James R. Crumley Jr., bishop of the former Lutheran Church in America, dies

4/8/2015 2:00:00 PM

            CHICAGO (ELCA) – The Rev. James Robert Crumley Jr., bishop of the former Lutheran Church in America, died April 7 of complications from a fall. He was 90. The Lutheran Church in America is a predecessor church body of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

            "To hear him tell the story of his life, the Rev. Dr. James R. Crumley was convinced that God always was full of gracious surprises," ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton said in a tribute to Crumley.
            "One surprise unfolded into another for him. Each one prepared the way for new responsibilities. As he said upon his election in 1974 as secretary of the Lutheran Church in America, 'I believe that when God calls us, God also gives us the resources to fulfill our responsibilities.' The conviction grew even deeper when, four years later in 1978, he was chosen as the Lutheran Church in America's third president and bishop," said Eaton.
            Born March 30, 1925, in Bluff City, Tenn., Crumley earned a Master of Divinity from Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, S.C., in 1951. The seminary is one of eight of the ELCA. Crumley earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Roanoke College in Salem, Va., one of 26 colleges and universities of the ELCA.
            Crumley was bishop of the Lutheran Church in America from 1980 to 1987, president from 1978 to 1980, and secretary of the former denomination from 1974 to 1978. He was a member of the Commission for a New Lutheran Church, which planned the merger of three churches – Lutheran Church in America, American Lutheran Church and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches – to form the ELCA in January 1988. Prior to serving as secretary, Crumley served as a parish pastor from 1951 to 1974.
            Crumley was a member of the executive committee of The Lutheran World Federation and a member of the central committee of the World Council of Churches. He was president of Lutheran World Ministries and second vice president of the National Council of Churches.
            "Through experiences in assemblies of The Lutheran World Federation and the World Council of Churches, as well as engagement with the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., Crumley demonstrated in manifold ways his ecumenical insight and commitment," said Eaton.
            "His understanding and vision of the church was not confined only to the Lutheran context," said Eaton. "In a historic development, he exchanged letters with Pope John Paul II in 1985. The letters affirmed the greater mutual understanding that already had emerged from U.S. Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue. At the same time, the letters urged deeper commitment to further ecumenical endeavors."
            "As the years passed and the honors accumulated, Dr. Crumley remained that same gracious gentleman who had been raised in the mountains of Tennessee but was called by the church to ministry throughout this nation and the world," said Eaton.
            Crumley married Annette Bodie Crumley in 1950. They had three children: Frances Holman, James III and Jeanne.
            Eaton's tribute to Crumley is available at http://download.elca.org/ELCA%20Resource%20Repository/Tribute%20Dr.%20James%20Crumley_REV.pdf.
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About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:
The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with more than 3.8 million members in nearly 10,000 congregations across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of "God's work. Our hands," the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA's roots are in the writings of the German church reformer, Martin Luther.

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