2022: Noteworthy United Methodists remembered

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United Methodists over the past 12 months have marked the passing of a storied NFL coach, a beloved Christian contemporary music artist, the denomination’s first Asian American bishop and a pastor named Bible.

Here are 40 remembrances, listed in order of date of death. This list includes four deaths from late 2021.

The Rev. Darell T. Weist. Photo courtesy of the United Methodist Commission on Archives and History. 
The Rev. DarEll T. Weist.
Photo courtesy of the United Methodist Commission on Archives and History.

The Rev. DarEll T. Weist

The Rev. DarEll T. Weist — a United Methodist historian and children’s author who also served as a pastor and missionary — died of a heart attack Dec. 10, 2021, in Orange County, California. He was 81.

Weist grew up in North Dakota in the Evangelical United Brethren Church, which merged with Methodists to form The United Methodist Church in 1968. With the merger, friends say, Weist was “United Methodist through and through.” He served as a missionary teacher at a seminary in Sierra Leone and as a pastor in the Midwest and later Southern California.

Deeply interested in what the next stage of The United Methodist Church might be, he looked to its history. He revitalized the position of California-Pacific Conference historian, which he held until his death. He also revived the conference’s long-dormant Methodist Historical Society, building on the United Methodist Commission on Archives and History course to train local church historians.

Weist served as chair of the Western Jurisdiction Commission on Archives and History, and thus was a member of the denomination’s Commission on Archives and History. He also chaired the agency’s standing committee on Heritage Landmarks — sites of denominational import that are approved by General Conference.

“His big push, as a member of Archives and History, was lifting up places that were outside the U.S.,” said the Rev. Alfred T. Day III, a retired top executive at the agency who worked with Weist. “The other thing about him is that he was a very proud son of the Evangelical United Brethren Church. He was forever arguing for inclusion of the EUB so we wouldn’t forget our EUB heritage.”

U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson. Photo by U.S. Senate Photographic Studio-Renee Bouchard courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. 
U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson.
Photo by U.S. Senate Photographic Studio-Renee Bouchard courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson

Former U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson was known for working with elected leaders on both sides of the political aisle. Many fellow United Methodists remember the Georgia Republican as a faithful church member who taught sixth-grade Sunday school for 30 years at Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Marietta. Isakson died Dec. 19, 2021, at age 76 after struggling with Parkinson’s disease.

Following service in the Georgia Air National Guard, Isakson began his career in real estate. He opened the first Cobb County office of Northside Realty, the small business his father founded. He went on to be the company’s president for 22 years. 

Isakson entered Georgia Republican politics in 1974 and served 17 years in the Georgia legislature and three years as chair of the Georgia Board of Education. In 1999, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives for the first of three terms. In 2004, he was elected to the U.S. Senate, where he served until retiring in in December 2019.

In Congress, Isakson helped craft the bipartisan No Child Left Behind education law and, later, its replacement. He also worked on veteran affairs, immigration policy and health care. He was one of the few Republican officials who regularly attended the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day ceremonies at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King was pastor.

However, he remained committed to his home church of Mt. Zion United Methodist. Even after the Senate required he spend more Sundays away from Marietta, he could be found sitting in the back of Mt. Zion’s sanctuary at least once a month, recalled the Rev. Cassie Rapko, a former associate pastor at the church.

He also served the congregation in other ways.

“When the Mt. Zion congregation was working to expand the campus, Johnny was highly instrumental in the acquisition of real estate adjacent to the church,” said the Rev. Harden Hopper, the church’s senior pastor. “Yet, despite his public profile, Johnny’s modest presence in the congregation is recalled as his humble demeanor was a wonderful example of self-giving service.”

Jack Dale Middleton. Photo courtesy of the New York Conference. 
Jack Dale Middleton.
Photo courtesy of the New York Conference.

Jack Dale Middleton

Jack Dale Middleton liked to tell people he decided to marry the future bishop Jane Stewart Allen when he saw her riding on the back of a convertible campaigning for freshman class secretary at Oklahoma State University. Their marriage lasted for 60 years, two months and one week until he died on Dec. 22, 2021, in Pompano, Florida. He died on his birthday at age 82.

When his wife — now Jane Middleton — discerned a call to ordained United Methodist ministry, he joined her in moving from Oklahoma to Connecticut, so she could attend Yale Divinity School.

They soon made the Eastern U.S. their home as Jane Middleton took on various pastoral appointments and eventually was elected bishop. Throughout her ministry, Jack Middleton worked in urban planning and organizing for poverty relief, first for the Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford and later for the city’s Asylum Hill Neighborhood Organization.

He also served on almost a dozen Volunteer in Mission teams in Cochabamba, Bolivia. He spearheaded the New York Conference’s fundraising projects for scholarships at Africa University and a plan to fund pastors’ pensions. Throughout his efforts, he maintained a love of cars. Friends remember him as someone they were always glad to see.

“We would sit at the table together and he would make us laugh at stories that he had never forgotten,” said Council of Bishops President Thomas J. Bickerton, who currently leads the New York Conference. “And yet Jack could be serious enough to evoke a tear as we recalled special times together. This was an amazing individual, a blessing from God.”

Bishop Wilbur Choy. Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News. 
Bishop Wilbur Choy. Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News.

Bishop Wilbur Choy

A half century ago, Bishop Wilbur Wong Yan Choy made national headlines with his election as The United Methodist Church’s first Asian American episcopal leader.

Fellow United Methodists say the bishop did not just blaze a trail for himself but also opened pathways for other pioneering leaders across the church. Friends also remember him for his great sense of humor.

Choy died Dec. 28, 2021, in Seattle at age 103. His legacy includes a denomination that, thanks in part to his ministry, has grown significantly more ethnically and racially diverse since his election.

The son of Chinese immigrants initially served as an elder in the California-Oriental Provisional Conference, comprising Chinese, Korean and Filipino churches in the state. He chaired the Integration Committee that guided the provisional conference’s 1952 merger with geographic Methodist conferences.

Two years later, he became pastor of a multiracial congregation after he brought together a predominantly Chinese congregation and a church with both white and Black members. He became The United Methodist Church’s first Chinese American district superintendent of a predominantly white district in 1969.

The Western Jurisdictional Conference elected Choy to the episcopacy in 1972. He went on to lead the Pacific Northwest Conference for eight years and the California-Nevada Conference for four before retiring in 1984. His episcopal colleagues chose him to serve as the Council of Bishops president in 1983-84. 

“I remember him for radiating the joy of the Lord, and his graciousness to all people. It was just infectious,” said retired Bishop Roy Sano, who was elected as the denomination’s first Japanese American bishop the same year Choy retired.

Dan Reeves. Photo courtesy of Dignity Memorial. 
Dan Reeves.
Photo courtesy of Dignity Memorial.

Dan Reeves

Throughout his career as an NFL football player and coach, Daniel Edward Reeves racked up distinctions. His record included more than 200 wins, 50 playoff appearances, two Super Bowl victories and a legendary touchdown pass thrown in the Ice Bowl. The Sports Halls of Fame in Georgia, Colorado, South Carolina and Texas all named him to their ranks.

But as his achievements mounted, a fellow United Methodist says Reeves kept his focus on what counted most: love of God and love of neighbor.

