Disciples News Service

Howard Dentler, former deputy general minister, dies

by Jim Cullumber, Christian Church Foundation

The Rev. Howard Dentler, who served as the deputy general minister and president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) for nearly 20 years under four denominational leaders, died July 3 in Mount Pleasant, IA. He was 90.

A Celebration of Life service will be conducted at 1:30 p.m. Aug. 11 in First Presbyterian Church in Mount Pleasant by the Rev. James P. Johnson, president emeritus of the Christian Church Foundation. Inurnment will follow in White Oak Cemetery. Memorials will be placed in the Howard E. and Mary Lou Dentler Fund of the Christian Church Foundation that will endow ministries of Week of Compassion, Pension Fund and Lexington Theological Seminary.

Rev. Dentler was a native of Chicago. He married his high school sweetheart, Mary Lou Schweidler, in 1942. She died in 2012. After a stint in the Army, he received a bachelor’s degree in business from Stetson University in Deland, FL, in 1948, and operated his parents’ hotel and his own motel in Orlando, FL.

In 1954, he answered the call to ministry and the Dentlers – along with their two children and a third on the way — moved to Lexington, KY, to attend the College of the Bible, now known as Lexington Theological Seminary.

While a student in the late 1950s, he served First Christian Church of Mays Lick and then was invited by the elders of the Disciples African-American Mays Lick congregation to be their Sunday preacher. The elders noted how the Dentler children had invited the black children to play with them, and how the Dentlers walked through the neighborhood, greeting everyone.

He graduated in 1957 with honors.

While serving as pastor of Central Christian Church in Jacksonville, FL, in 1961, Rev. Dentler was called to join the Indianapolis, IN, staff of Dr. Gaines Cook, executive secretary of the International Convention of the Christian Churches – the forerunner of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). With his experience in hotel management and business, he was put in charge of the annual meetings, which had an attendance of 10,000 Christians from across the church.

Rev. Dentler was soon assigned to the Council of Agencies, which was composed of representatives of the various agencies reporting directly or indirectly to the International Convention. This assignment provided him with the opportunity to become well acquainted with the leaders of the denomination and to provide leadership and influence among them.

Asked by Dr. A. Dale Fiers to be his deputy general minister in 1968 following the Disciples’ restructure, Rev. Dentler continued to oversee General Assemblies and a wide array of regional meetings and gatherings of the General Board, Administrative Committee and other task groups. In all, he supervised 17 General Assemblies and International Conventions.

Rev. Dentler also served on the boards of the National Benevolent Association, Christian Board of Publication, and, for 12 years, the Pension Fund of the Christian Church. He was a trustee for Lexington Theological Seminary.

Rev. Dentler was a founding member of the Religious Conference Management Association in 1972 that helps train meeting planners for denominations and church-related institutions about hotel negotiations and other major issues related to the planning of large meetings. RCMA, based in Indianapolis, continues today.

From 1975 until his retirement, he was chair of the Week of Compassion Committee, the relief, refugee and development mission fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) that seeks to equip and empower disciples to alleviate the suffering of others through disaster response, humanitarian aid, sustainable development and the promotion of mission opportunities.

He also served on the board of Heifer International, whose mission is to work with communities to end hunger and poverty and care for the Earth. Heifer is most well-known for its distribution of more than 30 kinds of animals to communities around the world.

Because of his passion for these ministries, Rev. Dentler was asked to preach at the General Assembly in San Antonio in 1975. It was and remains one of the finest sermons delivered at the Assembly. Most of the church had only seen Rev. Dentler as the meeting planner but that evening in worship at the General Assembly exposed him as a passionate spokesman for the Gospel and especially for the ministries represented in Week of Compassion and Heifer International.

In retirement, the Dentlers first moved to Iowa, then to Jacksonville, FL, and then back to Iowa in 2007 to be near family.

Rev. Dentler is survived by a son, Bruce (Ann) Dentler of Spokane, WA; two daughters, Bonnie (Jack) Kremer of Mt. Pleasant, IA, and Patti (Craig) VanSandt of Rock Island, IL, a daughter-in-law, Cyndi Dentler of Alabama, fourteen grandchildren and fifteen great-grandchildren.  He was preceded in death by his wife, his parents, a son, David Dentler, and a brother and sister.

Messages of condolences can be sent to the family through the funeral home at http://www.funeralplan.com/olsonpowell/obits?id=287812

Words from church leaders:

“The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) owes so very much to the work and leadership of Howard Dentler. As Dale Fiers’ deputy at the time of our restructure, he was part of a group of far-sighted individuals who led us toward our commitment to be a pro-reconciling church,” said Sharon Watkins, general minister and president. “As we head to Orlando, it’s often in my mind how for so many years he was the face of General Assembly.”

 Associate General Minister and Vice President Todd Adams reflected on his predecessor twice removed. “The best story is his work getting the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Dallas International Convention and working with the Dallas police and FBI to ensure King’s safety.”

 The Rev. Dr. Glenn Carson, president of the Disciples of Christ Historical Society, said,”Howard was a deeply committed Disciple who considered it an honor to play a leading role in our recent history.”  

Historical photo provided by Disciples of Christ Historical Society.