The Rev. Dr. Vernon Alfred Gotcher, a family therapist and church planter, died December 6, aged 88.
A native of Arkansas, he studied at the University of Central Arkansas and the School of Theology at the University of the South. He was ordained in 1957 by the Rt. Rev. Robert Brown, Bishop of Arkansas, and began his ministry serving several small churches in the diocese. While serving as rector of St. Luke’s in Brinkley and St. Peter’s in Tollville, he was a leader in the fight for desegregation of the public schools in Hazen, Arkansas, and was instrumental in exposing the misuse of federal funds targeted toward desegregation efforts.
He moved to Texas in 1965, answering a call to serve as a missioner in the Diocese of Dallas, and he went on to found St. Stephen’s Church in Hurst, Texas, in the Diocese of Fort Worth, gathering the congregation in a former bait and tackle shop. He served St. Stephen’s for 18 years, before closing his ministry by serving as rector of St. Stephen’s, Huntsville, Texas for three years, and by assisting in several other congregations in the Diocese of Fort Worth.
Alongside his pastoral ministry, Gotcher earned a doctorate from Texas Woman’s University in 1984, and maintained a practice in marriage and family therapy, and contributed to research in this field on an ongoing basis.
In 2009, as the leadership of the Diocese of Fort Worth began to take steps towards breaking with the Episcopal Church, Gotcher came out of retirement to become priest in charge of St. Stephen’s in Hurst, the congregation he had founded 40 years earlier. St. Stephen’s itself also split into two factions, and Gotcher held the Episcopal congregation together as they gathered for worship in several temporary venues, as the Anglican congregation continued to occupy the existing building. The Episcopal congregation moved into a new building three miles away in 2014, and the parties are still litigating over ownership. The sacristy at the new St. Stephen’s was dedicated in honor of Gotcher and his wife Deanna, his faithful companion in ministry.
He is survived by Deanna, his wife of 40 years, three children, and five grandchildren.
The Rev. Dr. Sadie Mitchell, a career educator who served for over a decade at Philadelphia’s African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, died December 16, aged 99.
Mitchell was a Philadelphia native, and a graduate of Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania. She earned her doctorate in education from Nova Southeastern University. Mitchell worked for decades as an elementary school teacher and administrator for the School District of Philadelphia and retired as principal of Joseph C. Ferguson Elementary School in North Philadelphia. She served on several community boards and founded the Black Women in Education Association.
She was an active lay leader at the African Church of St. Thomas for many years before she answered a call to the priesthood, founding the church’s Sisterhood Guild with two close friends, and playing an active role in the diocesan chapter of the Union of Black Episcopalians.
Mitchell prepared for ministry at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia after retiring from the school system, and was ordained to the priesthood in 1988. She served at several Philadelphia parishes in the first years of her ministry before becoming associate priest at St. Thomas’ in 1990. Her 12-year ministry there was focused on ministry with youth and the aged.
Mitchell was preceded in death by her husband, Charles, and is survived by three children, six grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.
The Rev. Canon Sally Suzanne Peterson, a lifelong advocate of peace and justice who served in South Africa for 17 years, died December 30, aged 72.
Peterson was born and raised in Bradenton, Florida, and after attending Florida State University, she studied for ministry at Virginia Theological Seminary, graduating in 1972, several years before women could be ordained to the priesthood. She served as an assistant to the rector of St. Paul’s Church in Des Moines, Iowa, and was ordained to the priesthood in 1977, one of the first women to be ordained in Iowa. In 1983, she became the statewide program coordinator for the Iowa Inter-Church Agency for Peace and Justice.
She went to South Africa in 1994 as an Episcopal Church missionary and served at the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. George in Grahamstown for 11 years, including as acting dean. She then moved to Cape Town, where she became the diocesan canon for social justice. During this time, she traveled extensively in Africa and Latin America. She was named an honorary canon of St. Paul’s Cathedral in Des Moines in recognition of her worldwide ministry for justice and peace.
In 2013, she returned to Iowa, becoming rector of Trinity Church in Waterloo, where she served until her retirement in 2017. She is survived by her brother and several nieces and nephews, as well as her beloved Labrador, Thandi.
The Rev. Dr. George Regas, the long-time rector of All Saints, Pasadena, California, and a prominent leader of the Episcopal Church’s progressive wing, died peacefully January 3, aged 90.
Regas was the child of Greek immigrants, and grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee, where he joined the Episcopal Church at the age of 10 because there was no Orthodox priest in the community at the time. He was a graduate of the University of Tennessee and Episcopal Divinity School, and after his ordination, studied theology for two years at Cambridge, where he was mentored by John A. T. Robinson, author of the iconoclastic Honest to God. He would eventually earn a doctorate from Claremont School of Theology.
He served congregations in Tennessee and New York before being called to All Saints, then the largest Episcopal congregation in the West, in 1967. Regas held monthly rock masses and preached against the Vietnam War, and guided the congregation to found a series of compassion and advocacy ministries, including a homeless shelter, an AIDS service center, a program for the aging, and an interfaith center to reduce the arms race. All Saints was an active supporter of the anti-apartheid movement, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu visited the congregation regularly to speak about the struggle.
Regas was a leading advocate for the ordination of women to the priesthood, and served as floor manager for the coalition that worked for the change at the 1976 General Convention. He later embraced the causes of inclusive language and same-sex marriage, and blessed the union of two male parishioners at All Saints in 1992. He was also deeply loved by the people of the parish for his generous pastoral care.
Bishop of Los Angeles John Harvey Taylor said: “One of George’s longtime colleagues put it best when she told me that on Sunday morning, he’d be in the pulpit at All Saints, raising the roof for peace in Vietnam and Iraq and equity for women and LGBTQ+ people. Then on Sunday afternoon, you’d see him at Huntington Hospital, reading psalms at the bedside of a seemingly unconscious patient in the ICU. As prophet and pastor, he was the complete priest. His exuberance and joy made his faith contagious, building up the church and making it better. We’ll miss our colleague terribly and grieve for Mary and their family. And yet we’ll always have him with us.”
Regas was preceded in death by his daughter, Michelle, and is survived by his wife Mary, and four children.