Reeves — whose 38-year professional football career spanned time with the Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons — died Jan. 1 surrounded by family in Atlanta at age 77.

Reeves grew up in Americus, Georgia. In high school, he received the Most Valuable Player award at the Georgia Football All-Star game and earned a scholarship to the University of South Carolina. However, he always said his greatest achievement in high school was getting freshman cheerleader Pam White to go on a date with him. The two were married for 57 years.

Although raised Baptist, he found his way to The United Methodist Church. While he played for the Dallas Cowboys, he was on the parking committee at Lovers Lane Methodist Church and gladly helped folks get parked on Sunday mornings during the offseason, said the Rev. Bill Britt, Reeves’ pastor at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church in Atlanta.

Britt, Peachtree Road’s senior minister, said Reeves never said “no” when the church asked for his help, whether it was to share his faith or represent the congregation in a fundraiser. He also was a lifelong supporter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

“Dan could put himself in your shoes and feel your pain, and then be moved to act,” Britt said. “I have met persons who have great ambition, but sometimes they lack the integrity to temper it. I have met folks who have ambition and integrity, but sometimes they don’t have humility. Dan was that rare individual who exhibited all three.”

Jay Weaver. Photo courtesy of Big Daddy Weave. 
Jay Weaver. Photo courtesy of Big Daddy Weave.

Jay Weaver

Jay Weaver, bassist for Big Daddy Weave, helped the band top the Christian contemporary charts with songs such as “Every Time I Breathe” and “Redeemed.” He also made his mark on St. Paul United Methodist Church in Gulf Breeze, Florida.

Weaver died Jan. 2 of complications from COVID-19 after years of health struggles. He was 42.

He and his brother grew up attending St. Paul and led worship there as teenagers. Both outsized, garrulous men, the brothers have been the heart of Big Daddy Weave, a band that has been compared musically to the Dave Matthews Band. Formed in 1998, the band released its first album in 2001 and was still having hits and touring internationally after two decades.

Jay Weaver suffered from diabetes, which led to the amputation of his feet in 2016. He also was on dialysis and had mostly stepped back from touring and handling band business. However, his fellow United Methodists said he never lost his sense of humor and joy in faith.

“He had so many health issues, and they just took it and dealt with it and still were laughing and being joyous,” said the Rev. Christina Shaver, lead pastor at St. Paul. “I always feel like that is a victory over the brokenness of this world — that when things are really sad, you can still laugh and you can still enjoy being together.”

The Rev. Stephen Dill. Photo courtesy of Frye Gaillard. 
The Rev. Stephen Dill.
Photo courtesy of Frye Gaillard.

The Rev. Stephen Dill

The Rev. Stephen F. Dill, known as a gifted preacher, was an Alabama-West Florida Conference pastor for 40 years. That includes 18 as senior minister at Dauphin Way United Methodist Church in Mobile, Alabama. Dill died Jan. 14 at age 93.

The Alabama native took an early stand for civil rights in the 1960s but managed throughout his career to avoid distancing himself from those with whom he disagreed. He also became known for his powerful preaching, especially on the sin of racism.

Over the course of his life, he held multiple church and community posts including in his home conference and the cities where he ministered. At the turn of the century, he chaired Celebration 2000, Mobile’s interdenominational observance of two millennia of Christianity.

Frye Gaillard, a fellow United Methodist and noted author, collected Dill’s sermons and wrote the introduction for the book “The Poetry of Faith: Sermons Preached in a Southern Church.” 

“Steve was a United Methodist minister who embodied the faith as I understand it — as a mystical presence; a source of mystery at least as much as it was of pious truth,” Gaillard wrote in a tribute for UM News.

Essie Bellfield. Photo courtesy of The Record. 
Essie Bellfield. Photo courtesy of The Record.

Essie Bellfield

Essie Bellfield, the first Black and only female mayor of Orange, Texas, died Jan. 23 at age 89. She worked to advance civil rights in her southeast Texas community of 18,000 and was a faithful United Methodist.

After graduating from Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Bellfield took a job in housekeeping at a hospital in Galveston, Texas. Her fight against injustice began when she was told she could not sit on a public park bench in the Texas town because of the color of her skin, reported The Orange Leader. She successfully integrated the park.

She next moved to Orange, where she had spent her youth and where she led the housekeeping department for Orange Memorial Hospital for years. Throughout her time in the community, she also was involved in civil rights and women’s organizations.

She eventually ran for and won a seat on the Orange City Council. In 1997, she was named mayor upon the current mayor’s death. She won the post outright in 1998. She went on to serve as mayor until 2000 when she returned to the city council. Her death brought an outpouring of tributes from civic leaders.

“Mrs. Bellfield loved God, her church, Salem United Methodist Church, her children and grandchildren,” Marie Sanders, Bellfield’s goddaughter, told KBMT. “She loved the community and did anything she could to help.”

The Rev. Inman Moore. Photo courtesy of Legacy.com/San Gabriel Valley Tribune. 
The Rev. Inman Moore.
Photo courtesy of Legacy.com/San Gabriel Valley Tribune.

The Rev. Inman Moore

The Rev. Reuben Inman Moore Jr. was a pastor at a prominent church in Biloxi, Mississippi, when in 1963 he joined with 27 other white Methodist clergy in publishing a statement titled “Born of Conviction.”

The statement that opposed the continuation of a segregationist society sparked immediate backlash. Some signers were locked out of their churches. Some received death threats.

Moore, who went by Inman, eventually found a new home in what is now the California-Pacific Conference. He chronicled his experiences in his autobiography, “On the Road to Civil Rights,” published when he was 90. Moore died Jan. 26 at age 96 in Pasadena, California.

Moore grew up in southern Mississippi, the son of a Methodist pastor. After serving in the Navy during World War II, he returned to the state determined to also be a pastor.

After his time in Mississippi, he served as a United Methodist pastor in California before taking early retirement. He would later serve in part-time pastoral ministry whenever called. He and his late wife, Nellie, also created two successful businesses, Moore Vending and Tournament Souvenirs. The two were married for 73 years.

His longtime friend, the Rev. Mark Trotter, described Moore as “beloved as a pastor, exceptional preacher, successful in business, devoted friend.”

Trotter said Moore was “dedicated to implementing the model of the Kingdom into the life of whatever community in which he resided.”

The Rev. Brad Brady. Photo courtesy of Deal Funeral Directors. 
The Rev. Brad Brady.
Photo courtesy of Deal Funeral Directors.

The Rev. Brad Brady

The Rev. Remer Logan “Brad” Brady III shaped ministry both in his home Southeastern Jurisdiction and across the denomination. He died Feb. 7 at age 68.

At the time of his passing, the retired pastor was a member of the Connectional Table — the leadership body that coordinates denomination-wide ministries. He also had just begun a new term as Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference secretary — a role he previously held in 2009-2012.

In his more than 40 years of ministry, he took on a variety of appointments and leadership roles in the South Georgia Conference. Conference voters elected him multiple times as delegate to General Conference and the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference. He also counseled law enforcement as a peace officer chaplain and taught at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology in Atlanta.

He retired in June 2021 as senior pastor of Perry United Methodist Church in Perry, Georgia, but continued serving the wider church connection. With the Connectional Table, he helped set evaluation standards for the denomination’s general agencies and worked on the denominational budget that is going before the coming General Conference.

