Category Archives: Passings

Passings — Elder Cynthia Bolbach

Yesterday Ruling Elder Cynthia Bolbach, Moderator of the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), finished her nearly year-long battle with cancer and leaving this earthly life joined the Church Triumphant.

In the last 24 hours many fine tributes to Madam Moderator have been posted, and I will link to a few of those at the end. But each of us experienced her in our own way and here are a couple of my reflections.

I never met her in person but had the opportunity to watch her as she stood for Moderator in 2010 and then, as the successful candidate, as she presided over the meeting. What probably struck you first and stayed with you the longest was her sense of humor, and particularly her self-effacing nature. When the occasion called for it she could be very serious, but in my experience she never took herself too seriously. But the next thing that struck you about her was her graciousness. As she moderated the meeting she has a welcoming touch and a manner that honored the presence of those she was with.

Cindy was a vocal proponent, and model, for one of my favorite causes, the equal place of ruling elders in our church. She not only served as Moderator of the GA, but as co-moderator of the task force that drafted the New Form of Government. And she was in a position professionally to be able to balance her career and church service – something I must admit that I admired and envied.

I do wish that I had met her in person but I did get to know her in the virtual world. I counted it as an honor when I learned that she was a regular reader of this little idiosyncratic blog of mine, and I will admit that I was really taken aback when in one of her monthly columns this blog was among the handful she recommended for news about the PC(USA). We did interacted a couple of times in comments and messages.

There are a number of other tributes to her appearing on the web including the official release from the PC(USA), a personal family reflection from her nephew Mark, a nice piece from Bruce Reyes-Chow (Moderator of the preceding Assembly), and a good one from Mark Koenig.

From what I do know of Cindy she fits what is probably my favorite line about death

“I will not die of a cold. I will die from having lived.”

(From Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather; fill in your own “what you will not die of”)

But as Christians we live with the reality of death yet also with the hope of the resurrection

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  And
I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling
place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” [Rev 21:1-4]

Passings — William H. “Bill” Hopper

Last week I lost a good friend when Bill Hopper transferred his membership from the Church Militant to the Church Triumphant.  Those that knew Bill know that he sure fit the description of a member of the Church Militant.

Bill had a long and distinguished career in the PC(USA) and its predecessor branches as a missionary in Iran and Pakistan and in his service to the church on every level from the congregation to the General Assembly. To the wider church he may be best known today for his co-authorship, with Clifton Kirkpatrick, of the book What Unites Presbyterians.

To me Bill was a coworker in our presbytery — we would regularly see each other at presbytery meetings and events and exchange greetings and briefly catch up.  But more than that Bill had the spiritual gift of encouragement. It seemed like every conversation we had, somewhere in it he slipped in some comment about how well I handled some report to presbytery or what a good job I did with a particular presentation. In the 15 years that I have been serving in various positions in middle governing bodies he was constantly encouraging me and supporting me in each new role.

But what I will remember Bill the most for was that he was a strong and vocal supporter of the joint governance by teaching and ruling elders. In a presbytery meeting if a ruling elder prefaced their remarks with something like “I am only a ruling elder but…”, he would soon be at the microphone encouraging them with something like “There is no such thing as ‘only an elder’ in the Presbyterian church,” and he would continue with a brief refresher on the nature of our joint governance.

Today would have been Bill’s 86th birthday. We will miss him but we rejoice that he has entered into his eternal reward.

There is another recollection of Bill by Sonnie Swenston-Forbes, and Sonnie has also posted a letter many of us got from Bill’s family.

Passings — Tom Gillespie

Over the weekend the Rev. Thomas Gillespie Ph.D., immediate past-President, of Princeton Theological Seminary passed away. If you want the formal notices and full biography you can read ones from Princeton and the Presbyterian News Service.  I knew President Gillespie only through the good fortune of meeting and working with him on two different, and very Presbyterian, occassions. I found him to be a most gracious and humble individual, full of life and good humor, and truly a pleasure to work with.  As you will see, both of these were formal occassions so he may have been on his best behavior. None the less, I came away from each with a very high regard for the gentleman.

In reading the Princeton news piece I did have to chuckle. Our Presbytery has a good-hearted standing joke about which is the best seminary – one of the two in our Presbytery, Fuller or Claremont, or Princeton. Well, Tom got his M.Div. from Princeton, his Ph.D. from Claremont, and then returned to Princeton as president.  He covered the bases.

The first time I met and worked with Rev. Gillespie was when I was a commissioner to the 209th General Assembly (1997) and on the Theological Institutions Committee. One afternoon our committee broke up into a number of groups to meet with the presidents and students from the PC(USA) seminaries.  It was a good discussion, lively and open, and a great chance to hear this informal reporting from our schools.  I have to admit that I don’t remember who the other seminary president in our group was but I do clearly remember Rev. Gillespie and his participation.

