The Rev. Canon William H. Barnwell, an author and dedicated anti-racism activist, died March 27 of pneumonia, aged 81. His doctors suspected that he had the coronavirus.
Barnwell was a native of Charleston, South Carolina and a graduate of the University of the South. After serving as an officer in the Coast Guard, he entered Virginia Seminary. He had what he described as a “turn-around experience in racial matters” during a summer internship at St. John’s Episcopal Mission Center in his hometown. While serving under the supervision of an African-American priest, he came to understand the real costs of segregation. He wrote about his epiphany decades later in a book, Richard’s World: The Battle of Charleston, 1966.
Barnwell served in several parishes in South Carolina after his ordination, and was chaplain at Tulane University, where he also earned a degree in English. He taught writing at the University of New Orleans for many years and also ministered for years at Louisiana’s legendary Angola State Penitentiary. After a death row inmate he was counseling committed suicide, he launched a campaign against solitary confinement at the prison, whose officials eventually banned him for life.
After 13 years of ministry at Trinity Church in New Orleans, Barnwell accepted a call to serve as associate rector of Trinity Church, Copley Square, in Boston. He developed educational program to equip underprepared inner-city students for college, and a counseling program for low-income people in crisis. He also led a number of anti-racism and anti-poverty initiatives.
Following his retirement from full-time ministry, he served as canon missioner at Washington National Cathedral and delighted in tracking New Orleans’ revival after Hurricane Katrina, telling the stories of many of the city’s young leaders in Angels in the Wilderness. In the closing years of his life, Barnwell made a point of worshiping at predominantly black congregations and he continued to work in ministries with prisoners.
He is survived by his wife of 44 years, Corinne; two daughters; a stepson and six grandchildren.
The Very Rev. Antonio Checo, rector of St. Mark’s Church in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York, died April 1 of complications of COVID-19, aged 65.
A native of the Dominican Republic, Checo came to the United States in 1982. He graduated from General Seminary in 2006, and served at St. Mark’s for all of his ordained ministry. He was chair of the Hispanic Commission of the Diocese of Long Island, a member of the board of the Mercer School of Theology, and dean of the Hellgate Deanery. Checo was also active in the Cursillo Movement, and was honored by the local chapter of the NAACP in 2017 for his work in pursuit of racial justice.
Long Island Bishop Lawrence Provenzano praised him as a “dedicated and hardworking vicar, enthusiastic and lover of the people of his parish and the communities of Jackson Heights and Astoria and the neighborhoods around. His transparent love for Jesus and the people he was called to serve was contagious to all of us. When Antonio said he was praying for you, you knew well he prayed for you all the time.”
The Rev. Deacon Edward “Ned” Howe, who served as administrative assistant for the Diocese of Milwaukee for almost 35 years, died March 30, aged 85.
Ned found Christ in middle age and was ordained as a deacon in 1982, answering God’s call to serve the poor, the homeless, and those who struggled with addictions. For many years he was a member of the staff at St. James’ Church in Milwaukee, and more recently was associated with St. Mark’s.
Howe was a dedicated volunteer with The Gathering, a feeding program in the city. Angela Wright, program manager for The Gathering said, “His task (per his preference) was ‘a greeter’ and he always did it with a great big smile. He would pray before orientation, often referring to our meal guests as our brothers and sisters and I believe he meant that with all of his heart. He always greeted me with a hug and I will miss him dearly. I believe when he’s greeted at the gates of heaven God will say, ‘well done, my good and faithful servant.’”
The Rev. Patterson Keller, who served mission congregations in Alaska and Wyoming, died March 20, a few days before his 90th birthday.
He was the son and grandson of Episcopal priests, and grew up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, developing a lifelong love of dogs and hunting. He developed a talent for acting at Trinity College, Hartford, and prepared for the ministry at Virginia Seminary, graduating in 1956.
Keller was ordained by the Rt. Rev. William Gordon, the “flying bishop” of Alaska, and served among the Athabascan people at Good Shepherd Mission in Huslia, on the Koyukuk River for seven years. He helped build a log church and had his own team of sled dogs, and was invited on many duck and moose hunting trips by his parishioners, who valued his sure shot and good humor. He met his wife of 62 years, Cornelia, when she came to Huslia to teach for two weeks at the local school, and sent his proposal of marriage by telegraph to her college dormitory. Keller took thousands of photographs of local families and activities, an important social history record now archived at the University of Alaska in Anchorage.
Keller and his growing family moved to Sundance, Wyoming, in 1963, where he served the Church of the Good Shepherd and established St. Andrew’s Mission in Atlantic City, helping to cut the logs for the building’s construction. He became rector of Christ Church, Cody, Wyoming, in 1971, serving there for 17 years. He served on Cody’s school board and started an afterschool arts program, and was widely known for his memorable sermon delivery and theatrical flair. His final call was to Emmanuel Church on Orcas Island, Washington.
He and his wife retired to Cody, where he enjoyed fishing, bird watching and his twice-weekly outing to the gun club, where his friends said, “If he can see it, he can shoot it.” Keller is survived by his wife, four children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.