“Brad was deeply committed to the local church and to the growth of the ministries of the worldwide United Methodist Church,” said Bishop Christian Alsted, the Connectional Table’s chair, in a statement. “He was a warm, kind and insightful pastoral leader and a dedicated member of the Connectional Table.”

Marjorie Tuell. Photo courtesy of the Pacific Northwest Conference. 
Marjorie Tuell.
Photo courtesy of the Pacific Northwest Conference.

Marjorie Tuell

Marjorie “Marji” B. Tuell, wife of the late Bishop Jack M. Tuell, died Feb. 9 just days after her 96th birthday.

She and her husband met in 1945 when she was a nursing student and he was serving the U.S. Army Air Corps. The two got engaged only six weeks after they met. They had three children and would eventually be married for 68 years.

She joined her husband as he began ordained ministry in the Pacific Northwest Conference in 1950. She accompanied him through various appointments as pastor, district superintendent and eventually his election as bishop in 1972. Her husband was assigned to the Oregon-Idaho Conference and then the California-Pacific Conference before his retirement in 1992.

Tuell had her own ministry. She directed church choirs and earned degrees in church music and education. She became a respected expert on hymnody — teaching at United Methodist-related Claremont School of Theology and helping to develop the 1989 edition of The United Methodist Hymnal.

“Marjorie Tuell not only knew the hymns, she knew where they came from, and what sort of strings in our hearts they tugged on,” said Bishop JW Stanovsky, who today leads the Pacific Northwest, Oregon-Idaho and Alaska conferences. “She could read your heart by the hymns that you loved.”

The Rev. Nathan Stanton. Photo courtesy of Ryan Mortuary and Crematory. 
The Rev. Nathan Stanton.
Photo courtesy of Ryan Mortuary and Crematory.

The Rev. Nathan Stanton

Even as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis restricted his movement, the Rev. Nathan Stanton found ways to lift others up.

Stanton, director of congregational excellence for the Great Plains Conference, died March 12 after struggling with ALS — commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease — for about 19 months. He was 52.

Friends said he maintained a positive outlook as the disease progressed. He also continued to encourage his fellow ministers and loved ones in faith.

The son of a United Methodist elder, Stanton initially was reluctant to follow in his father’s footsteps. But he eventually found his own path in ordained ministry. After 14 years serving local parishes, he was appointed as the Great Plains Conference’s new church development coordinator. In his four years in that role, he helped form 13 new congregations, a majority of them predominantly Black, Hispanic or with membership from the African diaspora. In 2017, he took on his most recent conference leadership role.

But as dedicated as he was to church planting and revitalization, he also kept focus on family including Brenda, his wife of 27 years, and their three sons, Noah, Isaac and Eli.

“He was just a constant encourager,” the Rev. Amy Lippoldt, his friend and pastor of Papillion St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, told the Great Plains Conference. “It was a habit he had before he got diagnosed with ALS, and then it’s like the dial got turned up to 10 on his encouraging.”

The Rev. Thomas H. Troeger. Photo by Jean Santopatre, courtesy of Yale Divinity School. 
The Rev. Thomas H. Troeger.
Photo by Jean Santopatre, courtesy of Yale Divinity School.

The Rev. Thomas H. Troeger

The Rev. Thomas H. Troeger — who taught preaching at United Methodist-related Illif School of Theology and eventually became Lantz Professor emeritus of Yale Divinity School and the Institute of Sacred Music — died April 3 after a long illness. He was 77.

Troeger wrote 24 books covering preaching, poetry, hymnody and worship, including for the United Methodist Publishing House’s Abingdon Press. He also was a flutist and a poet whose work appears in the hymnals of multiple denominations and provides the message of various choral anthems.

The 1989 United Methodist Hymnal includes a number of his compositions including “Source and Sovereign, Rock and Cloud” and “Silence! Frenzied Unclean Spirit,” inspired by his brother’s struggles with schizophrenia.

Paul Franklyn, Abingdon Press associate publisher, called Troeger one of the 20th century’s top five hymn writers.

“He defined and taught the methods and skills needed for creativity and imagination in preaching and worship," Franklyn said.

Enoch Kelly Haney. Photo courtesy of Havenbrook Funeral Home. 
Enoch Kelly Haney.
Photo courtesy of Havenbrook Funeral Home.

Enoch Kelly Haney

Enoch Kelly Haney, a renowned painter and sculptor, created the 17-feet-tall statue “The Guardian” that stands atop the Oklahoma State Capitol.

The longtime United Methodist, who went by Kelly, also served as a guardian himself inside the capitol’s halls. For 22 years, he was a legislator in the state House and state Senate, including as chair of the Senate’s appropriations committee.

Haney was the first full-blooded Native American elected to serve in the Oklahoma legislature, according to the Seminole Nation. He helped develop the first tribal-state compact and authored the Oklahoma Indian Child Welfare Act. He also served as the Seminole Nation’s chief from 2005 to 2009.

He died April 23 at age 81. As dedicated as he was to public service, he also was dedicated to his faith. Early in life, he served as a vocational counselor, a pastor and youth director for the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference. He also was a member of the Seminole Hitchitee United Methodist Church and then Norman First American United Methodist Church. Recently, he joined other United Methodists in developing the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City.

“He used his wisdom and faith often to motivate and inspire so many of us,” said Bishop David Wilson, who previously served in the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference. “That faith was also coupled with his Native spirituality … . He was a great encourager to people of all ages and especially with younger folks. His faith journey was evident in all he did for the people of Oklahoma.”

Rose King. Photo courtesy of St. Luke United Methodist Church. 
Rose King.
Photo courtesy of St. Luke United Methodist Church.

Rose King

Margaret Rosetta King, who went by Rose, faithfully supported the ministry of her husband, retired Bishop James R. King Jr., in Tennessee, Kentucky and South Georgia. She died April 27 at the age of 77.

She was born in Montgomery, Alabama, and moved to Nashville, Tennessee, with her family at the age of 2. There, her faith was nurtured by Clark Memorial United Methodist Church.

She received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from United Methodist-related Bennett College and completed course work toward a master’s degree in psychology at Howard University. After teaching in New York, she returned to Nashville where she worked in her mother’s beauty salon as a cosmetologist.

But friends say she was a teacher at heart, taking inspiration from Susanna Wesley, the mother and educator of Methodism’s founder, John Wesley. Like Susanna, King was also a proud mother. She is survived by a daughter and two sons as well as two grandsons. Her son the Rev. Robert S. King is a United Methodist pastor.

King taught children and adults in Sunday school, co-led workshops with her husband and hosted church gatherings. She also encouraged fellow clergy spouses to pursue lifelong education and recently started a Bible Study Fellowship International Evening Women’s Group in Columbus, Georgia. She and her husband were also active at St. Luke United Methodist Church in Columbus.

“Even her name is beautiful. She was just such a beautiful lady inside and out,” said the Rev. Thad Haygood, the church’s senior pastor, who officiated at King’s memorial service. “She was beautiful physically and had a beautiful personality and just cared so deeply for everybody. And she was so passionate about teaching God's word.”

