By Walter Fenton-
Lifetime Good News Board member the Rev. John Grenfell, Jr. died this past Sunday, June 25, 2017. He was 86 years old.
John was one of those United Methodist pastors who never really retired; he was not the retiring type. He played ice hockey into his mid-60s, and always gave as good as he got. The passion he exhibited on the ice was an extension of how he lived his life: full-tilt, fearless, and filled with intensity.
John always struck me as a wiry, Old Testament prophet, ready at a moment to burst forth with a jeremiad on the importance of justice, truth, and integrity in our church. And then five minutes later he would be weeping with joy as he told you about a lost soul who accepted Christ into his heart, had his life turned around, and in the process, found a fellowship of caring friends at a church he pastored.
After graduating from Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary, John served the United Methodist Church for 41 years of active ministry. He pastored congregations in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan. He also served as a district superintendent in the Detroit Annual Conference, and represented it as a General Conference delegate on more than one occasion.
John joined the Good News Board in 1974. “John Grenfell’s life and ministry have had a profound influence on The United Methodist Church,” said the Rev. Dr. James V. Heidinger II, president emeritus of Good News. “Faithfulness to the message of the gospel remained the top priority for John. He was a pastor and church leader of unquestioned integrity – acknowledged even by those of a more liberal persuasion.”
Grenfell was elected a lifetime Good News board member in the 1990s, and received the Edmund Robb Jr. United Methodist Renewal Award in 2007. The Good News board of directors has bestowed the award on only 12 people. Other recipients include Maxie Dunnam, Tom Oden, and Helen Rhea Stumbo.
In retirement, John dedicated much of his time to serving as an advocate for clergy and local churches in disputes with district superintendents and bishops. He was passionate about justice, and dedicated to providing clergy and local churches with informed and wise counsel. He was committed to the idea that every pastor and local church deserved a vigorous defense of their due process rights. For his efforts, he received the Conscience of the Conference Award from the United Methodist Associates in Advocacy in recognition of a “lifetime ministry of integrity, compassion, and courage in upholding and defending the covenant of the clergy.”
“John had a profound conviction that the ministerial covenant meant that the UM Church should be administered by its leadership with absolute integrity and fairness,” said Heidinger.
When John was not advocating on behalf of others, he filled interim pastoral appointments, and also served as Camp Director at Simpson Park in Romeo, Michigan, the state’s oldest Holiness Camp Meeting for families.
John was a man of strong conviction, deep faith, loyal commitments, and persevering love. His love of God, family, and the people of the congregations he served, inspired many throughout his long life and dedicated service to the UM Church.
He is survived by his wife by of 65 years, Jeanine (Neal) Grenfell, two sons, three daughters, a sister, in-laws, and numerous grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
His son, the Rev. Dr. John Grenfell III, senior pastor at Plymouth First UM Church (Michigan), will preside at his funeral at 11 a.m. Monday, July 3, 2017 at First United Methodist Church in Port Huron, Michigan. John III carries on his father’s legacy as a UM pastor and member of the Good News board of directors.
Walter Fenton is a United Methodist clergy person and an analyst for Good News.