Archive for December 2011

A Christmas Message from Sister Joan Chittister

December 19, 2011

I’ve said it before: if the Catholic Church had the vision to ordain women to the priesthood, Joan Chittister would be the Pope. Here’s her Christmas message that I got in today’s email. You can find more or sign up for her emails at

Now and here bells everywhere are ringing again. The gift boxes are heaping up. Everybody’s saying it: “Christmas Blessings… God bless you at Christmas time… Christmas Peace to you and yours… Merry Christmas.” But is there any truth at all to any of this manufactured joy? Or is this, at best, nothing more than an exercise in auto-suggestion: Say it often enough and you’ll think it’s true, whatever the facts to the contrary.

Christians, after all, at least from one perspective, live a very schizophrenic life. As Paul puts it in one of his letters to the fragile communities of the early church, “Your standards should be different than those around you.” But at Christmas time, those standards can get terribly confusing. The Christian standard says that Christ, our Peace, has been born. But look around you. The other standard, the real public norm, the front page of our daily newspapers, says that there is no such thing as peace anywhere.

So, are we simply kidding ourselves when we put up manger scenes in our parks, and weigh our churches down with bark-covered, life-size crèches, and decorate the crib sets under our Christmas trees? Will the world ever really come to peace? In fact, is there really any such thing as peace? And, most of all, what do we have to do with it? What are we singing about? (It depends, I believe, on what you think “peace” means.)

One kind of peace is a state of life that is free from chaos and turbulence, from violence and institutionally legitimated death. That kind of peace happens often enough in history to show us that such a thing is possible. But don’t be fooled: that kind of peace can be achieved as easily through force as well as through justice. In the latter, little is gained by it.

But there is another kind of peace. This kind of peace does not come either from the denial of evil or the acceptance of oppression. This kind comes from the center of us and flows through us like a conduit to the world around us.

This kind of peace is the peace of those who know truth and proclaim it, who recognize oppression and refuse to accept it, who understand God’s will for the world and pursue it. This kind of peace comes with the realization that it is our obligation to birth it for the rest of the world so that what the mangers and crèches and crib sets of the world point to can become real in us—and because of us—in our own time.

The award-winning foreign film “Joyeux Noël” reminds us of another Christmas Eve. This one in Europe during the bloodiest period in WWI. Knee deep in wet snow and ice that jammed their weapons and froze their souls, two armies—one French and Scottish, one German—faced one another across a barbed-wired field. Hundreds of fallen soldiers had already died on both sides of the rough and blood-soaked land. Then suddenly, the Christmas truce began. The men put down their weapons, ceased for awhile to be soldiers, and bowed their heads while they listened to the other side sing Christmas carols.

That is the kind of peace—disarmed, foreign to hate, and receiving of the other—that was born in the manger we remember at Christmas time. That is the kind of Christmas peace we must ourselves seek to be. Then “Merry Christmas” will really mean something.

Bill Hopper follow-up (from his family)

December 18, 2011

Dear Friends of Bill (and Mollie) Hopper,

We are sorry to have to tell you that our father died this past Monday, December 12th, nine days before his 86th birthday on December 21st.

Many of you know that he had been suffering from COPD for several years, and often his breathing was quite difficult. He contracted pneumonia after he had been taken to the hospital for an unrelated health problem a couple of weeks ago. Fortunately he had seen each of his three daughters very recently. Laura and Katie were with him on Thanksgiving, Jane was able to see him for a couple of days after he was moved from the hospital to a skilled nursing facility, and Mary Ann and Mark arrived to see him the day before he died.

Our parents had many friends and we know that their friendships with all of you gave them great joy and comfort. Bill and Mollie loved to keep in touch with all of you and to visit (and be visited) whenever they could.

There will be a memorial service for our dad on Saturday, January 21st at 3:00 p.m. at Westminster Gardens in Duarte, California. There will also be a second memorial service at Louisville Seminary in early February when his ashes are interred with our mom’s in the seminary’s memorial garden.

In lieu of flowers, we would appreciate memorial gifts to any of three organizations that our dad valued very highly – Louisville Seminary, the overseas mission of the Presbyterian Church, or Westminster Gardens, the wonderful community where Bill and Mollie lived for 15 years following their retirement.

The addresses are listed below.

Thank you all very much for your friendship with our parents. They were always very grateful for the part that you played in their lives.  There is a recent photo of our mom and dad at the end of this email, with the photo file attached.

Mary Ann Kearns
Jane Adamson
Laura Hopper

Memorials may be sent to:

  • Louisville Seminary
    Mr. Dale Melton
    1044 Alta Vista Rd.
    Louisville, KY   40205
  • PC(USA)
    PO Box 643700
    Pittsburgh, PA   15264-3700
    make the check out to PC(USA) and write on the memo line E864015-World Missions
  • Westminster Gardens
    Judy Thorndyke
    1420 Santo Domingo Ave.
    Duarte, CA  91010

William H. Hopper, Jr. – 1925 – 2011
Mollie Brown Hopper – 1925 – 2010

In Memoriam: William H. (Bill) Hopper, Jr.

December 12, 2011

A dear friend of mine died this morning.

