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.