Hickman led the way in United Methodist worship

If you regularly attend a United Methodist church, you’re probably under the influence of the Rev. Hoyt Hickman.

For starters, he helped transform The United Methodist Hymnal, integrating psalms and prayers and prominently offering liturgy for a range of services. 

“Hoyt Hickman was the first dean of all United Methodist liturgists,” said the Rev. Andy Langford in a tribute column. “Hoyt introduced The United Methodist Church to the latest and best of all ecumenical worship resources. He literally changed how United Methodists worship.”

Hickman died Sept. 5, at age 89, at his home in Los Altos, California.

United Methodists ministers who are specialists in the field of worship regarded Hickman as a mentor.

“All of us were in awe of what he could do, and hope we can do even a third as much,” said the Rev. Taylor Burton-Edwards, Discipleship Ministries’ director of worship resources.

Helping a merged denomination

Hickman was born in Pittsburgh, into a family that had Methodist pastors and involved laity going back generations. His father, Leon Hickman, was a lawyer who served in key denominational roles, including on the Judicial Council.

After service in the U.S. Navy in 1945-46, Hoyt Hickman earned degrees from Haverford College, Yale Divinity School and Union Theological Seminary. He married Martha Jean Whitmore in 1950, and they had four children.

Hickman, ordained as a deacon in 1952 and as an elder the next year, served various churches in Pennsylvania. Early on, he developed a keen interest in approaches to worship.

The United Methodist Church was created by merger in 1968, and Hickman served as executive secretary of its Commission on Worship from 1968 to 1972. For the next 21 years, he was director of worship resources development for the United Methodist Board of Discipleship, now Discipleship Ministries.

The Rev. Don Saliers, theologian-in-residence at Candler School of Theology, said early leaders of The United Methodist Church concluded it needed fresh worship resources that honored the traditions of its component parts, The Methodist Church and Evangelical United Brethren Church.

Hickman, more than anyone, made that happen, Saliers said.

For example, Hickman oversaw the creation of the 17-volume series “Supplemental Worship Resources.”

“This was the real foundation for The United Methodist Hymnal (1989) and The United Methodist Book of Worship,” Saliers said.

The Rev. Heather Murray Elkins, professor of worship, preaching and the arts at Drew University Theological School, said that while Hickman had plenty of help, he was indispensable in creating a hymnal that in its opening pages offers liturgies and other direction for worship,  and intersperses the Psalms and great prayers among the hymns.

“He took the book of the people, which the hymnal has always been, and shepherded it through so it became the book of United Methodists in worship,” she said.

Gaining acceptance for a richly liturgical hymnal fell in large part to Hickman, too.

 “Hoyt was one of the most consummate church pastoral politicians I think any church has had, and I say ʽpastoral politician’ with admiration,” Saliers said.

Promoter of women scholars

Hickman would write various books, including “Worshipping with United Methodists, “United Methodist Altars” and “A Primer for Church Worship.” He served as general editor for “The Faith We Sing,” supplement to The United Methodist Hymnal.

The Rev. Hoyt Hickman

A memorial service will be held at the Terraces at Los Altos, in Los Altos, California, on Nov. 5.

Donations in Hoyt Hickman’s memory may be made to Edgehill United Methodist Church, P.O. Box 128258, Nashville, Tennessee, 37212, or Jumonville Camp & Retreat Center, 887 Jumonville Road, Hopwood, Pennsylvania, 15445.


He joined Saliers, James White and Laurence Stookey in producing “The Handbook of the Christian Year” and “The New Handbook of the Christian Year,” offering services and prayers from various denominations.

Hickman taught classes on worship at Vanderbilt University, and later was a visiting professor of liturgical studies at Drew University, where he was acting dean of the Theological School in 1995.

Hickman served on Elkins’ dissertation committee.

 “So many of the women who are teaching now or who have significant leadership roles had his support, and that was early on,” she said. “He saw gifts and helped them come to the surface.”

Hickman was active in the North American Academy of Liturgy and the Order of St. Luke, an ecumenical religious order focused on sacramental and liturgical scholarship and practice. The Order gives a Hoyt L. Hickman Award.

ʽWill it play in Peoria?’

Saliers recalled that on his many trips to Nashville, he often stayed at the home of Hoyt and Martha Hickman, and worshipped with them at Edgehill United Methodist Church.

Apart from the gracious welcome, Saliers could count on discussion about liturgy and theology. Hickman wanted worship resources that pastors would use.

“We used to joke around the table, ʽWill it play in Peoria? Will it play in Erie, Pennsylvania?’” Saliers said. “He kept us asking how it’s going to go in a local church that may not have been used to this material.”

The Hickmans experienced tragedy in the death of their daughter Mary, at age 16, in an accident. Martha Hickman was an accomplished author, and her book “Healing After Loss”— published in 1994 and still in print — was written to help others through such trials.

Martha Hickman died last year. Hoyt Hickman is survived by his brother, Herbert; son Stephen and wife Karen Garrison; son John and wife Lisa Berezin; son Peter and wife Maria Teresa Tatto; and six grandchildren.

Hickman’s voluminous, well-organized papers are with the United Methodist Commission on Archives & History, in Madison, New Jersey. He was a family historian, too, and left his survivors a treasure of genealogical writings.

 “They don’t just list the statistics,” said son Peter. “They also include correspondence, newspaper articles, remembrances and a lot of humanizing details. … They’re marvelous documents.”

Hodges, a United Methodist News Service writer, lives in Dallas. Contact him at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]

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