The presidents met with us for much of the committee time, particularly since we were dealing with the tricky question of denominational doctrine in tension with academic freedom. In no small part it was Tom Gillespie who helped us navigate that issue and use the presbytery overture as a starting point for compromise action by the Assembly.

The second time I worked with Rev. Gillespie was almost a decade later when I was the Moderator of Presbytery and he was the preacher for an installation. In my time as Moderator he was probably the best known pastor that I shared the pulpit with at an ordination or installation. As we were preparing for the worship service he and I had a brief but wonderful conversation about the presbytery, our mission programs and what else what happening.  He was not an “ivy tower” academic but showed a genuine concern for what was happening in the churches around the country. But the most enduring thing to me was his positive affirmation of my leadership position in the presbytery and his comments about the nature of shared leadership between teaching and ruling elders. It was clear from working with him that day that ruling elders are just as important in the Presbyterian system as the teaching elders and his affirmation of my work in the church is something I have carried with me since.

I give thanks for his life and the brief times that we have worked together in the life of the church.  My deepest sympathies to his family and prayers in this time of loss. If others have had the same experience as I have the PC(USA) is a better denomination because of how he has encouraged and contributed to it. Godspeed.

Passings — Avery Dulles S.J.

Yesterday Avery Dulles, Catholic Priest and theologian at Fordham University, passed to his eternal rest at the age of 90.  There have been numerous articles about him, but for a lot of information about his life I recommend the New York Times article.  There is also a press release from Fordham.

Father Dulles’ family heritage was in public service and Presbyterianism.  His father was John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State in the Eisenhower administration.  His grandfather was the Rev. Dr. Allen Macy Dulles, a Presbyterian minister and theologian and professor at Auburn Theological Seminary.   (Allen Macy Dulles’ book The True Church — A Study, published in 1907, is still listed by booksellers.  It is interesting that the work by Avery Dulles that is cited as his “best know work” , Models of the Church, seems to have a similar theme.)  But by the time Avery entered college at Harvard he had left organized religion and was agnostic.  In college he rediscovered religion, or God found him, depending on how you look at it.  In his rebirth of spirituality he joined the Roman church, eventually joining the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) and being ordained as a priest.  His professional life was dominated by academic work and he became the first American theologian, rather than a bishop or archbishop, to be elevated to the status of cardinal.  (It was late in life in 2001 at the age of 82 that Dulles became a cardinal, a bit of an “honorary status” since the cutoff for participation in the College of Cardinals for pontifical voting is 80.)

I did not know a lot about Fr. Dulles before his death, but in reading through the articles two aspects of his life resonate with me as having a Presbyterian or Reformed nature, even though he left the Presbyterian branch.  The first was his dedication to vocation.  In his life and work he exhibited his dedication to the academic calling and was never elevated above the ordinary priesthood because that was not his calling.  This calling was recognized by Pope Benedict XVI this past spring in his visit to New York when in a special private audience requested by the pope, Benedict addressed Dulles as “Herr Professor” rather than “Your Eminence” (or the Latin equivalence of that).  Fr. Dulles knew his calling and lived into it.

The other part of his life that struck me was his role as an interpreter of tradition in a new age.  The official Vatican News Service article was headlined “Creativity in Fidelity.”  The New York Times article talks about this work:

His task as a theologian, the Cardinal often said, was to honor
diversity and dissent but ultimately to articulate the traditions of
the church and to preserve Catholic unity.


His tenure coincided with broad shifts in theological ideas as well
as sweeping changes brought on by the Second Vatican Council in the
1960s. These provided new understandings of how the church, after
centuries of isolation from modern thought and even hostility to it,
should relate to other faiths and to religious liberty in an age when
the church was gaining millions of new followers in diverse cultures.

Cardinal Dulles devoted much of his scholarship to interpretations of
the Vatican Council’s changes, which he said had been mistaken by some
theologians as a license to push in democratic directions. The church,
he counseled, should guard its sacred teachings against secularism and

“Christianity,” he said in a 1994 speech, “would
dissolve itself if it allowed its revealed content, handed down in
tradition, to be replaced by contemporary theories.”

It struck me that he exhibited a “freedom of conscience” while promoting the “peace, unity, and purity” of the church.

I leave you with Cardinal Dulles’ closing lines (quoted here) from his Farewell Lecture this past summer, composed by him but read for him:

Suffering and diminishment are not the greatest of evils but are normal
ingredients in life, especially in old age. They are to be accepted as
elements of a full human existence. Well into my ninetieth year I have
been able to work productively. As I become increasingly paralyzed and
unable to speak, I can identify with the many paralytics and mute
persons in the Gospels, grateful for the loving and skillful care I
receive and for the hope of everlasting life in Christ. If the Lord now
calls me to a period of weakness, I know well that his power can be
made perfect in infirmity. “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Passings — Jane Parker Huber

It is said “you can’t judge a book by its cover,” but I find that a glance at the indexes of a hymnal give a rapid assessment of the nature and tone of the book.  In particular, I look at the most frequently included authors and translators in the volume.

