Light + Life Executive Editor
Jeff Finley is this magazine’s executive editor. He joined the Light+Life team in 2011 after a dozen years of reporting and editing for Sun-Times Media. He is a member of John Wesley Free Methodist Church where his wife, Jen, serves as the lead pastor.
by Jeff Finley
Free Methodist leaders are paying tribute to the faithfulness of former denominational Board of Administration Chair Hal Conklin, who died Friday (May 21) at age 75 after battling brain cancer.
“We give God praise for the life of Hal Conklin. Hal lived out a vital commitment to his local church, his annual conference and our denomination. Heaven only knows the full impact of Hal’s life, but we can say without contradiction that Hal deeply impacted our ministry family in profound ways,” Bishops Linda Adams, Keith Cowart and Matt Whitehead said in a joint statement from the Board of Bishops. “We rejoice that Hal’s suffering is over and he is with Jesus, but we know this is a tremendous loss for his wife, Haley, their children and their grandchildren. May the legacies of Hal’s life and his commitment to be an ambassador for Jesus in every arena of his life serve as a vital example to each of us. To God be the glory for the life of Hal Conklin!”
Conklin, the president of USA Green Communities, previously served as mayor and longtime City Council member in Santa Barbara, California. As a longtime Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara member, he also put his leadership experience to work for the Free Methodist Church – USA.
“Hal Conklin was a leader without really acting like one. He wasn’t pushy or self-absorbed, but was generous, open and welcoming. I always looked forward to our conversations at the semiannual meetings,” current FMCUSA BOA Chair Susan Agel said. “When I assumed the role of chair, I knew I could count on him to provide some advice on parliamentary procedure and to back me up on some of those decisions that chairs must make during important discussions. I’ll miss him and his advice greatly.”
Agel added that Conklin “was focused on the future of the church. Leadership development was always on his mind, and he focused every conversation on finding new leaders, particularly in terms of increasing the voices of youth and ethnic diversity within the denomination. His gentle impact will be felt in the Free Methodist Church for a long time.”
Bishop Emeritus Matthew Thomas became Conklin’s friend in the early 1980s prior to Conklin’s time in national church leadership.
“Hal was a rare man with great leadership ability, unusual kindness, contagious optimism and indefatigable love for God and His church,” Thomas said. “Having spent significant time with Hal in our home and his as well as in formal settings, his genuine love and integrity were constantly practiced and easily maintained by him as deeply seated attributes. He led well, served well and modeled a sanctified life.”
Bishop Emeritus David Kendall noted, “At our best, we have understood this great salvation provided by Jesus to have altered the whole created order. We ourselves are saved, as children of God, and as the first fruits of a redemption that will eventually renew the world. We are also saved to be agents of this redemption, bringing the wisdom, beauty and power of the kingdom to our present world. Hal Conklin embodied this full salvation both in public and private. The impact of his life will continue to the blessing of future generations.”
FMC of Santa Barbara Lead Pastor Colleen Hurley-Bates said the church has “lost a great leader and a person whose strong, godly influence will be felt for generations to come.” Conklin served for many years on the local Board of Administration and as an annual conference delegate, and he taught and discipled other adults.
“One of his main callings in life was to develop people, which he did in politics, on boards, in the church, and just one on one. He would reach out to young leaders to ask if they wanted help and he was always available to those who wanted to be mentored by him,” Hurley-Bates said. “No matter who they were or what kind of work they did, he would make time. He understood that transformation and learning happen best in the context of relationship, and he wanted to be used by God in that way.”
She said that Conklin “loved encouraging others. He would regularly come out of church telling me how impactful the sermon was and, in COVID, would text me. He was a champion of women in ministry and helped me find my voice. In our tradition, lay and clergy are able to work side by side, which means the church helps shape the hearts and minds of pastors, just as much as the other way around. Hal loved being part of coming alongside young people in ministry and teaching them how to lead in the church.”
Hurley-Bates added that she “first met Hal when I was a college student and new to the church. By then, he was already an influential leader/mover and shaker in civic affairs and had begun using his gifts more at the church. There was no one quite like him, truthfully. He was extremely gifted in guiding a group of people through a discernment or strategic plan process. I learned so much from him in how to bring together dissenting opinions, various challenges, outright obstacles, and great opportunities and come up with a workable action plan everybody was glad to move forward in. It was remarkable to watch. This was part of his political acumen, but he was just also a great visionary who excelled in helping an organization find their purpose in any situation presented to them.”
She remembered Conklin giving a Sunday school series in the late 1990s “on what it meant to be a Christian in the world. It opened up my thinking about what it means to have a calling from God. He said that we need Christians at every level of society, not just the church. We need them in politics, the arts, in secular academia and the trades, in sports and business … just everywhere. We need the voice of those who know Jesus to be shaping culture and the future.”
Conklin’s cultural engagement included writing “Cinema in Focus” movie reviews with close friend Denny Wayman, the former lead superintendent of the Free Methodist Church in Southern California who also served as lead pastor of the Santa Barbara church from 1976 to 2016.
“I have known only a few truly gifted leaders in my life, and Hal Conklin is at the top of that short list. Raised in a Christian home and mentored by a youth pastor in his Methodist church, Hal knew early on what was necessary to live a meaningful life: love God and love others. This simple, yet profound mission for his life led Hal into service not only within his church but also within his community,” Wayman said. “Living this life of service, Hal was honored at a young age. Becoming one of the fathers of the environmental movement, Hal was recognized for his exceptional ability to bring people together and create true democracy. He used this gift as a city councilman and as a Christian churchman.”
Wayman said his friend found “diverse opinions a strength” and “did not choose sides or give place to divisions. Love compelled him to find a way where respect and unity were chosen by the majority of the council and by the church.”
During Conklin’s time as mayor, rival gangs engaged in conflict that claimed the life of one gang member. Conklin called the citizens to a meeting at a local church and asked each person to consider: “What am I willing to do to help bring unity in our community?”
“The result was one of the most amazing moments I’ve ever seen,” Wayman recalled. “For hours, people rose to their feet and explained what specific action they, their businesses and their organizations were going to do to solve the larger social problems that gave birth to the gangs and their conflicts. These responses opened a floodgate of community generosity and creative solutions to our shared problem. It was as though a healing balm was placed over the body politic as we all joined together to care for our youth, their families and their futures.”
In a 2019 article for Light + Life, Conklin wrote, “If everyone complains about politicians in office, then it is not surprising or rare when Christians stand up and lead. One person said to me, ‘I wouldn’t do what you do for all the money in the world.’ My response then and continuing to this day: ‘If not a person of faith, then who are you willing to follow?’ We need to step up and encourage, train and then support people of courage, wisdom and skills to set the standards for our communities.”
Santa Barbara News-Press:
Jeff Finley is this magazine’s executive editor. He joined the Light + Life team in 2011 after a dozen years of reporting and editing for Sun-Times Media. He is a member of John Wesley Free Methodist Church where his wife, Jen, serves as the lead pastor.