Bishops’ children recall times of change

By J. Richard Peck, Special Contributor • • •

Handy and Casad

PHOTO COURTESY RICH PECK • • • The Rev. Stephen Handy and Mary Brooke (Oliphint) Casad renew their lifelong friendship during a March meeting of the Connectional Table in Nashville.

NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Fifteen-year-old Mary Brooke Oliphint was sitting in the congregation during a June 1971 ceremony that united the Anglo-American Louisiana Conference with the African American Louisiana Conference.

Eleven-year old Stephen Handy was home, but his mother attended the ceremony that celebrated the merger of what was then called Conference A with Conference B. The ceremony followed the 1968 uniting conference of the United Methodist Church that formally disbanded the racially constituted Central Jurisdiction.

Stephen’s father, the Rev. W.T. Handy, was director of personnel services at the United Methodist Publishing House and chairman of the Louisiana Conference Board of Ministry for Conference B. He was the first African American executive for the Nashville-based publishing agency.

The Rev. Benjamin Oliphint was pastor of University United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge for Conference A and a member of the board of directors for the Methodist Board of Education.

The two men represented clergy of the two annual conferences during the worship service at Centenary College in Shreveport, La.


Fathers as bishops


Nine years later Mary Brooke and Stephen were in the congregation when their fathers were both consecrated bishops during the 1980 session of the South Central Jurisdictional Conference. At that time, W.T. Handy, 56, was serving as a superintendent in the Louisiana Conference and Ben Oliphint, 56, had transferred to the North Texas Conference where he was serving as pastor of First United Methodist Church in Dallas.

Bishop Ben Oliphint

Bishop Ben Oliphint

After his consecration, Bishop Oliphint led United Methodists in the denomination’s Houston, Kansas and Louisiana areas during the following 12 years. He was also instrumental in helping start Africa University, the United Methodist-related school in Zimbabwe. After retiring from the episcopacy in 1992, Bishop Oliphint co-chaired a task group that developed the Methodist Global Education Fund for Leadership Development. He died in 2007.

Bishop Handy served the Missouri Area, and returned to the publishing house where he served as chaplain after his retirement from the episcopacy in 1992. On behalf of the Council of Bishops, Bishop Handy helped develop “In Defense of Creation,” a churchwide initiative on nuclear disarmament, launched in 1986, and he served on a committee that developed a new United Methodist Hymnal, released in 1989. He died in 1998.


Adult children reunited


The adult children of the two bishops were reunited during a March meeting of the Connectional Table in Nashville.

Mary Brooke (Oliphint) Casad is the executive secretary of the Connectional Table, and the Rev. Stephen Handy, pastor of 125-year-old McKendree United Methodist Church in downtown Nashville, was invited to preach at a worship service for the 63-member coordinating body.

During the service, Mr. Handy told how church attendance at McKendree had declined from the 1980s to the early 2000s. Ninety-five percent of the 200-member congregation were upper middle class Anglo-Americans. When Mr. Handy was appointed pastor in 2009, demographics of the faith community began to change. In 2012, 65 percent are Anglo, 30 percent are African American and 5 percent are from other ethnic groups.

“We are a multi-generational and multi-cultural congregation on purpose,” said Mr. Handy. “We have partnered with the Metropolitan Homelessness Commission and with the Veteran’s Administration to help eliminate homelessness in downtown Nashville where there are 4,000 displaced people every night.”

Following the service, Ms. Casad and Mr. Handy hugged one another and recalled the shared histories.

“Hearing Stephen preach was incredibly moving for me as I recalled our families’ long friendship,” said Ms. Casad. “I remembered the 1971 merger celebration when our fathers embraced and rejoiced at the two conferences becoming one. I remembered serving on the Hymnal Revision Committee with Bishop Handy. This long friendship continues with the common goal of carrying on our fathers’ legacies of service to the church.”

“God continues to offer an invitation for all people to form the beloved community where difference/diversity is embraced and celebrated, grace is extended, love is shared, and ultimately, God is glorified,” said Mr. Handy. “My prayer is for the United Methodist Church to live deeper and more intentional into being ‘United’ as part of the body of Jesus Christ.”


A different history


Bishop Handy

Bishop Handy

The racially constituted Central Jurisdiction was formed in 1939 when the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church South and the Methodist Protestant Church were merged to form the Methodist Church. The Central Jurisdiction was the result of a political compromise between the northern and southern churches.

In 1956, General Conference allowed churches in the Central Jurisdiction to transfer to geographical jurisdictions, but few did so. In 1960, General Conference established a Commission on Inter-jurisdictional Relations to abolish the Central Jurisdiction and a few northern conferences merged voluntarily.

In 1968, the Methodist Church united with the Evangelical United Brethren Church to establish the United Methodist Church and the Central Jurisdiction was abolished. In the years that followed, annual conferences established merger plans and conducted celebrations. The two conferences in Louisiana held their merger celebration in 1971.


The Rev. Peck is a retired clergy member of the New York Conference and worked with Bishop Handy when both were employees of the United Methodist Publishing House.

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Rev. Peck,
Can I get this article for framing? It’s called “Bishops’ Children’s recall times of change” dated April 16, 2012.

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