From San Gabriel Executive Presbyter Ruth Santana Grace:

It is with deep sadness that I share the news that the Rev. Bill Hopper has passed away. He died early this morning. As you know, Bill dedicated his life to the ministry of the Church of Jesus Christ as a missionary, executive, pastor, leader and much more. He will be deeply missed. I am confident that the heavens opened to receive him as he crossed over from this life to the next; I am equally confident that God’s voice was heard echoing, saying “This is my servant and son, in whom I am well pleased.” We will let you know of plans for his memorial service once we have them. Please pray for his family as they make this journey – may they experience the hope of the resurrection and the love of Christ through friends and family.

I got to know Bill a number of years ago when I was working at Westminster Gardens, a local retirement community which was then exclusively for those who had served the Presbyterian church as missionaries, ministers, or some other capacity under the denominational Board of Pensions. Bill was the president of the Residents’ Association then and I was serving as the Director of Communications, so we worked together on several projects. As we got to know each other, I shared with him that I am a lesbian; he shared with me that one of his and his wife Mollie’s three daughters is also a lesbian. Since then I have spent quite a lot of time with Bill. Despite the fact that Melinda and I are the age of Bill’s daughters, and Bill was of an unknown-to-me age at least as old as my own parents, I always felt that we were friends. Check that: I knew that we were friends.

When Melinda and I legally married in 2008, it was in our church, and Bill and Mollie (who preceded him in death) were among those who gathered to witness the occasion and to rejoice with us. This meant and still means a lot to us.

Always a gentleman, Bill was born and grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. His father was a Presbyterian minister who was an eloquent preacher. Bill was a PK–a preacher’s kid–so there were certain expectations of him, some by his family, others by his friends. Many PKs rebel in some way: Bill’s way was in a socially acceptable one; Bill loved baseball.

As a kid, Bill would listen to the Birmingham Barons on the radio. He was a big fan of his home team. The radio announcer for the Barons was Bull Connor–who would later become in many ways the face of the racist, segregationist, Jim Crow South. I don’t know what Bill’s father’s theology and politics were, but when Bill found out about Bull Connor and what he stood for he stopped listening to the broadcasts. (I’m no Dodgers fan, but I’ve listened to the voice of the Dodgers, Vin Scully, for much of my life. It would be hard to say, “No more,” and turn off that voice forever.) Bill’s love of baseball continued, however–something that he and I shared. But his love for justice and equality and all things progressive were far greater–something else we shared.

Bill served as a missionary in Iran and Pakistan. Although the political leaders of those countries have changed since then, much of what we read now was true then. The three daughters lived their formative years in Iran, with one of them having been born there–they express remorse that they can never return to the land of their childhood. Bill contracted a powerful form of malaria in Iran, which cut their service short in order for him to return to the United States for medical treatment. He served the church in other ways for a few years, but he and Mollie felt like they needed to return to the mission field, so they got and assignment in Pakistan; they served there until his malaria returned. As Ruth said above, he served the church at every possible level: from the mission field to the local church to presbytery, synod and General Assembly. For a number of years he led the commissioner training prior to each year’s GA–something vital to the success of our then-annual conventions.

Well into his retirement, Bill and former PC(USA) Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick–a colleague, neighbor, close friend and tennis partner–decided they would write a book together. I played a small part in creating that book, What Unites Presbyterians: Common Ground for Troubled Times, so I know that Bill did much of the heavy lifting, while Cliff read the chapters and made suggestions and corrections. It was a good collaboration, and one they enjoyed, so they wrote several other books together after that. Something special about Bill, though, was that he wasn’t one who only associated with people who held the same theological and/or political views. Bill was a friend to many people regardless. Bill was the embodiment of grace.

Bill was active in the Witherspoon Society (now part of Presbyterians for Justice), More Light Presbyterians, the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, and was a supporter of That All May Freely Serve. He encouraged me, prodded me, helped me, and occasionally gently guided and tempered me in my work with those groups and for those same causes. Bill was an ardent supporter of women’s ordination and service, of racial and ethnic civil rights, and of many other causes. I don’t know if anyone will ever know his full effect on the world though, because he was so modest about his own contributions.

At the same time, he had a great dry sense of humor, and was a wonderful conversationalist and story-teller. He had a deep, somewhat gravelly voice and that Alabama-Kentucky accent which was so easy to listen to. He delighted in sharing stories about his children and grandchildren in way that I loved to hear.

Even though I know that he’s now rejoined with his life and life-ever-after partner Mollie and other friends and family members in the presence of the Christ who he served and loved in life, I will miss him a lot. I am proud that he was both a friend and a mentor, and I am a better person for having known him. Thanks, and God bless you, Bill Hopper.

* * * * * * * * * *

I forgot to say something important! Bill was one of the few people I know who liked fruitcake. A long-time tea-totaller, he even liked the booze-soaked ones. Every year someone would likely give me a fruitcake for Christmas (or I’d rescue one from someone else), and I’d make sure that it went to Bill. He’d have a tiny sliver every day for months–and would enjoy it immensely. If someone gives me a fruitcake this year I’ll make sure to have a tiny slice and think of him.