Senior Pastor Greg Enstrom, called retired and recently deceased United Methodist Bishop R. Sheldon Duecker a “person of the extreme center,” during a memorial service that celebrated his life Nov. 5 at First Wayne Street United Methodist Church in Fort Wayne. Duecker died Oct. 28, in Fort Wayne, after a long battle with cancer. He was 85.
The North Central Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church elected Duecker a bishop in 1988 and assigned him to the Chicago Area, which oversees the mission and ministry of the Northern Illinois Conference of the church and is based in Chicago. He served there until his retirement in 1996 and then moved back to Indiana. In retirement, Duecker served First Wayne Street Church as Bishop in Residence.
During his eulogy, Enstrom said, “Sheldon had stood up against the Chicago political machine and stopped the expansion of casino gambling on his watch while Bishop to the Chicago Area. But he also helped build dormitories at Africa University, as well as the first new lodge in a generation at Epworth Forest.
“Duecker personified the best in our United Methodist heritage. He exemplified in his person what Bishop Scott Jones of the Kansas Area refers to as ‘The Extreme Center.’”
Enstrom also said, “As we gather this morning to celebrate the life and faith of Sheldon Duecker, it isn’t really ‘a person of the extreme center’ that comes to the forefront of our minds. There are a host of other words competing for that place: Integrity… Compassion… Acceptance… Intentionality… Perseverance… Justice… Wisdom… Humility… Truth…
“Yet, if we could only define Bishop Robert Sheldon Duecker with one word today, what would that one word be? I have it. And I know that Sheldon would be pleased to be remembered by this one word: Christian.”
Upon Duecker’s death, the Rev. Roy A. Eaton of Fort Wayne, a retired pastor and former district superintendent of the Indiana Conference, said he and Duecker became good friends after the bishop retired.
“From 1995, we spent every week together. There was a group of us who had lunch every Friday,” Eaton said. “He was a good preacher, administrator and a tremendous friend,” Eaton said. “He knew he was dying, and the last time I saw him he said, ‘I don’t mind dying, but I dread the process.’”
Indiana Bishop Mike Coyner said Duecker had an “even more amazing ministry after his retirement.” Coyner said Duecker served as interim pastor, headed a drive to raise funds for Africa University and was honorary chair of the conference’s camping ministry. A residence hall at Africa University, the United Methodist-related University in Mutare, Zimbabwe, was dedicated in his honor.
“I visited him a number of times and recently in hospice,” Coyner said. “He was ready to go, and we are grateful he had a peaceful passing.”
Duecker was ordained an elder in the former North Indiana Conference by Bishop Richard C. Raines in 1953. He served as an associate pastor of Kokomo Grace and as pastor at Dyer, Muncie-Gethsemane, Hartford City, Warsaw-First, Fort Wayne-Simpson and Muncie-High Street United Methodist churches. He also served as North Indiana Conference council director from 1973 to 1977 and as Fort Wayne District superintendent from 1977 to 1982.
Duecker was elected delegate to four sessions of The United Methodist Church’s General Conference, the denomination’s lawmaking body and to six sessions of the North Central Jurisdictional Conference.
He was the author of several articles and of one book, Tensions in the Connection, published by Abingdon Press in 1983.
Duecker was named a Sagamore of the Wabash by Indiana Gov. Robert Orr in September 1988. The award recognizes Indiana citizens, who have made outstanding contributions to the state.
He and Marjorie Louise Clouse were married in 1948 and celebrated their 63rd wedding anniversary this year. Other survivors include a daughter, Cristine Holman of Fort Wayne; and three brothers: Heyman of Marion, Ind.; Ronald of Wooster, Ohio; and Dennis of Medina, Ohio; three grandchildren, Carrie Haney of Atlanta; Robert Haney of Morristown, N.J.; and Lori Haney of Fort Wayne; and a great-granddaughter, Jaden Housman of Fort Wayne. He was preceded in death by a son, the Rev. Philip Lee, in 2000, and by two brothers, Sherrod and Victor.
Memorial contributions can be made to The Bishop R. Sheldon and Marjorie L. Duecker Scholarship Fund of Africa University, c/o United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, P.O. Box 340007, Nashville, Tenn., 37203, or to First Wayne Street United Methodist Church, 300 East Wayne Street, Fort Wayne, Ind., 46802. Condolences to the family can be sent to Cristine Holman, 7614 Hermitage Place, Fort Wayne, IN 46815.
Kathy Gilbert serves as a multimedia reporter at United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tenn.
Marjorie and Sheldon Duecker break ground during ceremonies Sept. 20, 2009, at Epworth Forest Conference Center in North Webster, Ind. Bishop Duecker was honorary chairperson of the Right Now, Right Future Campaign to raise money for the building of the lodges at the center.
“Duecker personified the best in our United Methodist heritage.”
– Greg Enstrom
Bishop & Mrs. Duecker cut the ribbon to the entrance of Duecker Lodge June 4, 2011, during its dedication service at Epworth Forest Conference Center.