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Robert W. Huston dies at 90;
New York, October 12, 2010 --The church leader who helped shape the ecumenical landscape, especially the vision of The United Methodist Church, has died at the age of 90.
The Rev. Robert W. Huston was being remembered as a devout Christian with a fierce passion for the unity of the church and a humble man who championed the gifts of women and young adults.
“There was no one in the whole world more knowledgeable about the ecumenical and interreligious scene than Rob Huston,” declared retired United Methodist Bishop Jack Tuell.
An official Protestant Observer at the Roman Catholic Second Vatican Council in 1965, he was instrumental in official dialogues with Roman Catholics and Lutherans and called ecumenism a “tough job” but not a lost cause “because it is not ours to lose — it is God’s.”
who had suffered a stroke in January, died Oct. 6 at the Peconic Landing
retirement community in Greenport,
The Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches and a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) minister, served on the commission during Huston’s tenure and remembered him as a bridge-builder.
“It was notable that Rob Huston — one of the great United Methodist ecumenical pioneers —made everyone around the table feel like a member of the family," Kinnamon said. “Few leaders had a greater understanding of the theological distinctions of the many groups with whom he worked.”
New ecumenical position
ecumenical career began in 1965, when he was named the first staff officer
In 1980, General Conference, the denomination’s top legislative body, elevated the division to an independent agency, the Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, with Huston as its chief executive.
Tuell, who was president of the new agency from 1980 to ’84, remembered Huston as an able leader who worked well with the Council of Bishops in its role as the denomination’s official representative in ecumenical and interfaith circles. “He was a great bureaucrat in the best sense of that word,” he said.
The bishop also admired how Huston’s faith commitment was evident in his work. “He showed his Christian character and nature in everything he did,” he added.
connection to Huston extends back to
World War II, Huston was a U.S. Navy Petty Officer, first class, serving for
two years on aircraft carrier USS Wake Island. He earned a bachelor’s degree
Advocate for young adults
The Rev. Bruce Robbins, who worked with Huston for four years and then succeeded him as the top executive of the Commission on Christian Unity, pointed to his “expertise and commitment” in areas such as Christian-Jewish relations, the worldwide movement of Christian unity and the increased involvement of women and young people in that movement.
Robbins was one of the young people who benefited from his tutelage and passion for ecumenism. “That passion changed me and carried me forward for many years,” he said.
Two younger female colleagues attested to Huston’s advocacy for women and young adults.
“Rob was, first and foremost, a passionate, articulate and committed ecumenist,” said Clare Chapman, a former commission staff member who is now the chief operating officer of the National Council of Churches.
“But he was also a strong advocate for bringing women into positions of leadership within the church as well as encouraging the leadership of young adults. This was not only because of his commitment to inclusivity but also because he knew the future of the ecumenical movement depended on it.”
Love, a laywoman and the first woman to serve as dean of Candler School of
“Rob was tireless, often selfless, full of integrity, deeply dedicated, good humored, and the best kind of pastor for me, a young woman trying to find her way in a world of renowned Christian world leaders and very colorful personalities,” Love said. “He was among my most valuable mentors.”
Ecumenism was not his only passion. With his well-trained bass voice, Huston performed in quartets and men’s choruses and as a vocal soloist. He also was an accomplished in woodworking and carpentry.
married Frances Terry Huston in 1944, while on leave from the U.S. Navy duty
during World War II. She died in May 2009. He is survived by his daughter,
Alyce Huston Hemstreet of East Lyme,
daughter remembered him as a dedicated father and grandfather. One year,
during a family vacation at the
When Huston officiated at the wedding of his grandson and namesake to Rosemary Bianculli two years ago, he spent a year planning the service so it would be reflective of the Christian faith but also respectful of other faiths, Alyce Hemstreet said.
2005, the Commission on Christian Unity dedicated the conference room of its
newly-renovated offices at the
is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in
media contact: Linda Bloom,
Since its founding in 1950, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA has been the leading force for ecumenical cooperation among Christians in the United States. The NCC's 36 member faith groups -- from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American and Living Peace churches -- include 45 million persons in more than 100,000 local congregations in communities across the nation.
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