Former GA Moderator Howard Rice dies at 78

SFTS leader was instrumental in rediscovering Reformed spirituality

August 9, 2010


Headshot of the Rev. Howard Rice, in front of a bookshelf.

The Rev. Howard Rice

The Rev. Howard Leland Rice, former moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly and San Francisco Theological Seminary chaplain and professor of ministry from 1968-97, died Aug. 8 in Claremont, Calif., at the age of 78. He was one of the earliest practitioners of spiritual disciplines and formation that led to the current renewal of those practices in the church.

Rice was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis prior to his appointment at SFTS — he arrived at the seminary the same year as this reporter arrived as a student — and spent his time on the San Anselmo campus either on crutches or confined to a wheelchair. After Rice’s retirement, his diagnosis was changed from MS to spinal cord damage. Last spring he battled a stubborn bone infection for weeks, resulting in his decision to accept hospice care. He passed away peacefully surrounded by his family.

A memorial service will take place Aug. 20 at Claremont Presbyterian Church.

"Howard had a huge heart for people, for ministry, and for the church that he served so long and well," said Elizabeth Liebert, SFTS dean and professor of spiritual life. "Always standing with the underdog, he was persistent to the point of stubbornness in defending them. He is beloved by hundreds of students, pastors and church folk, whose hopes and struggles he held dear. We mourn the loss of mentor, colleague, spiritual adviser, friend and consummate pastor."

In the early 1970s, when one of his students gave him a copy of Morton T. Kelsey's The Other Side of Silence, Rice became a tireless advocate of  feeding the soul as well as the mind, and recruited other pastors and scholars in the Bay Area to help him lead spiritual retreats for local pastors.

For the next 20 years Rice helped Presbyterians and other Protestants discover spirituality within the Protestant-Reformed tradition. During his moderatorial year — 1979-1980 — he organized three spirituality retreats throughout the country and encouraged each presbytery to send one participant.

Rice was instrumental in "Companions on the Inner Way," a retreat/conference program that has served hundreds of pastors and lay persons. He played a significant role in developing SFTS’s pioneering program in spirituality, which led to the creation of the Diploma in the Art of Spiritual Direction and the Diploma in the Art of Spiritual Formation programs.

In 1991, Rice published the landmark book, Reformed Spirituality: An Introduction to Believers, which continues to be widely studied in seminaries throughout the United States.

To honor his retirement from SFTS in 1997, Rep. Lynn C. Woolsey of California presented a tribute to Rice before the U.S. House of Representatives. In 2007, SFTS trustee and alumna the Rev. Jackie Leonard, made a first gift to the seminary toward endowing the Rice Family Chair in Christian Spirituality.

Rice graduated from Carroll College in 1953 and from McCormick Theological Seminary in 1956. Ordained by Winnebago Presbyery, he served pastorates in Minneapolis and Chicago before going to SFTS.

He is survived by his wife, Nancy, and a daughter, Amanda. A second daughter, Wendy Rice Dreitcer, died in 2004 of a brain tumor.

  1. Howard L Rice was my teacher and mentor. What a gift.

    by Carolyn Hogan Stiles

    December 17, 2012

  2. Howard was my friend. And for that I will forever be grateful...

    by Gregg Townsley

    January 30, 2011

  3. Howard and Nancy were dear friends of ours during our years at Carroll College. We remember him as a tall young man who loved to dance and who performed so effectively in the Carroll Players productions. Remember the choir tours! Our love and prayers are with Nancy and family.

    by George & Rita Cousin

    September 14, 2010

  4. The disciple's heart which radiated from Howard Rice continues as an inspiration to me. My first interaction with him was when I was a seminary student, and attended a "Companions on the Inner Way" at a remarkable retreat center on the California coast. Dr. Rice's wise choice for the workshop/teaching/learning segments of that week's schedule? He beautifully read aloud long uninterrupted portions of the Chronicles of Narnia! What a memorable spritiual mountaintop experince.

    by Greg Gillispie

    September 14, 2010

  5. Howard was teacher, mentor, colleague, and friend. I was blessed by his preaching at my ordination in 1988 and his and Nancy's friendship throughout the years. When I close my eyes, I see Howard behind the communion table (Stewart Chapel, SFTS) holding up the large sourdough round of communion bread and breaking it with joy written all over his face. His death leaves a huge hole in the world. But he is no longer wheel-chair bound! I send my love and condolences to Nancy and his family.