It should come as no surprise that the longest list of entries in the index of a Methodist hymnal is for the Wesley brothers, up to one-tenth of the hymns even for a current hymnal.  And while a Lutheran hymnal also has a significant contribution from the good Dr. Martin, as well as other German writers, frequently the single greatest source is Catherine Winkworth, a prolific translator of Western European hymns into English.  Likewise, an Anglican hymnal like Hymns Ancient and Modern will often be dominated by translations of classic Greek and Latin hymns by John M. Neale (such as O Come, O Come, Emmanuel).  And if you are looking at an independently published non-denominational hymnal, don’t be surprised if it comes from the revival tradition and has Fanny Crosby as its single largest source.

It is probably no surprise that in the classic 1933 Presbyterian Hymnal the single largest source is Isaac Watts, who alone is responsible for about 4% of the hymns in the book. 

All this introduction to explain why I find it significant that in the current Presbyterian Hymnal Jane Parker Huber is in the top ten individual writers of hymns in the volume with ten, just slightly behind the numbers from Issac Watts and Charles Wesley.  The recognition is mutual — her work helps define the denomination’s worship and the church recognizes her gifts and talents to God’s glory and praise.

Jane went to be with the Lord on November 15, but leaves the church with both an advocacy and literary legacy.

I will not repeat the various tributes to her — for those check out articles from the Presbyterian News Service and the Witherspoon Society.  There is also an earlier article when she was honored in 2002 for her work in the Women’s Ministries program.  She would fit the description of being a “Presbyterian of Presbyterians,” having been born to missionary parents, served the church for many years along side her husband Bill, and in her own work with Women’s Ministries, Presbyterian Women and her hymn writing.  And it is significant that her work was with the Women’s Ministries and the song writing was something that flowed out of that, originally writing many of the songs for Presbyterian Women events.

While time will be the judge of which of her hymns is the most enduring, my choice is “Called as Partners in Christ’s Service.”  This is a hymn frequently used across denominational lines that has had its first line used as the title of a book on PC(USA) missions.  I last used it as the concluding hymn of the closing worship service for our Synod Assembly meeting just over a month ago.  It is a great “sending” hymn.  But however her musical work is remembered we can give thanks for a life lived in service to God through service to the church.

[Postscript:  Various sources, including the Witherspoon article above, cite Jane with eleven hymns in the Presbyterian Hymnal.  In the index of my copy I count ten so I can’t account for the discrepancy.  In the end it really does not matter because the beauty and solid writing of her hymns make her works significant whatever the final count.]

Passings — Rev. Louis Evans Jr.

The Rev. Louis H. Evans Jr. joined the Church Triumphant on October 28 after an earthly struggle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, aka Lou Gehrig’s Disease.  As you can see from the L.A. Time article, he had an impressive lineage and resume.  He was the organizing pastor of Bel Air Presbyterian Church here in L.A. and was the senior pastor at National Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C.  He provided great service to the Lord Jesus Christ through his work in the church and there are numerous articles testifying to that effort.  And Ken Malloy, one of the TV news anchors in Fresno where the Evans’ lived, has a tribute to Rev. Evans on his blog.

But I want to share my one experience with Rev. Evans.  Several years ago our church invited Louie and Coke, as Pastor Evans and his wife Colleen were know, to lead a couples retreat for the church.  It was a wonderful weekend, they were warm, charming, entertaining, informative and challenging.  They did not have a hint of pretense but were “down to earth” people and meshed with the folks from our church right from the start.  They did have stories, mostly told on themselves, and that just added to their charm and familiarity.

I got to sit next to Louie at one of the meals and discovered we were both “GA Junkies” of another type.  That would be G.A. as in “General Aviation,” the technical term for private pilots and non-commercial aviation.  I am not a pilot but have a great interest and follow the field.  He had his private pilot’s license and once he found that he had an interested party to listen to more of his stories he was more than eager to swap tales.

It was a delightful weekend and I thank God for the two of them and their ministry which was continuing even at that point in their lives.  May God comfort his family with the knowledge that he is surely in God’s presence.  “Well done good and faithful servant.”

Arthur C. Clarke: 1917 – 2008

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

This is know as Clarke’s Third Law and is one of his most quoted statements, at least by me.  (Right up there with HAL’s line “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”)

It comes from Arthur C. Clarke, the noted science fiction writer who passed away yesterday.  There are numerous tributes and remembrances of him in the news and in the blogosphere so I am not going to attempt another one.  But personally, I have always admired his writing for the scientific accuracy and depth and the timeless themes.  Reading science fiction as I was growing up had a major impact on me and Mr. Clarke was a part of that.

This line, however, touches me in the day-to-day of my life when I am dealing with computer users in my department and family.  After “fixing” a problem with a click or keystroke and they ask “how did you do that?” I have to decide if I have time and they have patience for me to fully explain it, of just leave it as magic.  The perils of being a professional geek.

For the record, the other two of Clarke’s Three Laws are:

  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something
    is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.