April 2004

Disciples' Hamm to resign post

Citing a decade of "remarkable change" that requires the church to "take a fundamentally new look at how we mobilize for our mission, the Rev. Richard Hamm, General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), says he will step down after the General Assembly in October, with two years remaining in a 12-year cycle of leadership. Hamm says he saw a need for a transition in the denomination, and does not believe he has time in two years to accomplish that task himself. Waiting until his term ended, he says, didn't seem appropriate to his call to ministry.

Elected in 1993, Hamm's leadership helped the Disciples replace rancorous debate on the floor of their biennial General Assembly—caused in part over the election process—with a discernment process of deliberation. Later, he helped the church cast the "2020 Vision" for a shared future. That led to the launch of more than 100 new congregations in two years—up from a previous average of five church starts per year. Hamm also helped the denomination focus on strengthening existing congregations for mission and developing leadership potential among members. Woven into the 2020 Vision is an anti-racism/pro-reconciliation initiative that seeks to dismantle racism within the church.

Phillips to retire in April

The Rev. F. Allison Phillips, Executive Associate of Justice and Witness Ministries, will retire on April 30.

Phillips has served in the UCC's national setting for nine years, the first six as General Secretary of the American Missionary Association division of the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries. Phillips served pastorates at Mt. Zion UCC in Cleveland and North Congregational UCC in the Bronx, N.Y. He worked with street gangs at the Baltimore YMCA, served as director of the Garrison Boulevard Community Center in that city and the Council of Churches of Greater Washington.

Phillips studied at Virginia Union University, Colgate Rochester Divinity School, and New York Theological Seminary. He has been recognized in Who's Who in Black America, Category of Religion, and received the Leadership Award from United Black Christians and the Percel Alston Oustanding Achievement in Ministry Award from the UCC Ministers for Racial, Social and Economic Justice. He has served as President of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Gamma Chapter, and recently was elected "Board Member Emeritus" of Amistad America. In 1995 he negotiated the UCC's role as a founding partner in the building of the Amistad schooner.

Disability advocate Wilke dies

The Rev. Harold H. Wilke, former pastor, author, denominational executive and internationally-known advocate for disabled persons, died Feb. 25 in Pomona, Calif. He was 88.

Born without arms, Wilke was raised to do just about anything anyone else could do. He swam, skied, paddled a canoe and traveled independently all over the world, promoting the cause of persons with disabilities.

When President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilites Act, newspapers worldwide carried the photo of Bush handing Wilke one of his pens, which Wilke accepted with his left foot. United Church News ran the photo under the headline, "My left foot plays the White House," a clipping that Wilke shared with pride.

Wilke studied at Union Seminary in New York, Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, the University of Chicago Divinity School and Harvard University, and served churches in Columbia, Mo., and Crystal Lake, Ill. In the early days of the UCC, for 20 years he headed up the Council for Church and Ministry and was instrumental in helping that agency unite with the Office for Lay Life and Work to become the Office for Church Life and Leadership.

After his formal retirement, he founded the Healing Community/The Caring Congregation, an international, interfaith group helping churches in their ministries with marginalized and alienated persons.

Mel Wittler, trusted go-between, dies

The Rev. Melvin A. Wittler, retired UCC Near East Mission Secretary for the former United Church Board for World Ministries, died Feb. 27 in Brattleboro, Vt. He was 74.

Wittler served as Near East Mission Secretary from 1961 to 1992. After the Gulf War in 1991, when relations between the Kurds and the Turkish government were strained, Wittler was trusted by both sides. He acted as a mediator by administering millions of dollars in relief funds raised by Christian churches worldwide. He and his wife, Nancy, even opened up their home in Istanbul as a social neutral zone for Islamic, Christian and Jewish leaders and politicians.

His missionary duties included administering three secondary schools, a hospital and a publication department with offices in Istanbul, Turkey. Prior to that, from 1957 to 1961, he taught philosophy at the Uskadar Academy for Girls, also in Istanbul. He also represented the World Council of Churches in disaster relief and broad ecumenical relations throughout the Middle East. In his retirement, he served on various UCC and community boards. He was a member of Centre Congregational UCC in Brattleboro.

Pastoral Changes

Bossert, Suzanne W. Jamaica Plain MA to United Parish UCC, Brookline MA
Burch, Kyle E. Claremont CA to Church of the Good Shepherd UCC, Covina CA
Damrow, Brian to Faith UCC, Tripoli IA
Dorsch, Louis H. Evansville IN to Trinity UCC, Tiffin OH
Kuhn Jr. Daniel H. Nashville TN to Community Church UCC, Elon NC
Latimer, James H. to Point Place UCC, Toledo OH
Magyar, Linda New Tripoli PA to Christ UCC, Jim Thorpe PA
Neumeister, Del Selby SD to UCC, Scotland SD
Ridenour, Robert W. Pickney MI to Zion Evangelical Lutheran UCC, Baltimore MD
Riegle, William K. Armstrong IL to Immanuel UCC, Peotone IL
Schmidt, Gregory W. Shelton CT to Evangelical UCC, Harvard MA
Schroeder, Daniel R. Evansville IN to First UCC, Granby CT
Scott, Nelson Holland IN to St. John's UCC, Kankakee IL
Seaver, Richard C. Sullivan NH to Lordship UCC, Stratford CT
Szemesi, Attila to St. Peter's UCC, Amherst OH
Trimble, Steven Kinsman OH to Gustavus Federated, Farmdale OH
Watson, Jimmy R. Big Spring TX to St. Mark UCC, Terra Haute IN



Fenstermacher, W. 61, 12/9/02 Served PA churches
Frankenfeld, Raymond 92, 2/1/03 Served AZ, DE, IL, MD and MO churches
Gustafson, Carl 83, 11/21/02 Served CA, MO, MT, NE, OR and SD churches
Noll, Ernest 89, 10/17/02 Served OH, PA and WV churches
Riddle, James D. 69, 11/27/02 Served MA churches
Seymour, Collie 84, 1/21/03 Served AL, FL, KY, NC, TN and VA churches
Sigler, Charles 75, 12/18/02 Served NC and PA churches


Pastoral changes and obituaries are reported by Local Church Ministries and run as space permits