    by T he Rev. Jackie L. Leonard

    September 7, 2010

  6. I have known Howard and Nancy for over 40 years, and Howard will be deeply missed. His was a friendship that lasted through the years. I am so grateful for his guidance,friendship,teaching and writing. His contribution to the Presbyterian church has been enormous, and he has helped so many of us to remain hopeful in this denomination. Grace and peace to Nancy and Amanda.

    by Rev.Steve Knowles

    August 28, 2010

  7. Howard and Nancy have been friends for over 40 years, and we will deeply miss Howard's guidance,friendship, teaching, and writing. His was a friendship that lasted through the years. The contributions he has made to the Presbyterian church have been enormous, and he has helped so many of us stay hopeful in this denomination. He spoke with courage and conviction, and lived in that same spirit. Grace and peace to Nancy and Amanda

    by Rev. Steve Knowles

    August 28, 2010

  8. Howard advocated for a fully inclusive church, and I am grateful that his prophetic voice came from a deep spirituality that itself was inclusive. I am grateful for his love and his friendship over the decades. A great saint!

    by Rev. Chris Glaser

    August 23, 2010

  9. Deepest sympathy and prayers to Howard's family. I will never forget the phone interview I had with Howard before being accepted into the Spiritual Direction program at SFTS. I know God was present during that interview and I know Howard and God are walking together now in God's eternal home, even as they did here on earth

    by Rev. Barbara Bartholomew

    August 18, 2010

  10. As an SFTS student along with his daughter, Wendy, I experienced Howard as a fully embodied man. In raising Wendy, a brilliant pastor/preacher, and Amanda, a beautiful, free spirit, Howard shared his best with the world. My love to Nancy, Amanda, and all the family.

    by Rev. Ruth (Lytle Poisson) Hamilton

    August 18, 2010

  11. In the early 2000's Dr. Rice was serving as President of Cook Theological School and he recruited me to be a Trustee. I later became Chair of the Trustees and now serve in the position he held. He was a great leader that served with distinction and always did the Lords business. I extend my condolences to Nancy and family

    by Gary G. Metoxen

    August 17, 2010

  12. I'm SFTS M.Div. '94. Howard proved a rock for me on more than one occasion. Let's not forget his quiet commitment to and befriending of liberation theologians & theologies -- and the efforts he made to weave the mystical & the prophetic. Through his direction, I served in an internship at Southside PC in Tucson -- birthplace of the Sanctuary Movement -- that changed my life.

    by Rev. Chuck Booker-Hirsch

    August 17, 2010

  13. Dear Nancy and family, We send our sympathy to you. We have good memories of Carroll COLLEGE together. Love, Tommie and Dick

    by Dick and Marilyn Hill

    August 13, 2010

  14. Thank you for this article. One continuing gift to the church by Howard Rice needs to be mentioned--Ordination Questions by Howard Rice and Calvin Chinn has gone through several revisions and is read by thousands of new elders, deacons and seminarians every year.

    by Bruce Gillette

    August 12, 2010

  15. Howard was my mentor as he helped me become ordained in 1977 as all odds were against that. He was a caring and loving person I shall never forget. God bless you may dear departed one!

    by the Reverend Betty Hamiton

    August 11, 2010

  16. Howard was a wonderful friend and mentor to a great many of us. He was very helpful in achieving a balance between social justice and spirituality, something that was lacking in the church and the seminary before he came. He was of great assistance to me in writing my dissertation on the Presbyterian worship resources at the Graduate Theological Union. He is likely responsible for the pastoral position that I held for 14 1/2 years in Arpin, Wisconsin, which is 17 miles from his childhood home in Marshfield, where I now live. He and Nancy have been great personal friends as well. I will miss him!

    by Rev. Dr. Janet E. Wolfe

    August 11, 2010

  17. My thoughts and prayers go to Howard's family, for comfort and peace in their time of loss. Prayers are also said for gratitude, for the wonderful ministry that Howard had and the many gifts that he has left with us as the Body of Christ. Shalom.

    by Rev. Susan Wallace Moriarty

    August 10, 2010