Norm Mineta. U.S. Secretary of Transportation official portrait, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. 
Norm Mineta.
U.S. Secretary of Transportation official portrait, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Norm Mineta

Norman Y. Mineta broke racial barriers as an Asian American public servant who served in the cabinets of two U.S. presidents. He also was a lifelong member of what is now The United Methodist Church.

He died May 3 surrounded by family in Edgewater, Maryland. He was 90.

The son of two Japanese immigrants, Mineta spent part of his childhood in a U.S. internment camp. He began his political career in San Jose, California, becoming in 1971 the first Asian American mayor of a major city. He then served 10 terms as an influential U.S. congressman. In addition to working on transportation issues, Mineta helped win passage of the landmark Civil Liberties Act of 1988. That law required the U.S. government pay reparations to the 120,000 Japanese Americans forced to live in wartime internment camps.

He served as commerce secretary under President Clinton and transportation secretary under President George W. Bush, becoming the first cabinet secretary to make the switch directly from a Democratic to Republican administration. He was the first Asian American cabinet secretary. He also made the decision to ground commercial flights amid the 9/11 terror attacks. Bush went on to award Mineta the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the U.S.

Throughout his public service, he remained a member of what is now Wesley United Methodist Church in San Jose’s Japantown. He grew up at the church and led a Sunday school class there as a young adult. In recent years, he regularly attended the church’s online services.

“Perhaps the most important thing to say about Norman was that the whole of his public service and political life was deeply grounded in a deep and abiding faith in God,” said the Rev. Keith Inouye, former senior pastor of Wesley United Methodist Church. “As a United Methodist, Norman will forever be an example of what John Wesley deemed a ‘social gospel,’ that our faith is held in relationship to the well-being of others and the world.”

The Rev. Nathaniel Dixon Jr. Photo courtesy of Nelson Funeral Chapel. 
The Rev. Nathaniel Dixon Jr. Photo courtesy of Nelson Funeral Chapel.

The Rev. Nathaniel Dixon Jr.

The Rev. Nat Dixon blended the abiding message of the Gospel with the improvisational thrill of jazz. The former full-time jazz musician who became a United Methodist pastor never preached without first picking up his tenor saxophone and riffing a bit.

Dixon died on May 5 surrounded by his wife and children. He was 72.

As a boy, Dixon took up the clarinet. His first gig was Carnegie Hall — with a youth orchestra. He moved on to the saxophone, and his work as a jazz sideman has him listed in the “Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD.” He also worked as a teacher and administrator in New York City schools for 27 years.

One constant in his syncopated life was Harlem’s Salem United Methodist Church, where he found encouragement to go to seminary and enter pastoral ministry. As a pastor, he led the building restoration at historic St. Stephen’s United Methodist Church in the Bronx before his retirement in 2017. He also continued to make music, releasing the jazz album “Made in New York City: Nat Dixon and Friends,” in 2016. Dixon called his music “GOJA,” with the GO standing for “gospel” and the JA for “jazz.”

“Jazz is his voice,” the Rev. Lori Hartman, a United Methodist pastor and jazz vocalist, told UM News in 2016. “He speaks the gospel through the music.”

 The Rev. Charles Yrigoyen Jr. Photo courtesy of the United Methodist Commission of Archives and History. 
The Rev. Charles Yrigoyen Jr.
Photo courtesy of the United Methodist Commission of Archives and History.

The Rev. Charles Yrigoyen Jr.

As a historian, the Rev. Charles Yrigoyen Jr. helped countless people learn more about John and Charles Wesley and the Methodist movement they started.

As a pastor and professor, Yrigoyen helped countless people live out Wesleyan teachings.

The renowned United Methodist historian and beloved leader in his home Eastern Pennsylvania Conference died May 9 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He was 84.

Yrigoyen, called Chuck by his friends, was top executive of the United Methodist Commission on Archives and History from 1982 to 2005. When he retired, the Archives and History board bestowed the rare honor of naming him “general secretary emeritus.”

Throughout his ministry, Yrigoyen worked to make the story of Methodism accessible to all people — from seminary to Sunday school. He was the author or editor of 11 books including “John Wesley: Holiness of Heart and Life,” a popular study with small groups across The United Methodist Church. 

“You don’t replace Chuck. You only can succeed him,” said the Rev. Robert J. Williams, a longtime friend who followed Yrigoyen as the top executive of Archives and History and is now retired. “He was absolutely steady and dependable and thorough in all his work. … He was gracious and kind and gentle.”

The Rev. Marita Y. Harrell. Photo courtesy of the North Georgia Conference. 
The Rev. Marita Y. Harrell.
Photo courtesy of the North Georgia Conference.

The Rev. Marita Y. Harrell

The Rev. Marita Y. Harrell, the 57-year-old pastor of Connections at Metropolitan United Methodist Church in Atlanta, sought to minister with the lost and left out.

Police say she was trying to help one such man who is now arrested and charged with her murder. Her death around May 18 led to an outpouring of grief from across the North Georgia Conference and the wider United Methodist Church. Her survivors include her husband of 27 years and two daughters.

Harrell, a Chicago native, worked for 22 years at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, as a call-center manager in the advertising department and a diversity training facilitator before following a call to ordained ministry. She earned her Master of Divinity degree from Emory’s Candler School of Theology in 2014, was licensed to preach in 2015 and went on to become a provisional elder in The United Methodist Church.

Before coming to Connections at Metropolitan, Harrell served at Rivertown United Methodist Church, the United Methodist Children’s Home and Newman Chapel United Methodist Church.

Marita was a friend and a shining light among us,” wrote Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson in an email to North Georgia Conference clergy

“I am grateful that the Lord she represented so well was with her in all things and accompanied her to her eternal home.”

The Rev. Roberto Gómez. Photo courtesy of the Gómez family. 
The Rev. Roberto Gómez. Photo courtesy of the Gómez family.

The Rev. Roberto Gómez

The Rev. Roberto Luis Gómez had a long career as a United Methodist clergyman, straddling the English- and Spanish-speaking worlds of the denomination.

Gómez died May 26 in San Antonio, at age 75, from complications after open-heart surgery. He is remembered for career milestones, but even more for the pastoral care he extended so freely.

He served as pastor, district superintendent and trustee of various United Methodist-related institutions, including his alma mater Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas.

He also served 17 years on the board of the United Methodist Publishing House, and denominational leaders say he was crucial to the Publishing House’s decision to undertake a Spanish-language United Methodist hymnal.

Gómez had an impact well beyond his home Rio Grande Conference, spending 30 years teaching part-time in the Spanish language Course of Study program at Perkins School of Theology, with a focus on pastoral care.

“In over 40 years of active service as an ordained minister, Roberto blessed our United Methodist connection with his leadership,” said retired Bishop Joel Martinez.

The Rev. Lowell A. Gess. Photo courtesy of the Dakotas Conference. 
The Rev. Lowell A. Gess.
Photo courtesy of the Dakotas Conference.

The Rev. Dr. Lowell A. Gess

An ordained United Methodist elder and eye doctor, the Rev. and Dr. Lowell A. Gess found a way to combine both vocations as a medical missionary, first in Nigeria and then for more than a half century in Sierra Leone.

In early 2015, he returned to Sierra Leone at age 93 determined to provide whatever medical assistance he could to fight Ebola. The ophthalmologist was among the first doctors to identify the long-term effects of the disease on survivors’ eyesight, and his work was acknowledged in The Lancet medical journal.

