Bishop F. Herbert Skeete, a retired bishop of The United Methodist Church, passed away at noon February 11, 2021 at age 90.
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Bishop Skeete was elected to the episcopacy at the 1980 Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference and assigned to the Philadelphia Area, encompassing the Eastern Pennsylvania and Peninsula-Delaware conferences, for eight years. In 1988, he was assigned to serve as bishop for the Boston Area until his retirement in 1996. He returned to active bishop status in 2002 when he served as interim bishop in Zimbabwe for a year.
In his 16 years as an active bishop, Skeete carried out a long-sought conference merger, supported global missions and played a key role in making the vision for Africa University a reality. “He was one of the original founders,” said James H. Salley, Africa University associate vice chancellor for Institutional Advancement.
As president of the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, Skeete shepherded the proposal for a pan-African United Methodist University in Zimbabwe through the denomination’s decision-making. Skeete later served on Africa University’s founding board and became a major donor, Salley said.
Salley cherishes advice Skeete once gave him. “He said, ‘When you are working for God, God will always take care of you,” Salley said. “That is definitely the truth.”
While in the Boston Area, he helped establish the United Methodist Foundation of New England.
Bishop Skeete served the global church eight years as a member of the Board of Higher Education and Ministry where he chaired the Division of Higher Education during the first four years and served as president of the Board the next four years. He served an additional eight years with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries (1988-1996) as president of the Board (1992-1996) and was a member of the Executive Committee for two years.
Even as Bishop Skeete dealt with conference and global concerns, he remained committed to ministry at the local level — sometimes very local.
Bishop Peggy A. Johnson, who now leads the Philadelphia Area, said that Skeete often sent greeting cards to his pastors on the birth of new babies.
“He was a ‘people person’ who brought a calm, steady presence wherever he went,” said Johnson, who is also president of the Northeastern Jurisdiction College of Bishops.
F. Herbert Skeete was born on March 22, 1930 in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, but he spent most of his childhood in the Caribbean island country of Barbados. He would continue to maintain connections to the country throughout his ministry.
He married Shirley Clarissa Hunte on Oct. 4, 1952,
After four years in the U.S. Air Force, he studied at Brooklyn College, where he earned his B.A. He then served South Ozone Park Church of the New York Conference as he completed seminary at Drew University Theological School in Madison, New Jersey. Later, he earned a Master of Sacred Theology from New York Theological Seminary and a Doctor of Ministry from Drew. He received honorary doctorate degrees from Philander Smith College in 1983, Jewish Theological Seminary of America in 1986, Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1986 and Africa University in 1996.
Early in his ministry, he also was involved in the U.S. civil rights movement. He spent a week in a Mississippi jail during the Freedom Rides, a 1961 effort to desegregate interstate travel that drew violent resistance and landed most riders behind bars.
For eight years, he was pastor of Union United Methodist Church in Queens. He then was pastor for 12 years at the historic Salem United Methodist Church “in the heart of Harlem”before being elected bishop. In retirement, he was Salem’s pastor emeritus.
Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, Council of Bishops president and leader of the Louisiana Conference, said his death leaves a void in bishops’ hearts.
“Even in retirement, Bishop Skeete brought his passion for justice to the Council of Bishops, a passion that had guided his entire ministry,” said Harvey in a statement.
“His strong voice and steady leadership were gifts to The United Methodist Church. He leaves a great legacy of love for neighbor.”
Bishop Skeete has served as a member of several Board of Trustees including Union Theological Seminary, New York; Drew University, The American Bible Society, Boston University, Gammon Theological Seminary and Africa University, Zimbabwe. He had been a popular religious radio commentator in New York City and moderated a monthly television program in Philadelphia. He enjoyed carpentry, camping, sports, reading and travel.
Bishop Skeete is survived by his wife of 68 years, Shirley Clarissa; two sons, Mark and wife Terri, and Michael and wife Linda; and three grandchildren, Matthew, Ajani and Andrew. He is also survived by a sister, Pearl Cumberbatch, in addition to a host of nieces and nephews.