The Rev. Robert Dilday, a religious journalist and environmental activist, died unexpectedly just a week after his ordination to the priesthood in Richmond, Virginia, aged 64.
A native Texan, Dilday was the son of Betty Dilday and the Rev. Dr. Russell Dilday, a leading Southern Baptist moderate and longtime president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Russell Dilday was ousted from Southwestern, then America’s largest seminary, during the conservative resurgence that deeply shaped the Southern Baptist Church in the early 1990s.
Robert Dilday was a graduate of Baylor and Southwestern, and worked for the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and Baptist publications in Arkansas and Georgia. In 1986, he became managing editor of The Religious Herald, the historic weekly of Virginia Baptists. When The Religious Herald merged with the Associated Baptist Press in 2014, Dilday became editor-in-chief of Baptist News Global, an independent news source.
In 2016, he became an Episcopalian, and was an active lay leader at St. Stephen’s Church in Richmond before attending Virginia Seminary. He returned to St. Stephen’s as a deacon, where he was leading the congregation’s social justice ministry and assisting with a service designed for children and young adults.
Dilday was also deeply committed to environmental justice, advocating for marginalized communities that are affected by ecological destruction. He was co-director of the Interfaith Alliance for Climate Justice, and a leader in protesting the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a natural gas pipeline slated to pass through Central Virginia.
He is survived by his father and two sons.
The Rev. Robert Lucent, who served as a mission priest to native Americans and a Marine chaplain, died at his home in Escondido, California on December 3, aged 92.
He graduated from Seabury-Western Seminary and was ordained to the priesthood in 1952, and his first ministry was as a mission priest on the Lakota Reservation in Rapid City, South Dakota. He was commissioned as a chaplain by the Navy in 1962, and served Marines at Camp Pendleton and the Naval Training Center.
Lucent returned to the Midwest to minister to urban Indians in Iowa and Nebraska. He became rector of the Church of the Holy Family in Fresno, Calif. in 1975, serving there until his retirement 16 years later.
In a long retirement in Escondido, Father Bob was very active in his local parish, Trinity Church, and spent his weekends cleaning and repairing the church building. An avid hiker, he was accompanying the church youth group on backpacking trips well into his seventies. Lucent and his wife fostered many children, and adopted three sons. He is survived by his wife of 67 years, Moina; by his sons Michael and Nick; by seven grandchildren and by two great-grandchildren.
The Rev. Deacon Marilyn Lindeberg Powell, an advocate for social justice who helped to establish Charleston’s Magdalene House for women facing addiction, died at the Bishop Gadsden community on James Island, South Carolina on December 16, aged 95.
Powell grew up in Honolulu and was 17 when Pearl Harbor was bombed, an event she remembered vividly. She served as a volunteer nurse for American and Japanese soldiers, and then in the map room in the command center. She met Lt. Col. Joseph Powell there, and after their marriage in 1943, followed him to a series of overseas Air Force postings.
She became active in social justice ministry at Otey Parish in Sewanee, Tenn., where she helped establish the Community Action Committee, a relief and advocacy organization in 1971, as well as a regional outreach ministry to dispersed rural communities in the Cumberland Plateau. Powell was ordained as a deacon in her sixties, serving at St. Stephen’s Church in Charleston. She set up a twelve-step ministry at a local prison and was instrumental in founding Magdalene House, a ministry that continues to provide safe housing, counseling, and job training for women with criminal histories of drug abuse and prostitution.
She retained a wonderful sense of humor and a keen intellect until the end of her life, and is survived by four children and a large extended family.
The Rev. George Gaines Swanson, a banjo-playing advocate for women’s equality, died December 5, aged 86.
A native of San Francisco, he worked as a Forest Service firefighter, a steelworker, a Fuller Brush man, an NRA rifle instructor and a fruit picker before attending Harvard College and General Seminary. After his ordination in 1958, he served parishes in Menlo Park and Coalinga, California, and in Botswana as a mission priest for a year. During his time in Botswana, he became well known for touring the country performing that nation’s then-new national anthem, accompanying himself on the banjo.
His wife, Katrina Welles Swanson was awakened by their time in Botswana to advocate for women’s leadership in the church, and George fully supported her in her quest to become a priest. She was ordained as a deacon in 1971, and served alongside him at St. George’s, Kansas City. She was ordained in 1974 as one of the “Philadelphia Eleven,” the Episcopal Church’s first female priests. For taking this step, she was suspended by the Bishop of West Missouri and George was forced to fire her.
In 1977, they relocated to New Jersey, where George became rector of the Church of the Ascension in Jersey City. After the church was almost completely destroyed by fire, Swanson became locked in conflict with Newark bishop John Spong over the disposition of the insurance payments, which the latter had refused to release to the congregation for rebuilding. Spong charged Swanson with conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy for filing a civil suit against him. In the Diocese of Newark’s first-ever ecclesiastical trial, Swanson was convicted, though the decision was reversed on appeal. Ascension Church was forced to close in 1992.
Following Katrina’s retirement in 1996, the couple moved to Manset, Maine, where George enjoyed playing the banjo for boat tours around Bar Harbor. He also became deeply involved in prison reform, advocating for the abolition of solitary confinement. “Natural Causes Killed Victor,” a drama he wrote about the suspicious death of Maine prisoner Victor Valdez, premiered in 2014. He also founded Katrina’s Dream, a nonprofit working for the full inclusion of women, following his wife’s death in 2006.
Swanson is survived by a son, Olof.
The Rev. Edwin Montague Walker, an engineer and sociologist with a passion for evangelism, died on November 11, aged 86.
A native of Yonkers, New York, Walker was trained as an electrical engineer and worked for Westinghouse before entering Virginia Seminary. Following his ordination, her served at St. David’s, Roland Park, Baltimore before entering the mission field. He served parishes in Costa Rica, Ecuador and Columbia. Returning to the United States, he earned a degree in sociology, and taught in the field at Vanderbilt and the College of Charleston. While living in Charleston, he served as an associate in several parishes and on the National Cursillo Committee. His final post was at St. David’s, Englewood, Florida.
He retired to Mount Pleasant, South Carolina in 1999, and served as a volunteer tour guide on the U.S.S. Yorktown and as chaplain to the Charleston Port and Seafarers Society, and assisted at the Church of the Redeemer, Pineville, South Carolina. He had a love of military history, ham radio, bird watching, travel and music, and large circle of friends. Walker is survived by his wife of 61 years, Margaret, three children, and seven grandchildren.