Gess died June 21 in his Alexandria, Minnesota, home at age 100.

After pastoring churches in Minnesota, Gess and his wife, Ruth, first set foot on African soil in 1952. The couple were missionaries with what was then the Evangelical United Brethren Church, a predecessor of The United Methodist Church. They were stationed in Nigeria for three years before being sent to Sierra Leone, which became their second home.

The Gesses served for18 years as commissioned missionaries and another 34 years as volunteers in the west African country. As Gess completed his residency in ophthalmology in the U.S., he made sure to still spend three months in Sierra Leone each year. He would go on to complete more than 16,000 cataract surgeries. He also performed other general surgeries and provided various kinds of medical care for people in Sierra Leone.

In 2012, United Methodists in Sierra Leone renamed the Kissy Eye Hospital in Freetown in honor of Gess and his late wife. Lowell and Ruth Gess United Methodist Eye Hospital, which provides eye care and trains eye professionals, receives support through the Advance designated giving program of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

“Dr. Gess’ years of faithful service in Sierra Leone as an ophthalmologist have touched many lives in ways we cannot explain,” said the Rev. Edwin Momoh, Sierra Leone Conference secretary, presenting the conference’s eulogy to Gess. “His love for God and for people along with his gentle spirit enabled him to be an outstanding missionary.”

Lt. Col. Alexander Jefferson. Photo by U.S. Embassy, London, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. 
Lt. Col. Alexander Jefferson.
Photo by U.S. Embassy, London, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Lt. Col. Alexander Jefferson

Retired Lt. Col. Alexander Jefferson lived a life of faith and service as a lifelong United Methodist and as a Tuskegee Airman in World War II who survived his time as a prisoner of war. He died June 22 at age 100.

His hometown of Detroit earlier this year had celebrated his centennial by awarding him a key to the city and announcing plans to construct the Lt. Col. Alexander Jefferson Plaza in Rouge Park. The Detroit Free Press reported that was the park where the young Jefferson flew model airplanes.

As one of the famed Tuskegee Airmen — the nation’s first Black military pilots — he flew 18 missions escorting bombers on raids in Europe. He was shot down and held as a prisoner of war in Poland for eight months.

Awarded the Purple Heart and other military honors, he went on to graduate from what is now United Methodist-related Clark Atlanta University, study chemistry at Howard University and earn a master’s degree from Wayne State University. He became a science teacher and assistant principal in Detroit public schools. Jefferson and his fellow Tuskegee Airmen ultimately received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007.

Beyond the honors he received, Jefferson honored God as a longtime member of Conant Avenue United Methodist Church in Detroit. He was lay leader, trustee, choir member and director of the youth choir.

“We’ve heard much about his history, the account of a hero, however, many people don’t know about him as a man, as an African American Christian,” the Rev. Carter Grimmett, his cousin-in-law and former pastor told the Michigan Conference. “He always lived his faith and knew who he was in Christ Jesus.”

Ruth Gene Tucker. Photo courtesy of the North Texas conference. 
Ruth Gene Tucker. Photo courtesy of the North Texas conference.

Ruth Gene Tucker

United Methodists across Texas who never met Ruth Gene Tucker celebrated the sacraments and pivotal moments of their lives under her handiwork.

Tucker, who died June 24, created hundreds of Christian-themed banners that hang in churches across the state.

She used pieces of her wedding gown to create 13 banners that hang in the sanctuary of her church home, Christ United Methodist in Farmers Branch, Texas. Those banners depict scenes from the life of Jesus. Other banners include symbols of the Christian faith and the passing liturgical seasons.

The Rev. Scott Holcomb-McLain is among the Texas United Methodists who knew Tucker’s banners before he ever knew Tucker. His wife, Pam, received one of her banners while pursuing ordination, and he later displayed the banner in his church office as he took appointments across the North Texas Conference. He became Tucker’s pastor when he was appointed to Christ United Methodist Church.

“Ruth Gene spoke her truth through art,” Holcomb-McLain wrote in a tribute for the North Texas Conference. “In paraphrasing ‘Hymn of Promise’: In her mind there was an image; in her heart, a vision, too; in her cloth, there was potential; simply needed a stitch or two; what began as a gift; became a ministry, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.”

Nshimba Nkulu Ntambo Thérèse. Photo courtesy of the Ntambo family. 
Nshimba Nkulu Ntambo Thérèse. Photo courtesy of the Ntambo family.

Nshimba Nkulu Ntambo Thérèse

Nshimba Nkulu Ntambo Thérèse raised eight children in the Christian faith and went on to transform the lives of orphans and abandoned children in her native Congo.

The wife of retired United Methodist Bishop Nkulu Ntanda Ntambo died June 29. She was 72.

She was a ministry partner with her husband as he moved from being an elementary school teacher to United Methodist pastor, district superintendent and ultimately bishop. She also accompanied him after he was elected a Democratic Republic of Congo senator who took the international stage as an advocate for human rights and an end to violence in his country.

She also worked for the well-being of others, especially children. In partnership with the West Ohio Conference, she led the North Katanga Conference in the construction and establishment of the home orphanage in Kamina, Congo.

Bishop Mande Muyombo, whose episcopal area includes the North Katanga Conference, said that under her care, orphans and abandoned children received love and nurturing.

Muyombo said she raised up principled Christian leaders. Some are now graduates of United Methodist-related Africa University in Zimbabwe.

Her son Gaston Ntambo, who is a missionary and pilot with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, said his mother had a servant’s heart. Many of the orphans she helped raise still call Gaston brother. He said his mother also made it a point to always be honest with people, regardless of their rank or stature. 

“Her love toward her children and husband was special, pure and sincere — a reason why most of us in the family are having trouble healing,” Gaston Ntambo said. “If there is one thing I have passed on to my children while being raised by my mother (it) is to always tell the truth even if it hurts.”

The Rev. Les Longden Photo courtesy of Sytsema Funeral & Cremation Services. 
The Rev. Les Longden Photo courtesy of Sytsema Funeral & Cremation Services.

The Rev. Les Longden

The Rev. Leicester Ralph Longden, who went by Les, had a knack for taking complex ideas and making them easier to understand. He brought those skills to his ministry as a United Methodist theologian.

He died July 6 at age 75 in Muskegon, Michigan.

Longden began his ministry as a pastor of United Methodist churches in Oregon and Michigan. But the scholar, with a Ph.D. from United Methodist-related Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, eventually turned to teaching. He was a professor for 15 years and led the United Methodist studies program at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary in Iowa.

He was a respected authority on the works of renowned United Methodist theologian the Rev. Albert Outler. And like Outler, he was an avid reader. Longden had more than 6,000 books in his personal library.

He also was a leader in the denomination’s theologically conservative Renewal and Reform Coalition and commentary writer for UM News.   

“Much of his ministry was spent encouraging The United Methodist Church to move from offering spiritual choices to spiritual consumers to faithfully and fully confessing the faith of the Church catholic,” said the Rev. Paul T. Stallsworth, his friend and a retired United Methodist pastor in North Carolina.

The Rev. Autura Eason-Williams. Photo courtesy of Southeastern Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church. 
The Rev. Autura Eason-Williams. Photo courtesy of Southeastern Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church.

