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Celebrating the life of Rod Martin

Rod Martin
Witherspoon Society file photo, 1994

Rodney Martin dies at 84

Former PHEWA director served also as president of Witherspoon Society

by Alexa Smith, Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE – June 29, 2005 – A Presbyterian elder who pioneered new models for social justice work and mentored countless young pastors and activists died June 24 in Napa, CA.

Rodney T. Martin, 84, who was the executive director of the Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare Association (PHEWA) for 18 years, died following a long illness. His family was at his bedside.

A memorial service will be held at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, July 30, at the First Presbyterian Church in Oakland, CA.

On the national stage, Martin directed PHEWA from 1972 to1990, when he also served as associate for organizational relations for the Social Justice and Peacemaking Unit of the General Assembly.

Under Martin’s leadership, PHEWA began using networks to link grassroots Presbyterians engaged in issue-based ministries with each other and with the wider church. He developed a consultation process that helped presbyteries, community centers and homes for the aging do long-range planning, redirect ministries to meet changing needs and broker funds for the work.

He had an intuitive gift for networking.

"The model of peer consultation developed by Rod was flexible and forward-thinking – the very model that will be needed by the church in a time when national staff can no longer be direct service providers," said the Rev. Bob Brashear, pastor of West Park Presbyterian Church in New York City and the current president of the PHEWA Board of Directors.

Brashear said Martin pushed for joint ministry between the northern and southern streams of the church before they merged to form the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

"Rod’s most important tool was the telephone," he said. "The greatest part of every day – and most nights, by my direct observation of him while living with his family for two years – was spent in reaching out to people across the country, checking in to see how they were doing, helping them to feel their work, and more so, their person, was appreciated and valued."

"He was a human voice for an institutional church, connecting across the miles in a most personal and pastoral way," Brashear said. "The gifts Rod brought to his ministry are the very ones so needed in today’s church.

"His work will carry on … in PHEWA, but more so in the lives of those whose ministries he nurtured and supported, in the lives of those he loved."

Martin was born in Cass County, IN, on April 10, 1921, the third son of Earl and Josie Martin. He attended Washington Township High School, Morton Junior College in Berwyn, IL, and the United States Merchant Marine Academy at Kingspoint, NY, where he earned a bachelor of science degree in engineering. He served as an officer in the Merchant Marine from 1941-45, during World War II.

It was during a shore leave in Glasgow, Scotland, that he met his wife, the former Jessie Cunningham. They were married 40 years when she died in 1987.

Martin joined the church when he was nine years old. In response to his father’s worry that he was too young, the pastor reportedly said, "Do not thwart the Spirit." He was a fifth-generation elder, serving in numerous churches, presbyteries and synods.

Prior to directing PHEWA, Martin was executive director of the East Long Beach Neighborhood Center/Centro de la Raza in Los Ranchos Presbytery. It was there that Martin honed his skills as an organizer, grant writer, mentor and facilitator among the disadvantaged.

"Rod was the key to the formation of so many of us across the church," said the Rev. Laura Jervis of the West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing. "He made it possible for many of us to do things on both the presbytery and national levels that we never would have dreamed of attempting. His confidence in us and his unwavering support made it possible.

"Age was never an impediment. He always took young people seriously – he listened, learned from them and launched them. His friendship was a lifelong commitment. He and his beloved wife, Jessie, were the godparents to three generations of church leaders within our denomination."

PHEWA Board meetings and biennial conferences included visits to struggling communities and working for civil or labor rights. In 1987, the organization gave Martin its highest honor, the John Park Lee Award for outstanding work in the field of health and welfare. In 2000, the Witherspoon Society recognized Martin with the Andrew Murray Award, given to a person whose life and work exemplified the values of the organization.

In retirement, Martin moved to Pismo Beach, CA, where his daughter, the Rev. Shona Martin Kilsgaard, pastored the Community Presbyterian Church. He was president of the Witherspoon Society and served on a number of committees in Santa Barbara Presbytery, as well as the session of the Community Church. He edited the church’s newsletter, supported the local food bank and worked in a number of community organizations.

