Colleagues of Bishop J. Woodrow Hearn remember the focus, adventurousness, and faith of the former Nebraska Conference leader, who died Aug. 31 at age 89.
A Louisiana native, Bishop Hearn led the Nebraska Conference from 1984 to 1992, before being assigned to the Houston area until his retirement in 2000. The bishop served on the General Council of Ministries from 1976 to 1984, and the General Board of Global Ministries from 1984 to 1992, serving as its president in the final four years.
“His leadership was recognized by many in the conference and the General Conference,” said the Rev. Carol Roettmer Brewer, a district superintendent under Bishop Hearn. “He was well-recognized as someone who was quite capable but also has important principles to live by.”
Not long after his election to the episcopacy in 1984, she said, Bishop Hearn determined a woman should be on the cabinet, and she was chosen.
“He did a lot of advocacy for lots of different groups,” Brewer said. “He wanted a diverse cabinet but didn’t want to choose somebody ‘just because.’”
She served as district superintendent until 1991, and her husband, James, joined the cabinet at that time.
“He was fearless. He was not afraid to go places,” the Rev. James Brewer said of Bishop Hearn.
Brewer remembers Bishop Hearn talking about taking a trip to a hospital in Mozambique during the country’s civil war and hearing “the rumbling of artillery and gunfire in the background.” Bishop Hearn also told of a trip to Estonia before the fall of the Iron Curtain, where the bishop had to sneak in and out of a literal underground church.
“It was one of those great experiences of his life,” James Brewer said. “He had many of those kinds of experiences in his life.”
The Brewers also remember the guidance Bishop Hearn gave them during appointive season.
“We were very fortunate to have someone with the breadth and depth of experience that Bishop Hearn had,” Roettmer Brewer said. “He was well-schooled and understood how the appointive process works for the mission of the church. He did well with that.”
“He had his great wisdom and experience in the church that helped him make wise decisions for the conference and the future of the church,” James Brewer added.
The Rev. Dick Turner, also a district superintendent under Bishop Hearn, recalled how the bishop wanted to show support during the farm crisis of the 1980s. He asked each district superintendent to arrange visits for him, often along with his wife, Anne, to farms and those affected by the loss of the farm economy.
As DS of the South Central District in Nebraska, Turner arranged for a tour of a dairy farm for the Hearns.
“He stayed way beyond what he expected to do, but he wanted to take in every minute of it,” Turner recalled. “I remember he and Anne standing in the barn as they were milking the cows, and it was getting later and later, until the farmers asked us to stay for dinner. He told me later that was the best trip he had was there.”
Turner remembers Bishop Hearn as being a just and fair leader.
“While he was new into the episcopacy, we knew he had strengths and greatness in the local church. He fit in so well and balanced that authority and pastoral care,” Turner said. “He could be tough, and he had high expectations. … But he was also very, very pastoral.”
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