The Rev. Autura Eason-Williams

The Rev. Autura Eason-Williams, 52, was a beloved leader in what is now the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference. Many felt shock and grief when the district superintendent was shot and killed outside her Memphis home on July 18 in an apparent carjacking.

More than 200 people gathered for a quickly organized evening prayer service just hours after Eason-Williams’ death. Her survivors include her husband and four children.

An early pioneer in cross-racial appointments in the legacy Memphis Conference, she worked for The United Methodist Church to include all people. She led her conference’s anti-racism work and was a leader in the #BeUMC Campaign, an effort to highlight the positive aspects of the denomination.

She also served many years with Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare as a member of the hospital system’s Faith and Health Committee. She particularly focused on addressing racial disparities in health.

Her home conference had elected her as its lead delegate to the General Conference now postponed to 2024 and endorsed her as a candidate for bishop. Eason-Williams recently had withdrawn her candidacy to focus on her ministry as district superintendent, an appointment she took on in July 2021.

“She preached and she prayed hard, passionately and without reservation,” said the Rev. Cynthia Davis, her longtime friend who recently retired as a district superintendent. “She wanted everyone to have a relationship with Jesus, and she didn’t leave you where she found you if you didn’t.”

The Rev. Kurt Boggan. Photo courtesy of the Arkansas Conference. 
The Rev. Kurt Boggan. Photo courtesy of the Arkansas Conference.

The Rev. Kurt Boggan

Fellow United Methodists remember the Rev. William Kurt Boggan as a gifted church leader who played a role in the denomination-wide movement to foster vital congregations. Even in retirement, he continued to serve as pastor of two churches that minister with some of the most vulnerable communities in Arkansas.

Boggan, who went by “Kurt,” died July 20 of a heart attack at age 67 in Little Rock, Arkansas. He is survived by daughters Emily Wineland, an attorney, and Ashley Boggan, the top executive of the United Methodist Commission on Archives and History. His wife of 43 years, Rebecca, a deacon and his frequent partner in ministry, also died in 2022.

The descendent of Arkansas circuit-riding preachers, Boggan was pastor to United Methodist churches across the state. He later served as district superintendent and subsequently as the director and lead equipper for the Arkansas Conference’s newly created Center for Vitality. In that role, he worked to train clergy and laity to create vital congregations that make more disciples of Jesus Christ. He then brought those skills to First United Methodist Church in Bentonville.

Even in retirement, he stepped up to serve where needed. At the time of his passing, Boggan was pastor of Quapaw Quarter and Canvas Community United Methodist churches — two Little Rock congregations dedicated to ministry with the homeless and the marginalized. Quapaw Quarter is also the Arkansas Conference’s first Reconciling congregation, meaning it affirms and advocates for LGBTQ people in the life of the church.

“His ambition was always to serve God and God’s people,” said Bishop Charles Crutchfield, now retired, who appointed Boggan as district superintendent. “In this he was an overachiever.”

Dr. Annegret Klaiber. Photo courtesy of the United Methodist Church Germany. 
Dr. Annegret Klaiber. Photo courtesy of the United Methodist Church Germany.

Dr. Annegret Klaiber

As a young woman, Dr. Annegret Klaiber pursued a career in medicine. She also took time to study theology while a student in Basel, Switzerland, attending lectures by the renowned Protestant theologian Karl Barth.

That commitment to science and faith shaped her ministry and her marriage to now-retired Bishop Walter Klaiber. She died July 23 at the age of 83, after a struggle with dementia and other health issues.

Annagret Klaiber was born in 1938 in Tübingen, Germany, and her childhood was marked by war, but she also found comfort in her home church. She and her future husband met when she was a medical student and he a theology student. The two wed in 1965 and eventually had three sons.

As her husband followed his call to ordained ministry and as a New Testament professor, Klaiber pursued her own calling as a physician and lecturer in health sciences.

Soon after her husband became bishop, Klaiber discovered her talent for translating English-language hymns while working on the new United Methodist hymnal for German United Methodists. Her translations were not only a familiar sight in the hymnal but also used in the ecumenical sphere. When Germans sing the hymn “Amazing Grace,” the translation they are likely using is her work.

“Dr. Annegret Klaiber was an approachable person,” said Bishop Harald Rückert, Germany’s current bishop. “She had a feeling for people in difficult situations. With wisdom and prudence, she worked for them on many levels. She was particularly interested in addiction support and prevention. … (Her) independent diaconal work has left its mark of blessing in many places.”

The Rev. Bob Gary. Photo courtesy of Atlanta Journal-Constitution /Legacy.com. 
The Rev. Bob Gary.
Photo courtesy of Atlanta Journal-Constitution /Legacy.com.

The Rev. Bob Gary

The Rev. G. Robert “Bob” Gary Sr. knew how to bring healing in brokenness, and he taught others to do the same. The longtime director of chaplaincy at Emory University Hospital, who received recognition from a U.S. president, died Aug. 3 at his home in Decatur, Georgia. He was 90.

He served five churches before becoming director of chaplaincy at the United Methodist-related hospital in 1971. During his 26-year tenure, he grew the department’s clinical pastoral education program to the largest in the country. He also taught pastoral care at Emory’s Candler School of Theology. When he retired, he received recognition from then President Bill Clinton.

Even in retirement, Gary continued to serve as a consultant and pastoral counselor, often working with congregations dealing with divisions. He and his wife of 65 years, Janet, also led Sunday school and attended worship together at Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church in Atlanta.

“Those he mentored through the years uniformly thought that being with Bob was one of the great turning points of their lives,” said the Rev. James T. Laney, retired Candler dean and Emory University president. Laney’s wife trained with Gary to become a hospital chaplain in her mid-50s.

“She found that to be remarkably life-affirming and vocational granting,” Laney recalled. “She found that to be her life’s true calling at that point. And those are remarkable comments to make about anybody’s life.”

The Rev. Earl Bible. Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News. 
The Rev. Earl Bible. Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News.

The Rev. Earl Bible

Jesus loves them, this they know. For the Rev. Earl Bible told them so.

One of the longest-serving licensed local pastors in The United Methodist Church, Bible died Aug. 4 at age 85 at his home in Seneca Rocks, West Virginia. UM News featured him in a series about licensed local pastors.

For nearly 40 years, he was pastor to the people of Whitmer, Circleville, North Dry Run and Job United Methodist churches. He also was a shepherd in another sense. He and his wife of 66 years, Doris, tended a flock of sheep and some cattle on their farm.

While still a foreman at a nearby plant, he used his summer vacation for eight years to take the course of study for local pastors at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.

“He was a Christ-focused spiritual leader that brought many into a more intimate relationship with Jesus Christ,” said the Rev. Scott Ferguson, Potomac Highlands District superintendent. The district includes the Allegheny Charge where Bible served.

“One time, he asked me about knowing when it was time to retire. I shared with him that conversation was between him and God. It must not have been his time because he continued to serve. Earl will be missed, but his legacy will live on for generations to come.”

Yvonne Lowery Kennedy. Photo courtesy of Ever Loved. 
Yvonne Lowery Kennedy. Photo courtesy of Ever Loved.

