Bishop Devadhar leads Memorial Service at NEJ Conference

November 02, 2022

“ … Paul is concerned about them maintaining unity and keeping the new believers centered in Christ. For Paul, that unity cannot be achieved without humility.”

On Wednesday, those gathered for the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference remembered the bishops and spouses and others prominent in the NEJ who have passed away since the last conference in 2016. 

Preacher and celebrant for the service was Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar. New England Conference Delegate Amanda Bonnette-Kim
Amanda Bonnette-Kim
was liturgist.

“We are gathered here to make some crucial decisions. As you fondly remember these saints and others who left a legacy that shifted their corner of the world for good, can you envision what their advice would be to you today as you interview episcopal candidates and decide which leaders the church needs to truly be the church?” Bishop Devadhar said. 

Too often, the bishop said, the church “has fought the wrong battles at wrong times.” 

Using an analogy from Rev. Wayne Lavender’s book “Counting Ants While the Elephants March By: Thoughts on Church and State, Poverty and Terrorism, War and Peace” Bishop Devadhar said we are “attempting to kill the ants while the elephants are rampaging through the land.”

“Many a time I wonder and lament: are we simply a private social club or are we truly the Church of Jesus Christ? When did we stop being the global church who cares about God’s children everywhere and the stewardship of God’s creation?  As we come to the Lord’s Supper, we say through our lips Christ’s Table is an Open Table, yet we don’t demonstrate that all means all,” he said. 

The title for his sermon on Philippians 2:1-11 was “Whose Interest?” focused particularly on the fourth verse: “Let each of you look not to your own interests but to the interests of others.”

“Friends, as we celebrate these saints who changed, molded, and influenced us, do you notice a similar quality in their legacies? All of
them served with humility and grace and in the interest of others,” Bishop he said. “The question now is what have we done with these teachings they left us? What are we doing or what can we do to put the interest of others and the interest of God and the Church above our own interests?”

“As you discern,” said the bishop speaking to the delegates, “ask yourselves in whose interest your decisions lie. It must not be in yours or even in that of the saints, but in God’s interest that your discernment is based.”

During his sermon, Bishop Devadhar remembered each of those being memorialized in turn:

Eunice Mathews claimed, “I do not want to be identified as the daughter of Evangelist E. Stanley Jones, nor do I have to be identified
Read the full sermon here
as the wife of my husband (Bishop James K. Mathews), but I do have permission to be myself.” Having been raised in a male-dominated society with the people of India, her statement gave courage and a voice to the voiceless. 

Bishop Felton E. May always knew what was most important and then acted on it. He had the courage to say to the Council of Bishops, “Allow me to leave my office as bishop at least for the time being so that I may help others to rescue the life of innocent victims from the drug culture.” He told me personally that though the Council of Bishops supported him, not all agencies of the church did, yet he kept on going because of his love for innocent victims. In addition to his work on the enormous damage of illegal drugs, he was instrumental in developing the Salt 'n Light Ministry to young people, first in Central Pennsylvania and then far beyond the borders of that annual conference.  It is still a vital and growing ministry leading young people to follow Christ.

Bishop C. Dale White, in his own style of servant leadership, changed others through his passion for justice and equality, not just for all of God’s children, but for all creation. A prophet who raised questions without fearing anyone, changed society. Among these transformational changes is the lives of hundreds of youths in this jurisdiction since 1986 when his vision for Mission of Peace became a reality.  Perhaps no one has articulated it as well as Beth Capen, Esq, who said “He modeled the fact that our work and our mission is not about us, it is about those who we are serving in the name of God. Committed to world peace, in December 1979, Bishop White and six other Protestant clergy unofficially traveled to Iran to meet with Ayatollah Khomeini regarding the Iran Crisis, leaving behind his family during Christmas time.

