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United Methodist Bishop Homer Ellis Finger Jr. dies

A UMNS Report

Bishop Homer Ellis Finger Jr.


By Linda Green*

May 27, 2008

Bishop Homer Ellis Finger Jr., a former president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, died May 25 from heart failure.

Finger, 91, of Givens Estates in Asheville, N.C., was elected in to the episcopacy in 1964 and served in the denomination’s Nashville (Tenn.) Area for 12 years and the Holston Area, based in Knoxville, Tenn., for eight years.

Before the 1968 gathering that led to the creation of The United Methodist Church, Finger asked Nashville Area district leaders to "pray that this quadrennial meeting of churchmen will be not just a time for polishing structure and perfecting legislation, important as are these activities. Pray that God's spirit can move among the delegates and through the deliberations that the church can be a channel of hope and light for a distraught world and a troubled nation."

Retired Bishop Bevel L. Jones III of Decatur, Ga., described Finger as a man who could have fun and never strayed from character. "Quality was his trademark—a true statesman, with the courage of a prophet and the heart of a pastor.

"I have known Bishop Ellis Finger as a friend for over 40 years. He was a beloved friend and faithful colleague," Jones said. "He was straightforward and steadfast. He was persistent and progressive, determined to get the job done and done right."

Church leadership

Finger was president of the Council of Bishops 1980-1981. After his retirement from active service in 1984, he served as administrative assistant secretary to the council for 12 years.

Born Oct. 8, 1916, in Ripley, Miss., Finger was the son of the late Homer Ellis Finger and Bertha Rogers Finger and was preceded in death by his wife of 63 years, Mamie Lee Ratliff Finger, in 2006.

He was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of United Methodist-related Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss., and received a master of divinity degree from Yale University Divinity School. He held honorary degrees from five colleges.

He was pastor of the Coldwater, Miss., and Oxford University United Methodist churches before his election in 1952 as president of Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss., a position he served for 12 years. He also served three years as a Navy chaplain in World War II, and a quarter-century later, he became chairman of the former United Methodist Commission on Chaplains and Related Ministries.

“I respected and admired him very much and deeply appreciated his friendship.”
–Bishop C. Dale White, retired
Bishop Finger’s churchwide ministries also included serving as the chairman of the former Commission on Deaconesses; president of the General Council of Finance and Administration; president of the Division of Health and Welfare Ministries of the Board of Global Ministries and a director of that board; and president of the Southeastern Jurisdictional College of Bishops. He was a delegate to the General Conferences of 1952 thorough 1964 and was a delegation leader in 1960 and 1964. He was also a delegate to the World Methodist Conferences of 1951 through 1971.

"Bishop Finger was one of the outstanding leaders of the church and was a marvelous, gracious man and a valued colleague on the Council of Bishops and a good friend," said retired Bishop C. Dale White, Newport, R.I. "I respected and admired him very much and deeply appreciated his friendship."

Finger is survived by son Homer Ellis Finger III and his wife, Phyllis, of Easton, Pa.; son William Ratliff Finger, and his wife, Georgia, of Raleigh, N.C.; daughter Elizabeth Ellen Finger and her husband, Richard Vander Veen, of Arden, N.C.; and five grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held June 4 in the Norma F. Pulliam Memorial Chapel at Givens Estates in Asheville.

Memorial gifts may be directed to Givens Estates, Sweeten Creek Road, Asheville, N.C. 28803 or to the Lake Junaluska Foundation, Lake Junaluska, N.C. 28745.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

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

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