The Rev. Marc Wessels, 59, associate conference minister of the Missouri Mid-South Conference UCC, died suddenly in St. Louis on Friday, July 26, just weeks before his installation as conference minister of the South Dakota Conference of the United Church of Christ.
"Marc was a big man with a huge heart and an expansive mind," said the Rev. Davida Foy Crabtree, acting conference minister of Missouri Mid-South Conference UCC. "He cared passionately about the earth and its creatures (especially Irish Setters) and about outer space and its potential use for peace. He was quick to discern giftedness in people and to match their gifts with a need. I found him to be deep and wise, funny and filled with joy, passionate about the Church and its need for transformation for the future. He was going to be an excellent Conference Minister for South Dakota, and we are also sad for them in the midst of our own sorrow. Our hearts are with his widow, Elizabeth, and all their family."
Wessels was born in Bristol, Conn., to the late Ralph and Jean Wessels, but was raised along the Mason-Dixon line in Maryland. He served Missouri Mid-South for three years, and was to have stepped into his role as South Dakota conference minister on Aug. 19.
Prayer services were held for Wessels Sunday July 28, at churches across the South Dakota Conference; at First Congregational UCC in Sioux Falls, First UCC Redfield, UCC Pierre, and First UCC in Rapid City, S.D. South Dakota Interim Conference Minister the Rev. David Felton said in a letter sent to the members of all the churches of the South Dakota Conference, “I was stunned and I’m sure you were by the sudden death of our Conference Minister Elect Marc Wessels. I know that you were looking forward to his leadership with high hopes for the future. Our grief is not only for Elizabeth and their family, but also for our conference and for what might have been.”
Wessels graduated from Coker College in South Carolina, and founded the Space Exploration Archive (SEA), a nonprofit educational organization whose purpose is to encourage the peaceful use of outer space through an awareness, appreciation and understanding of the human endeavor in space flight. Wessels later graduated from UCC-related Lancaster Theological Seminary with specialized studies in ethics and theology. He was ordained in the United Church of Christ in 1981 and began his ministry serving six years with the Uniting Church in Australia. He has served UCC churches in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Indiana, and Kentucky, and maintained dual standing in the UCC and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). In addition, he began the Disciples of Christ Church at Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in LaGrange, Ky., served as a chaplain with the Kentucky Department of Corrections, and as a full-time member of the Kentucky Parole Board.
He had two passions –– animal rescue, especially Irish Setters, and space studies. In addition to his work with the SEA, Wessels wrote numerous articles for the Louisville, (Ky.) Courier-Journal and national magazines.
He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth Farmer Wessels; stepchildren Taylor Bell and Meredith Bell; sister-in-law Kathy Farmer Jenkins; mother-in law Mary Lloyd Farmer; and his two Irish Setter companions, Kumara and Scarlett.
Memorial services for Wessels will be at 3 p.m. Wednesday, July 31, outside of Louisville, in St. Matthews, Ky. Mary Edelen, chair of the South Dakota Conference Board of Directors, will accompany Felton to the memorial service. The Rev. Davida Foy Crabtree will attend the Kentucky service as well as a memorial service in Missouri that will be held next Monday, August 5 in St. Louis. That service, at First Congregational Church United Church of Christ will be held at 1 p.m.
On Saturday Aug. 3, there is a previously scheduled meeting of the South Dakota Conference Board, and the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, UCC general minister and president, the Rev. Jim Moos, executive minister of the Wider Church Ministries, the Rev. Elizabeth Leung, minister for racial justice, and W. Mark Clark, UCC chief administrative officer, will be in attendance. At that time, Felton expects the board will decide on the future leadership in South Dakota. “It is providential that four of our national leaders were coming to South Dakota this week to meet Thursday evening and Friday with the Dakota Association and with the Conference Board of Directors on Saturday,” Felton said. “This will allow the Conference Board to consult with our national leadership about the next steps for the South Dakota Conference. It is good that at such a sad moment the church pulls together and works together. Please keep in your prayers the Wessels family, the Missouri Mid-South Conference, the South Dakota Conference, and our national leaders.”
Memorial gifts in honor of the Rev. Marc Wessels may be made to the Save Our Setters, Inc., or to Missouri Mid-South Conference, UCC and sent to 483 East Lockwood Avenue, Suite 15, St. Louis, MO 63119-3168.