Gwen Ruth White fully supported her husband and encouraged him throughout his ministry, traveling with him around the world studying world hunger and peace and justice issues. Gwen was a gifted musician and a true spiritual giant and mentor whose eyes could read you before you even shared what was on your heart.  She enabled many people to also become spiritual mentors.
Rev. Sherrie Dobbs Johnson, with great humility and a beautiful smile, touched our hearts and minds with sincere questions and statements. Before my election, we discussed my discernment regarding the episcopacy. She told me to do what was best for me and the church. She said something like, “Be yourself!” In her own quiet style, Sherrie empowered others with her thoughtful suggestions and guidance.  

Bishop F. Herbert Skeete, according to a colleague in the NEJ College of Bishops, made it one of his practices to be very intentional about appointments to missional contexts and inclusiveness in the staff/cabinet. Though he received vocational scars for it when all people did not see the wisdom of his ways, the New England Conference is better today because of his courageous leadership in bringing the Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Southern New England Conferences together. 

This action was not to get a feather on his cap, but to create one conference with better opportunities for pastors, congregations, and mission.  A passionate supporter of local mission, Bishop Skeete envisioned a strong United Methodist Foundation in New England that was birthed during the challenging times of that merger. He was also a strong advocate for Africa University. Wherever he served, his prophetic mind and courageous leadership led him to speak the truth even at the cost of losing popularity.

Bishop Joseph Yeakel’s understanding of the Book of Discipline and its interpretation was second to none. He knew his people by name, often wrote personal notes to clergy and laity, and deeply cared for both clergy and laity. A respectable layperson in our denomination commented that during Bishop Yeakel’s episcopacy, he noted the gifts and graces of laity, nurtured them, and brought them to the table. As one of my mentors, he advised me to let the clergy make the decisions when presiding at clergy session and not to forget to use the privilege of executive session where there can be honest discussion with transparency and within the covenant.

Jack Middleton’s love for all the people of God was much broader than his well-known love for cars. He would talk to everyone irrespective of color and creed. Needless to say, without Jack even realizing it, he changed others by discovering their interests through respectful and open conversations and engaging them. He not only loved being an episcopal spouse, but truly cared and supported his beloved spouse, Bishop Jane Middleton. Whenever Jack was in the room, his presence brought out the light in others.

Dight Crain had a deep love for the church and was a true financial steward for the jurisdiction. All his decisions as a dedicated NEJ treasurer were made in the best interest of the entire jurisdiction. A member of the New England Conference, Dight was a quiet but faithful friend, often humbly helping others outside the public view.

Tom Price, a jurisdictional delegate from Baltimore-Washington Conference, loved serving God, his beloved wife Becki, music and helping youth explore their faith. Tom directed choirs from the age of 17. He founded Joyful Noise! Youth Choir, which sang at The White House, The Crystal Cathedral, EPCOT and The US Air Force Academy Chapel and with Becki led ROCK!, the BWC youth worship for over 30 years.

Rev. Dr. Shirlyn Henry Brown was a faithful servant leader in the Peninsula-Delaware Conference. She led several congregations, served as Director of Connectional Ministries and a district superintendent. She has a passion for kingdom building and kingdom living as well as incorporating theatre and the arts into her ministry. She served on the Programs and Arrangements Committee of Jurisdictional Conference up until the time of her death. 

Warren A. Heil, Jr.’s love for Jesus was one of the first things you noticed when interacting with him.  He was faithful to the end, committed to being a delegate despite facing serious health challenges.  His dedication was all based on his unwavering love for Christ and the Church in all circumstances.

Faith Weston Geer was a faithful, gifted, and humble leader in the Western Pennsylvania Conference.  Her administrative skills were a true blessing to her local church and the annual conference.  Her compassion and love for the church was contagious, and her ability to work with all people complemented her passion for full inclusion and social justice.

Former Bishop Hae Jong Kim and his wife, Wha-Sei, brought us a new glimpse of what it means to be a global church by giving us an understanding of Korean culture.  In addition to being a gifted hymn writer and author, Bishop Kim was responsible for birthing Korean churches in the Northeast. Wha-Sei modeled the essence of Christian love as a spouse and the best of Korean culture.