September 21, 2008
James Mase Ault died peacefully on September 21, 2008 in Brunswick, Maine, at the Midcoast Senior Health Center, with his loving family by his side. They had celebrated his 90th birthday the month before.
Born on August 24, 1918, in Sayre, Pennsylvania, the third of five sons of Tracey Ault, a railroad worker, and Bessie Mase Ault, a school teacher and community leader, he graduated valedictorian from Sayre High School during the Depression and took the only apprenticeship offered that year at a local tool and die plant. While serving as head of the youth fellowship of the Sayre Methodist Church, he met his wife to be, Dorothy Mae Barnhart, when giving her family, new to town, a tour of the church. They married during World War II while he was serving as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army handling supplies for the Pacific front in San Francisco, where their first child was born.
Having felt called to the ministry, he attended college on the G.I. Bill at Colgate University where he served a rural Methodist church nearby in Preston, New York. He graduated magna cum laude, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and went on to study at Union Theological Seminary in New York City during its halcyon years, with Paul Tillich, Reinhold Niebuhr and James Muilenburg. He received his BD magna cum laude in 1952.
He was a gifted pastor and the Methodist churches he served with his wife and partner in ministry, Dorothy, flourished: in Carlton Hill and Leonia, New Jersey, and in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. In 1961 he returned to Union Theological Seminary to be Dean of Students, Director of Field Education and Professor of Practical Theology. He sought to enrich the practical dimension of theological education by finding ways to connect the entire faculty with the practical realities of ministry.
In 1968 he was called to be Dean of the Theological School at Drew University in the wake of a crisis that saw two-thirds of its core faculty resign. He led the effort to rebuild the institution making it a first-rate theological school known, among other things, for its contributions to educating Korean and Latino-American theologians and pastors.
In 1972 he was elected Bishop of the United Methodist Church serving for sixteen years, first in the Philadelphia Area and then in the Pittsburgh Area. From 1984-88 he was President of the United Methodists General Board for Global Ministries, overseeing that denominations work around the world. In that capacity he and his wife traveled and visited with local church leaders in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. Between 1980-84 he was Secretary of the Council of Bishops in charge of relations with other churches and governments, and in 1986-87 served as its President.
As Bishop he was instrumental in helping Puerto Rican Methodists become a self-governing part of the church. While a member of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches he took part in successful efforts to lobby for economic sanctions against South Africa at a critical moment in the struggle against apartheid in the mid-1980s. He also helped lead efforts to raise funds to support the World Council of Churches ecumenical center in Bossey, Switzerland.
He was awarded honorary degrees from the American University, Albright College, Ohio Wesleyan University, Drew University, and Allegheny College. When he retired as Bishop from the Pittsburgh Area, the local newspaper noted that, in a time of bitter divisions between conservatives and liberals in the church, he maintained the ability to speak effectively to both sides.
In retirement he enjoyed more frequent retreats to the family summer home in Twilight Park, a community he loved in New York States Catskill Mountains. As a member of its Board of Directors during these years, he took pleasure in sharing in the work of dealing with the same range of problems and joys found in churches or any human community. In addition to mountain walks, he enjoyed sports as participant and fan, especially baseball, basketball, tennis and ping-pong.
He is survived by his wife, Dorothy, a brother and sister-in-law, Alfred and Ada Ault of Potomac, MD, a son, James Ault, Jr., of Northampton, MA, a daughter, Kathryn Ault of Brunswick, ME, a daughter and son-in-law, Beth and Will Ault Brinker of West Salem, WI, a grandson, Samuel Feldman of Brunswick, ME, a grandson, Henry Ault of Northampton, MA, a granddaughter, Zoe Ault Brinker and grandson, Noah Ault Brinker of West Salem, WI, and many nieces and nephews. He will be sorely missed.
A memorial service will be held at the United Methodist Church in Brunswick, Maine, on Saturday, November 1st at 11 AM. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the James Mase Ault Memorial Scholarship Fund at Africa University, Zimbabwe, and sent to: Mr. James Salley, Development Office, Africa University, P.O. Box 340007, Nashville, TN 37203-0007.