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Retired Bishop Ben Oliphint dies at 83

By United Methodist News Service
July 9, 2007

Bishop Benjamin Oliphint

Bishop Benjamin Ray Oliphint, who had an impact on The United Methodist Church at many levels, died July 7 at Methodist Hospital in Houston. He was 83.

The bishop had experienced a cardiac episode recently and undergone an angioplasty procedure. He seemed to be doing well, but had a setback and did not recover, according to the Council of Bishops office in Washington.

Elected bishop in 1980, Oliphint led United Methodists in the denomination’s Houston, Kansas and Louisiana areas during the following 12 years. He was instrumental in helping start Africa University, the United Methodist-related school in Zimbabwe.

"Bishop Oliphint was … an extremely well loved and respected bishop by everyone in this episcopal area," said Bishop Janice Riggle Huie, who leads the Houston Area and is president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops.

Oliphint also was respected at the general church level for his work with the boards and agencies, she said. Even in retirement, he was involved in fundraising for the Methodist Global Education Fund for Leadership Development "to help make it possible for people around the world to have access to higher education and seminary degrees," she said.

"Bishop Oliphint believed that education is the way to transform people, society and the world," said Ken Yamada with the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry. "He lived out that belief beginning with his service to educational institutions in the United States."

Africa University

Yamada, who serves as special assistant for global education and new initiatives to the board’s top staff executive, the Rev. Jerome King Del Pino, worked with Oliphint on the development of Africa University and the Methodist Global Education Fund for Leadership Development.

Oliphint was president of the board from 1988 to 1992, during which Africa University was launched near Mutare, Zimbabwe. Ground was broken for the school in 1991, and the first students were admitted the next year.

"Bishop Oliphint believed that education is the way to transform people, society and the world."-Ken Yamada

"During his tenure as president of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, he was instrumental in handling the difficult negotiations with the Zimbabwe government to allow the first nongovernmental university to open in the country," Yamada said. "He presided over the groundbreaking of the new campus.

"Even after his retirement, he continued his work promoting worldwide education. He was co-chair of the task group that developed and promoted the Methodist Global Education Fund for Leadership Development, which aims to promote global progress and stability through education."

Early career

Oliphint was born May 28, 1924, in Hemphill, Texas. He earned his bachelor of arts degree in 1946 from Southern Methodist University in Dallas and his master of divinity degree from Duke University Divinity School in Durham, N.C. He received a master of sacred theology degree from Union Theological Seminary in New York in 1947 and a doctorate from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1951.

Ordained a deacon in 1947 and an elder two years later, Oliphint began his ministry by serving churches in the Louisiana Area. He was pastor of St. Luke’s Church in New Orleans from 1947 to 1949, followed by an appointment as associate pastor at First Church in Alexandria from 1951 to 1952. During the following two decades, he was pastor at St. Paul’s, Monroe; First Church, Alexandria; and University Church, Baton Rouge.

In 1972, he transferred to the denomination’s North Texas Conference and became pastor of First United Methodist Church in Dallas, where he served until 1980.

Throughout his years as a pastor, he was a delegate to seven General Conferences —leading the delegation four times — and five South Central Jurisdictional Conferences. Between 1966 and 1986, he served as a delegate to five assemblies of the World Methodist Council, and he was a member of the council’s presidium.

General church leader

Elected bishop in 1980, Oliphint was assigned to the Kansas Area, where he served four years. He led the Houston Area from 1984 until his retirement in 1992. He also served as interim bishop of the Louisiana Area from 1987 to 1988.

"He knew how to laugh at himself. He knew how to love people. I think that's part of the reason why so many people loved him."
-Bishop Janice Riggle Huie

The bishop was an early key supporter of women in ministry, Huie said. "I personally have benefited from his mentoring and his support. A number of clergywomen in the Texas Annual Conference can testify to his leadership in that area."

She added that he "had a great sense of humor and a sense of humility. … He knew how to laugh at himself. He knew how to love people. I think that’s part of the reason why so many people loved him."

After retiring from the episcopacy in 1992, he served for 10 years as president of the Texas United Methodist College Association.

Oliphint served on several church boards and agencies, including the Board of Education, 1964-1972; the Board of Global Ministries, 1972-1976; the Committee to Study the Church School, 1972; and the committee to write the concordat with the Methodist Church in Mexico, 1976. He served on the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns from 1980 to 1988 and was its president for four years. He also was on the governing board of the National Council of Churches in the USA from 1980 to 1986.

He provided leadership for the South Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops, serving as its president from 1984 to 1985. He also was a trustee for Southern Methodist University in Dallas and Methodist Hospital in Houston, along with other institutions.

Survivors and arrangements

He is survived by his wife, Nancy Kelley Oliphint of Houston, whom he married in 1952; daughter Mary Brooke Casad of Carrollton, Texas; son Stuart Oliphint of Fort Worth, Texas; son Clayton Oliphint of Dallas; son Kelley Oliphint of La Grange, Texas; brother John Oliphint of Colorado Springs, Colo.; and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Graveside services will be July 10 at Greenwood Cemetery in Pineville, La. A memorial service is set for 1 p.m. July 11 at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Houston.

In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be given to the Benjamin R. Oliphint Scholarship of the Methodist Global Education Fund for Leadership Development, 1 Music Circle North, P.O. Box 340029, Nashville, TN 37203-0029; Nancy Oliphint Playground, Lakeview Conference Center, 400 Private Road 6036, Palestine, Texas, 75801-4350; or St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, 3471 Westheimer, Houston, Texas, 77227.

*Some details for this story were gathered from an obituary in the Houston Chronicle.

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

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