Rev. Bennie E. Whiten Jr., former Mass. Conference Minister and President, Remembered

Rev. Bennie E. Whiten Jr., former Mass. Conference Minister and President, Remembered

Rev. Bennie Whiten during his days with the historic Massachusetts Conference.
This piece looks at Rev. Whiten's impact in Massachusetts.

For a fuller look at his ministry, read the United Church News article: 
Bennie Whiten, pastor, servant leader and ‘a giant’ in the UCC, dies at 89

The Rev. Bennie E. Whiten Jr., who served as the Minister and President of the historic Massachusetts Conference from 1991 to 2000, died on Dec. 4 at age 89, following a long illness. Known for his deep faith, kindhearted leadership, and commitment to justice, Rev. Whiten served the United Church of Christ in a variety of roles for over 44 years.

In addition to his Conference ministry, he was a well know presence at the national setting of the church, particularly at the 17 General Synods that he attended. He served in various settings in Cincinnati, New York and Chicago prior to arriving in Massachusetts, and after retiring from his Conference work, he went on to serve as the Acting Executive Minister of UCC Wider Church Ministries and co-executive of Global Ministries.

Under his leadership, the historic Massachusetts Conference held an extraordinary 200th Annual Meeting & Bicentennial Celebration that brought together 12,000 people in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1999.

"In my 31 years with the UCC, I worked with and for a number of church leaders, but Bennie was in a class by himself as an institutional officer, administrator, staff leader, and 'numbers guy,'" said Susannah Baker, former Associate Conference Minister for Policy and Administration of the historic Massachusetts Conference. "He had clarity about the appropriate roles of staff and volunteers, and astutely saw to the core of most issues. Bennie was that rare combination of visionary and realist, tempered with steadfastness and humor.  He was a blessing to the Church and to all of us who had the honor and joy to labor with him."

Perhaps the most lasting legacy of his tenure was The Gift and The Promise Capital Campaign, which among other projects raised funds to assist local churches with internet connectivity.  More than 100 churches received grants for computers, software and internet access, an investment which proved invaluable on Sept. 11, 2002, when the Conference for the first time was able to be in immediate contact with the vast majority of local churches. The campaign also raised an endowment, currently worth $3 million, which continues to support the ministries of the now Southern New England Conference today.

Rev. Jill Graham, Pastor of the First Congregational Church, UCC in Sheffield MA, worked on that capital campaign with Whiten.

“I am deeply saddened by the news of his passing, yet filled with gratitude for having known and served with Bennie,” she said. “It was there, in the early days of my ministry, that I experienced his commitment to the local church, especially our smaller congregations.  He was a true servant leader with a heart full of love and a life full of grace. He was a gift.”

Dick Harter, a long-time lay church leader in Massachusetts, co-chaired the capital campaign. He said he had “great affection and admiration for Bennie,” who was the first black Conference Minister to serve the historic Massachusetts Conference.

“As a privileged white American, I had heard, but not understood, about ‘Driving While Black’,” he recalled. “But I learned from Bennie that even so mild and distinguished a man practiced precautions against police violence when stopped by police. Over the years I had countless conversations with Bennie, but none made a more lasting impression.”
Rev. Bennie Whiten during his days with the historic Massachusetts Conference.
Harter said that Bennie always practiced and showed gratitude in very effective ways.

“When I agreed to serve as co-chair of the capital campaign, Bennie promptly and effectively made me feel I had done the right thing at the right time.  He did this not only by what he said directly to me, but also by what he said in a broader setting: nothing extravagant or embarrassing, but straight heart-felt appreciation.  Again, it was something I will long remember."

Dawn Hammond, who is now the Executive Minister for Policy and Finance for the Southern New England Conference, served as Business Manager on the Massachusetts Conference staff under Whiten.

“Bennie was a warm and good-humored leader, with an incisive mind and a deep lived commitment to justice,” she said.  “He loved to quote Howard Thurman.  He was an encouraging mentor to a young Business Manager. He was called as Minister and President following a period of turmoil, and his deep integrity and steady leadership did much to rebuild trust among staff and throughout the Conference.”

Tiffany Vail, now Director of Media & Communications for the Southern New England Conference, served as the Massachusetts Conference United Church News Editor under Whiten.

“Bennie wrote a monthly column for the paper, which I started editing fresh out of a secular journalism job,” she said. “He often referenced Biblical concepts that at the time were all new to me, and he was always willing to sit down and explain. He was so very patient.”


tiffany vail cropped.jpg
Tiffany Vail

Tiffany Vail is the Director of Media & Communications for the Southern New England Conference.

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