Yvonne Lowery Kennedy

Yvonne Lowery Kennedy, a lifelong United Methodist, is remembered for carrying on the civil rights work of her late parents, the Rev. Joseph and Evelyn Lowery. She died Aug. 6 at age 74 in Calera, Alabama.

Born in nearby Birmingham, Alabama, Kennedy and her sisters grew up surrounded by the leaders of the civil rights movement, whom the children knew as “Uncle” and “Aunt.” She and her sisters also joined their parents on civil rights marches and learned early the threats people faced in the pursuit of equality.

But Kennedy remained undaunted. She led several organizations dedicated to the rights of ethnic minorities and women. She was the founder and director of the Women and Girls Business Network at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She retired as the deputy director of the university’s Minority Business Program. Kennedy had five children and 14 grandchildren.

She also was a board member of the National Congress of Black Women and founding chair of the group’s Birmingham Chapter. Following her mother’s death in 2012, she was elected as board chair of Southern Christian Leadership Conference/W.O.M.E.N., Inc., an organization her mother founded. Each year until her death, Kennedy and others in the group annually organized visits to Alabama’s civil rights landmarks culminating in crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, site of Bloody Sunday’s violence against people pursuing voting rights.

Among the participants on those visits was retired United Methodist Bishop Woodie White.

“She was easy to know and easy to love. Quick to smile,” said White, who prayed with Kennedy shortly before her death. “She was warm. She had a way of saying, ‘Uncle Woodie,’ that always melted my heart.”

Vivian Bull. Photo courtesy of Drew University. 
Vivian Bull. Photo courtesy of Drew University.

Vivian Bull

Vivian A. Bull had a lasting influence on United Methodist education as a university professor, president and longtime board member of the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry. She died Aug. 12 at age 87.

She met her future husband, Robert J. Bull, on a trip to Jerusalem and followed him to United Methodist-related Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. He taught in the theological school. She served as an economics professor at Drew for 32 years from 1960 to 1992 and as associate dean of its College of Liberal Arts from 1978 to 1986. The couple had two sons.

She left Drew for a 13-year stint as president of Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon, where she earned president emerita status upon her retirement. She came out of retirement from 2012 to 2014 to serve a two-year interim term as Drew’s 12th president.

She also brought her gifts as an economist to the wider church. Since 1988, she has been a member of the Higher Education and Ministry board’s Investment Committee. She chaired the committee for the past several years.

“Dr. Vivian Bull was an exceptional person with great wisdom who valued all God’s people,” Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball, Higher Education and Ministry’s president, said in a statement. “She was a patient educator who helped people to see beyond the present, to see possibility.”

The Rev. Walter Henry McKelvey Sr. Photo courtesy of the Western North Carolina Conference. 
The Rev. Walter Henry McKelvey Sr.
Photo courtesy of the Western North Carolina Conference.

The Rev. Walter Henry McKelvey Sr.

The Rev. Walter Henry McKelvey Sr. began his career in the Methodist Church’s Central Jurisdiction, which segregated African Americans from much of the denomination.

He eventually became president of Gammon Theological Seminary in Atlanta, the historically Black United Methodist seminary that trains pastors, lay leaders and bishops to serve the wider church.

McKelvey, Gammon’s president from 1997 to 2010, died Aug. 15 in Columbia, South Carolina. He was 81.

Born in Greenville, South Carolina, he earned his bachelor’s from Gammon, part of the International Theological Center in Atlanta. He eventually earned a master’s degree in evangelism from the former Scarritt College in Nashville, Tennessee, and a doctorate from United Methodist-related Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. He also received a certificate in executive management from the University of Michigan. Gammon bestowed on him an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree in 1984.

He served in three United Methodist conferences: South Carolina, Holston and Western North Carolina.

The Rev. Joseph L. Crawford Sr., who served as Gammon’s treasurer under McKelvey’s leadership, said the seminary president was a sound fiscal administrator who had a driving passion for recruiting prospective seminary students and garnering funds for scholarships to support them.

“His impeccable Christian character and commitment to United Methodism became a real model for the seminarians and staff,” said Crawford, Gammon’s former interim president-dean. “I remember and appreciate him as an excellent Gospel preacher, a family-oriented man, a respectable co-worker and an avid ‘fisherman.’”

Bishop John Russell. Photo courtesy of UM News. 
Bishop John Russell.
Photo courtesy of UM News.

Bishop John Russell

Bishop John William Russell, the Central Texas Conference’s inaugural episcopal leader, died Sept. 2 at the Reunion Court of the Woodlands, Texas. He was 96.

The Abilene, Texas, native served in the U.S. Army during World War II before following in his father’s footsteps to become a Methodist minister.

He served various local churches and as a district superintendent in Oklahoma. In 1980, the South Central Jurisdiction elected him bishop and assigned him to the Dallas-Fort Worth Area. In 1988, Russell was assigned to the newly formed Fort Worth Episcopal Area, which meant the Central Texas Conference for the first time had a bishop of its own.

After his retirement in 1992, he and his wife, Mary Jean, became faithful participants at First United Methodist Church in Fort Worth. He also was a board member of the Methodist Children's Home in Waco, Texas, for 20 years. He and his late wife were married 71 years.

“Bishop Russell was a very gentle, loving and pastoral person, who brought a keen sense of humor to any situation,” said the Rev Tim Bruster, former senior pastor of First Fort Worth and current director of finance and administration for the Central Texas Conference. “You knew you were in for a chuckle when he was around because he’d always get this ‘look’ on his face just before he’d crack a joke.”

The Rev. Ginnie Lowther. Photo courtesy of Heavner & Cutright Funeral Chapel. 
The Rev. Ginnie Lowther.
Photo courtesy of Heavner & Cutright Funeral Chapel.

The Rev. Ginnie Lowther

The Rev. Mary Virginia Settle Lowther, who went by Ginnie, was a longtime West Virginia Conference leader who provided souvenir photo services at several General Conferences. She died Sept. 4 at age 87.

She was in the first class of deacons ordained as full conference members in 1997, served in the connectional ministries office and held several conference leadership positions. She was co-editor of 30 editions of the West Virginia Annual Conference Journal. She served as chair of the West Virginia United Methodist Conference Commission on Archives and History and as a member of the Annual Conference Board of Ordained Ministry. She also was president of the West Virginia Conference Minister’s Wives Association.

After retiring in 2002, she and her husband — the Rev. Dewayne Lowther — launched Ministry of Memory. They used photographic journaling to capture the work that people did for the church, and they provided portraits of individuals and delegations at their photo booth at General Conference.

Judi M. Kenaston, West Virginia Conference secretary and former chair of the commission that plans General Conference, said Ginnie Lowther had a commitment to service and a passion for preserving church history.

“They specialized in telling the stories behind the actions of General Conference — showing the hard work, moments of celebration and moments of pain,” Kenaston said. “It truly was a labor of love.”

Bishop Robert H. Spain. Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News. 
Bishop Robert H. Spain. Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News.

Bishop Robert H. Spain

At an age when many would take a step back, Bishop Robert Hitchcock Spain stepped up to provide pastoral care to more than a thousand people as the United Methodist Publishing House’s full-time chaplain.

The retired bishop led regular worship, visited the sick, comforted the grieving, celebrated graduations and guided countless people in their Christian walk well into his 90s. Friends and fellow United Methodist clergy remember him as someone who kept ministry going and going — like the Energizer Bunny of bishops.

