 1999, 68 United Methodist clergy co-officiated at “the holy union” of Ellie Charlton and Jeanne Barnett at the Sacramento Convention Center. The service defied the recently instituted — and still much-debated — United Methodist law against clergy officiating at same-sex unions. Nine churches in Southern California, Michigan and New York City held services of solidarity at the same time.
The California-Nevada Conference clergy involved subsequently faced church charges. However, a conference committee decided not to bring the charges to trial.
At the time, Barnett was the lay leader of the California-Nevada Conference, and Charlton was chair of the conference’s Commission on the Status and Role of Women. The two women became the face of the United Methodist fight for full LGBTQ inclusion.
Eleanor Louise Charlton died Nov. 2 at the age of 86, and her passing brought an outpouring of tributes from fellow LGBTQ activists and allies in the church. Barnett died in 2003. Charlton later became partners with Bev Reddick, a United Methodist deaconess. The two lived at Brooks Howell Home, a retirement community owned by United Methodist Women in Asheville, North Carolina.
“What I loved about Ellie was her genuine warmth and her sweet nature,” Randall Miller, her friend, said in the Reconciling Ministries Network’s remembrance. “If you didn’t know better, you might miss that underlying this demeanor was a fierce determination and commitment to LGBTQ+ inclusion. Not all firebrands look the part, and I loved this about her.”
The Rev. George E. Morris
Throughout his ministry, the Rev. George E. Morris sought to share the Gospel in word, deed and sign, and he taught fellow United Methodists to do the same.
He was the founding director of the World Methodist Evangelism Institute, a cooperative ministry of the World Methodist Council and United Methodist-related Emory University. He died Nov. 21 in Canton, Georgia, at age 86.
Called “Sonny,” Morris was born in a coal-mining camp in Appalachia, Virginia. As an ordained United Methodist elder, he would minister throughout the United States and in more than 84 countries. He was a pastor of rural, suburban and inner-city congregations. He served with the United Methodist Board of Evangelism, predecessor of Discipleship Ministries, as well as the executive committee of the World Methodist Council.
For 16 years, Morris was the Arthur J. Moore Professor of Evangelism at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology in Atlanta. While there, he founded the World Methodist Evangelism Institute to train evangelists and co-authored several books with the late Rev. H. Eddie Fox, then head of World Methodist Evangelism.
The Rev. Rex Kaney said “yes” to the call to ministry at a service where Morris preached and later became an instructor alongside Morris at the Appalachian Local Pastors' School, which Morris helped create.
“George was a powerful preacher and a passionate, energetic and joyful teacher,” Kaney said. “His influence on me and so many people is immeasurable, and I am grateful that through the years, my life kept intersecting with his.”
Charles “Cappy” Cappleman worked for CBS for 50 years — helping to shape what people watched on television from its earliest days.
The studios at the CBS complex in Los Angeles now bear his name. So does the fellowship hall at his longtime church home of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Tarzana, California. The hall is named for both Cappleman and his late wife, Jane.
He died Dec. 5 at age 95.
The lifelong United Methodist first joined CBS after serving in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War. He worked as floor manager and then as manager of stage operations on such pioneering programs as “The Red Skelton Show,” “Playhouse 90” and “The Ed Sullivan Show.” He brought the first videotape recorders to CBS. As an executive, he also introduced year-round daytime programming to CBS’ Los Angeles complex, coordinating technical support for such shows as “The Price is Right” and “The Young and the Restless.”
In 2002, he received the Television Academy’s Charles F. Jenkins Lifetime Achievement Award for his many innovations. Two years later, the academy — the organization behind the Emmys — inducted him into its Hall of Fame. He also helped the church tell its story, serving on the board of United Methodist Communications and as the chair of the California-Pacific Conference Commission on Communications.
“He has been very instrumental with the foundation and structure of St. Paul’s since its inception, and he raised three daughters and one son in the church,” said the Rev. Vernon Kemp, the congregation’s pastor. “We dedicated the fellowship hall to him and his wife because of their overall help with the discipleship and stewardship of the church.”
Hahn is assistant news editor for UM News. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]. Information for this story was compiled from reports by UM News staff Sam Hodges, Eveline Chikwanah, Kathy L. Gilbert and Chenayi Kumuterera. Lindsay Peyton of the Texas Conference, the Rev. Donald E. Messer of the Center for Health and Hope, and the Rev. Janet Wolf of the Children’s Defense Fund also contributed.
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