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Bishop Dew, social justice advocate, dies

A UMNS Report By Heather Hahn*
6:30 P.M. EST July 15, 2010

Retired United Methodist Bishop William W. Dew Jr., a passionate witness for social justice, died July 14 at his home in Elk Grove, Calif. He was 74.

The denomination's Western Jurisdiction elected Dew to the episcopacy in 1988. He served the Portland Area, comprising the Oregon-Idaho Annual (regional) Conference and Alaska Missionary Conference, until 1996. He then served as bishop of the Phoenix Area, comprising the Desert Southwest Conference, until his retirement in 2004.

"Bishop Dew had a very deep commitment to the preservation of the doctrine of the church, believing that it represented the goodness of God's grace," said Bishop Minerva Carcaño, who succeeded Dew as leader of the Phoenix Area. "He was also very committed to the presence of the church in the world. He was a strong, prophetic voice deeply respected in the ecumenical community in this area and in this western region."

Throughout his ministry, friends and colleagues say, he spoke up for those he saw as marginalized by the larger society and challenged fellow United Methodists to be more Christ-like in their ministry to others.

Outspoken in faith

Early in his pastoral ministry in California in the 1960s and 1970s, he worked with civil rights activist and labor leader César Chávez in championing the rights of local farm workers.

In recent years, he joined other church leaders in advocating that The United Methodist Church change its Book of Discipline, the denomination's book of law, to welcome gays and lesbians into ordained ministry. He was one of 15 bishops at the 1996 General Conference who released a statement saying the church's restriction was "hurting and silencing countless faithful Christians."

"When all was said and done, The Book of Discipline ruled," said Bob Meyers, his friend and retired treasurer of the Oregon-Idaho Conference. "But it did not dissuade him from his personal passions about how we should be living a Christ-like life."

The Rev. Linda Susan Dew-Hiersoux, his elder daughter and a United Methodist pastor in Sacramento, Calif., said her father believed that "you do the right thing for reasons that are just for the people who need it."

Dew understood his views were often in the minority, said the Rev. Paul Dirdak, a longtime friend and director of the Central Conference Pension Administration. Still, Dew thought the best way to honor the majority was to be honest about his views.

"Even if he was in a very small group, he never spoke for just himself," Dirdak said. "He was going to create a community of thought."

Lifelong teacher

Dew was born Dec. 14, 1935, in Newport, Ky. He earned a bachelor's degree from Union College in Barbourville, Ky., where he met his wife of more than 52 years, Mitzie.

Bishop William Dew Jr. addresses the 1996 General Conference of the United Methodist Church in Denver. A UMNS photo by John C. Goodwin
Bishop William Dew Jr. addresses the 1996 General Conference of the United Methodist Church in Denver. A UMNS photo by John C. Goodwin

He earned his divinity degree from Drew Theological Seminary in Madison, N.J. Decades later, he received honorary doctorates from Rust College, a United Methodist-related historically black college in Holly Springs, Miss., and Union, his alma mater, also a United Methodist-related institution.

Dew served churches in Springville, Lindsay and Clovis, Calif. He also was pastor at Epworth United Methodist Church in Berkeley, Calif., and a district superintendent from 1979 to 1984. While in Berkeley, he also taught the required course in polity and doctrine for United Methodist students who attended Pacific School of Religion.

At the time of his election as bishop, he was senior minister of San Ramon Valley United Methodist Church, a 1,200-member church in Alamo, Calif.

Even after he became bishop, he never fully left his teaching days behind. Dew-Hiersoux said United Methodists pastors and seminary students from around the United States continued to seek her father's guidance, which he was happy to give. She also used to turn to her father for advice on her sermons.

"He was a very Wesleyan thinker," Dew-Hiersoux said. "Scripture, tradition, experience and reason - that's what he was about."

Carcaño was at a meeting of the executive committee of the United Methodist Council of Bishops when she learned of Dew's death. She said all the bishops there had a story about how Dew had helped them to be better bishops.

San Francisco Area Bishop Warner H. Brown Jr. echoed that sentiment.

"He helped all of those he worked with to act on the possibilities God gives us," said Brown, who leads the California-Nevada Conference where Dew spent much of his career and his retirement.

"In a sermon I fondly remember, he reminded us, 'You can't think your way into new ways of acting, but you can act your way into new ways of thinking.'"

His survivors include wife Mitzie Eggers Dew; daughter Linda and son-in-law Mark; son William Waldo Dew III and daughter-in-law Peggy Murphy; and daughter Marilyn Jane Dew and son-in-law Paul Delgado. Dew is also survived by six grandchildren.

The memorial service for Dew is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 7, at Central United Methodist Church in Sacramento, Calif. Details, when finalized, will be published on the website of the California-Nevada Annual Conference, www.cnumc.org.

*Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service.

News media contact: Heather Hahn, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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