Connecting Columbia Union Seventh-day Adventists

Photo by David Turner

Adventist Community Remembers Fordhams in Funeral Service

Story by V. Michelle Bernard / Photos by David Turner

Some 1,000 attendees gathered Sunday, August 8, to remember Elder Henry and Mrs. Sharon (Wright) Fordham, who, at the time of their death on July 18, were president and first lady of the Allegheny East Conference (AEC).

To commence the service, which took place at Martin’s West in Baltimore, AEC’s Pathfinder Color Guard posted their colors with drums and flags. (See the recordings on AEC’s Facebook page.)

“[The Fordhams] indeed modeled how to reflect the love of Christ,” said G. Alexander Bryant, North American Division (NAD) president, who, along with his wife Desiree, Ministerial Spouses director, shared condolences from division and world church leaders, including Ted Wilson, president of the General Conference.

“On behalf of the Columbia Union family, and my wife, Becky and I, we send our deepest condolences,” said Dave Weigley, Columbia Union Conference president. “We have a deep appreciation for this couple that has touched so many lives.”

Pete Palmer, AEC’s vice president for administration, who presented remarks with his wife, Dahlia, shared that Henry J. Fordham III, spent close to 30 years in AEC leadership as ministerial director, executive secretary, and, for the last nine years, president. “He never lost his sense of being grateful to God for using him,” he said.

Representatives from City Council of Philadelphia, and Pennsylvania House of Representatives sent official citations and condolences and gratitude for the impact the Fordhams had on their communities.  Tom Wolfe, Pennsylvania governor, shared a letter honoring the Fordhams; and the mayors of Philadelphia and Baltimore also extended their sympathies.

Family members, friends and Allegheny East Conference members and employees paid their respects through music via a mass choir, and by wearing Henry’s signature beret.

Story after story echoed memories of how the caring couple—lovingly known to friends and family as “Butch” and “Sherry,” –comforted, cared for and pointed others to Jesus.

United States Senate Chaplain Barry Black shared an anecdote of Elder Fordham, who was his mother’s pastor in the late 1980s. After rushing back from a trip to Australia to be with his mother who was in a coma, Black found Elder Fordham asleep in the family waiting room, “keeping watch.” Black said Fordham helped him grieve his mother’s death, as Black was on the “precipice of agnosticism.”

He added, “Butch and Sherry pulled me back,” helping him grow spiritually fit to have enough faith through his brother’s death in 2005, and again supporting him through his sister’s death in 2019. The Fordhams helped him “learn to keep believing, even though God didn’t make sense.”

Black says his gut reaction after hearing about the Fordhams’ death was to reach out to them: “But I was forced to turn to the One who was sung about when I heard the lyrics ‘Christ is all, He is everything to me.’”

Henry Wright, cousin to Sharon and a retired longtime pastor, delivered the eulogy: “Two good people, covered by the blood of Jesus, have shockingly and unexpectedly and tragically gone to sleep.”

Wright urged the attendees to use this period of mourning as a period of self-reflection: “I don’t preach eulogies; I preach homilies at funerals. Funerals are about the dead, but homilies are for the living. [The Fordham’s future is] signed and sealed, but the question now is, ‘What about you?’”

Wright emphasized that a funeral gives you the opportunity “to face the fact [that] when you do the self-evaluation and come up short, don’t worry. Jesus has paid it all. We’re all covered and sold and sealed and ready and kept, because the purpose of death is to open your eyes to need of Jesus. Jesus saves. Jesus has paid it all. We can leave the funeral not worried about our status. Everybody here has been covered by the blood of Jesus Christ. I wish I could change July 18. I can’t do that, but I can claim I’m covered.”

The couple was laid to their final rest at Crest Lawn Memorial Gardens in Marriottsville, Md.

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