J. Woodrow Hearn, a retired United Methodist bishop credited with helping reestablish the church in Russia and known for having worked with Mother Teresa, died Sunday at his home in Galveston after a long illness. He was 89.
His lifelong ministry of service began as a Methodist deacon then elder in his native Louisiana.
A rising star, he soon took up regional then national assignments for the United Methodist Church, serving on the General Council on Ministries and later on the General Board of Global Ministries from 1984-1992, completing that term as the board’s president.
The Rev. Stan Copeland of Lovers Lane United Methodist Church in Dallas remembered Hearn’s ministry as one of global consequence.
“Today I have spent the day thinking back on my relationship with Bishop Hearn,” Copeland said. “He was the dominant presence in opening up the United Methodist Church in the former Soviet Union. He went to Russia not telling them what we wanted, but asking how can we help.”
Copeland credits the bishop with connecting Russians in need with the resources of Houston’s Methodist Hospital and essentially “rebooting” Methodism in Russia.
“The UMC had been dormant for decades during communist control, but it would rise again,” Copeland said. “Bishop Hearn assured it.”
His kind and friendly face became a feature around Galveston’s Moody Methodist Church, where his ministry overlapped for 14 years with that of the Rev. Bert Bagley, who led the church previously and now heads up its Permanent Endowment Fund.
“Bishop Hearn was a colleague, mentor and friend,” Bagley said. “He made sure that Moody Methodist was engaged heartily in the world of mission.
“More than 20 countries around the world have benefited in some way by his guidance. His prayers were engaging and personal as well as seemingly bringing one to the very throne of God.”
Bagley recalled the times when Hearn recalled a day when Mother Teresa had enlisted him in her own ministry to the most needy of India.
After a short conversation, the Catholic Mother Teresa directed the Methodist cleric, saying, “Bishop, come help me serve the people outside.”
When telling the tale, Hearn would appeal to his listeners, “How do you say no to Mother Teresa?”
So he spent that day India working with the needy.
“Hearn was a leader among the 66 United Methodist bishops worldwide with a passion for missions and planting new churches,” said Bishop Scott Jones of the Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. “Even in retirement he was an advocate for global mission work.”
Bagley said it would take some time to adapt to losing Hearn.
“Bishop Hearn was a man of integrity with a love for the church, so the flags of our soul will be at half mast for a while,” he said. Then, we will move forward with grace and love to meet the needs of those whom we encounter. We give thanks to God for his witness.”
Hearn is survived by his wife, Anne, and their children Mark, Diana and Bruce. He was predeceased by their son, Paul.
Funeral arrangements were incomplete Tuesday, but church sources said there probably would be a family-only burial in Ruston, Louisiana, and a memorial service in Galveston when it is safe to do so.