In 2003, he moved to Sonoma, CA, near two of his daughters, Moire Martin, a sign language interpreter, and Fiona Martin, who operates a chocolate businesses in Mill Valley and Berkeley, CA. He remained an avid reader, bridge player and gourmet cook and prided himself, according to his daughters, on finishing the New York Timescrossword puzzle by noon on Sunday and whipping up a "mean" apple pie.

He is survived by his three daughters; two daughters-in-law, Senecarol and Beth; his brother, Donald C. Martin; and two grandchildren, Emma and Zachary Westrasmus of New Hampshire.

"I treasured him as a friend," said the Rev. David Cockcroft, the pastor emeritus of Riverdale Presbyterian Church in the Bronx, N.Y., and a longtime colleague in PHEWA. "There was a constant stream of people … through his office, at his house on the Vineyard in the summer … And he kept the networks going. He’d say to me (while he was in California),‘Did you know such-and-such is happening in New York?’ And I’d say, ‘No, I didn’t know.’

"In terms of social justice ministries, his strength was the ability to develop networks."

Memorial gifts may made in Martin’s name to the Community Presbyterian Church of Pismo Beach, 990 Dolliver, Pismo Beach, CA, 93449, and That All May Freely Serve, The Downtown Presbyterian Church, 121 Fitzhugh St., Rochester, NY 14614.


Rod’s daughter, the Rev. Shona Martin Kilsgaard, has sent this note to friends in the PHEWA network:

06/23/05 6:08 PM

Dear Friends and loved ones:

It is with both joy and sadness that I send this Email update.

As you know, the decisions that have been made surrounding Rod's care have ] all been for healing purposes. The ventilator, the dialysis, all the bells and whistles. We have found that all this medical machinery is no longer moving him toward health, but instead is prolonging his dying.

Rod had made it very clear from the start that he did not want to be kept alive with machines or any other artificial life support. We have all met with the doctors and feel that now is the time to let him go peacefully. He has made his desires clear to us and he is willing and ready to move on to a new life. This morning we took steps to make that move possible. The machinery and all the bells and whistles have been removed and he is comfortable using only his trach tube, oxygen and medication. We are uncertain about the length of time he has, but will contact all of you when he "crosses the bar".

We have given him our blessing and told him that it is all right to go.

We are all praying for a peaceful crossing over where we know mom is waiting for him. He is a wonderful man and has been the best father that any three girls could have hoped for. We know that you also have memories of him as a loving friend and mentor. We have hearts and minds full of memories and great laughter. We also have the firm foundations of a faith that believes that he will soon hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant!" He is so loved.

We would like to thank all of you for your persistent prayers and great love for our dad. We also encourage all of you to continue the fight that he waged his whole life, that of peace and justice for all.

Our love to all of you!

Shona for all the clan, Moire, Fiona, Senecarol and Beth.



Some blogs worth visiting

PVJ's Facebook page

Mitch Trigger, PVJ's Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!

You can post your own news and views, or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.


John Shuck’s new "Religion for Life" website

Long-time and stimulating blogger John Shuck, a Presbyterian minister currently serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton, Tenn., writes about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and lightening up.

Click here for his blog posts.

Click here for podcasts of his radio program, which "explores the intersection of religion, social justice and public life."


John Harris’ Summit to Shore blogspot

Theological and philosophical reflections on everything between summit to shore, including kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology, The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New York City and the Queens neighborhood of Ridgewood -- by a progressive New York City Presbyterian Pastor. John is a former member of the Witherspoon board, and is designated pastor of North Presbyterian Church in Flushing, NY.


Voices of Sophia blog

Heather Reichgott, who has created this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:

After fifteen years of scholarship and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy, students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and thoughtful community.


Got more blogs to recommend?

Please send a note, and we'll see what we can do!


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