Spain, who went by Bob, died Sept. 9 at age 96.

He served in the U.S. Navy’s Medical Corps during World War II, and initially studied pre-med before following a call to pastoral ministry. After decades of serving as a pastor and district superintendent in and around Nashville, Tennessee, he was elected bishop at age 62.

He led the Louisville Area, comprising what was then the Kentucky, Louisville and Red Bird Missionary conferences, from 1988 to 1992. When Bishop Joseph B. Bethea died in 1995 after a sudden illness, fellow Southeastern Jurisdiction bishops called on Spain to serve as the South Carolina Conference’s interim bishop until new elections in 1996. 

Spain still wasn’t ready to hang up the clerical collar. He had previously led seminars for the United Methodist Publishing House and enthusiastically took on the role of the agency’s chaplain. He and his wife of 74 years, Syble, also became active worshippers at Brentwood United Methodist Church, the suburban megachurch where Spain had once served as senior pastor.

“Bob’s impact was universal,” said Neil Alexander, president and publisher emeritus of the United Methodist Publishing House. “No one could escape the fallout from his incessant hopefulness.”

Christiana Dabale. Photo courtesy of the Dabale family. 
Christiana Dabale.
Photo courtesy of the Dabale family.

Christiana Kerike Dabale

Christiana Kerike Dabale, the widow of late United Methodist Bishop Done Peter Dabala, died Oct. 17 at the age of 70.

Fellow United Methodists called her “Mama Bishop.” Her husband, who died of cancer in 2006, was the first United Methodist bishop in Nigeria. The two had 11 children. She is survived by 10 children and 14 grandchildren.

Born in the Bakum in the Adamawa State of Nigeria, she grew up to be a strong defender of the Christian faith who loved God, her family and The United Methodist Church. Fellow United Methodists credit her, like her husband, with building up The United Methodist Church in Nigeria.

Wehnam Peter Dabale, her sixth child, said his mother operated an “open-house policy,” welcoming both strangers and church members whenever they visited. She also trained her children in biblical injunctions and helped the needy regardless of their ethnic, religious or cultural backgrounds.

“We are eternally grateful to God for her selfless sacrifices and contributions to the Church, family and humanity,” said her son, international student adviser at United Methodist-related Africa University in Mutare, Zimbabwe.

Rukudzo J. Murapa. Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News. 
Rukudzo J. Murapa.
Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News.

Rukudzo J. Murapa

Former Africa University vice chancellor Rukudzo J. Murapa is being remembered for his vision, networking and leadership, including helping to establish the United Methodist university’s Institute of Peace, Leadership and Governance.

Murapa died at age 82 at Murambi Garden Clinic in Mutare on Oct. 27.

In Zimbabwe, a vice chancellor is the equivalent of a university president in the U.S. He was the pan-African University’s second vice chancellor, serving from 1998 to 2007. His death came just days after the university celebrated its 30th anniversary.

Murapa held a bachelor’s degree in political science from United Methodist-related Hamline University in Minnesota and a master’s degree in political science and a doctorate in public administration, comparative politics and economics from Northern Illinois University.

Friends and colleagues say the former political scientist was instrumental in laying a firm foundation for the institution.

Zimbabwe’s Bishop Eben K. Nhiwatiwa said Murapa will always have a special place in the hall of fame among the list of vice chancellors who served Africa University. The bishop, a former lecturer at the school, was among the staff who first heard Murapa mapping out his vision of what a university should look like.

“He catapulted the name of Africa University onto the community of academics,” Nhiwatiwa said. 

The Rev. Chabelo Gomez. Photo courtesy of the North Texas Conference. 
The Rev. Chabelo Gomez.
Photo courtesy of the North Texas Conference.

The Rev. Chabelo Gomez

The Rev. Isabel “Chabelo” Gomez died on Nov. 10, after a long, fruitful career in Hispanic ministry that included mentoring fellow clergy and others. He was 85.

When he was diagnosed with terminal cancer in late 2021, he said the one thing he wanted to accomplish with his limited time was to share the story of the former Rio Grande Conference with Hispanic/Latino clergy in the North Texas Conference. In January, he accomplished his goal of telling the stories of the conference that was united more by the Spanish language than geography.

Gomez served in both the Rio Grande and North Texas conferences. He also was among the early staff members of the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race. The Rev. Owen Ross first met Gomez when the pioneering Hispanic leader was a hospital chaplain. Ross recalled that Gomez brought a ministry of deep compassion to tragic circumstances.

“Rev. Gomez was a joyful warrior for justice and compassion,” Ross wrote in a remembrance for his friend.

“Having grown up in racially segregated Dallas, having witnessed and experienced so many social and personal tragedies, he had a joy born of a resilient Savior that was contagious to all with whom he came in contact.”

The Rev. Debi Tyree. Photo by Jonathan Tyree, the Rev. Tyree’s son. 
The Rev. Debi Tyree.
Photo by Jonathan Tyree, the Rev. Tyree’s son.

The Rev. Debi Tyree

The Rev. Debra R. Tyree, who went by Debi, knew how to get people singing their Christian faith.

She did so as minister of worship and mission at Bellevue United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, for 19 years. She also did so as a member of the worship planning team of the 2016 General Conference and as leader of the Global Praise team at the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, the denomination’s mission agency.

The memorial service at Bellevue highlighted her love of global worship, featuring songs in three languages, said the church’s lead pastor, the Rev. Brian Marcoulier.

Tyree died on Nov. 11 after a struggle with cancer. She was 66.

Tyree, an ordained United Methodist deacon, had long experience using her gifts for music to help people make a joyful noise. She served for 22 years at Shady Grove United Methodist Church in Mechanicsville, Virginia, where she developed a music program that included choirs, hand bells and liturgical dance.

But her influence on United Methodist worship extended well beyond the congregations where she served and led God’s praise. Before taking on roles with Global Ministries and Bellevue United Methodist, she served as music editor for the United Methodist Publishing House.

Leaders in music ministry across the denomination counted her as friend. Among them was David L. Bone, a hospital chaplain and former executive director of The Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts. He was among the people who surrounded her with care in the hospital.

“She knew how to draw the circle ever wider, making sure that all were included,” Bone said. “In worship, Debi lifted each person over whatever perceived walls might divide, and with a voice filled with confidence, she shattered all inhibitions and fears.”

Hahn is assistant news editor for UM News. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]. Information for this story was compiled from UM News reports by Sam Hodges, Jim Patterson, Eveline Chikwanah and Chadrack Tambwe Londe.

David Burke of the Great Plains Conference, Jack Harnish of the Michigan Conference, Karla Hovde of the Minnesota Conference, Klaus Ulrich Ruof of The United Methodist Church in Germany, Sybil Davidson of the North Georgia Conference, Phileas Jusu of Sierra Leone, the Rev. Betty Musau of Congo and Vance Morton of the Central Texas Conference also contributed.


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Church Leadership
The Rev. Joel Mora Peña had a unique ministry trajectory, serving as a bishop in the Methodist Church of Mexico, then as a pastor in the Rio Grande Conference of The United Methodist Church. He died Jan. 3, at age 88. Photo courtesy of Meliza Gómez.

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