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A Gentle, Yet Strong Spirit

In the tapestry that makes up the “great cloud of witnesses” there are personalities and perspectives of every imaginable stripe. The body of Christ reflects the diversity that is the human race, whether the category is nationality, theology, psychological disposition, intellectual strength.

One of those persons who labored in this part of the kingdom and who recently entered the Church Triumphant led with a gentle, yet strong spirit. Richard Siciliano served as the co-general presbyter and then as general presbyter of New Covenant Presbytery in the 1980s. I did not get to know him very well until after he had retired. My wife, Jo Ann, and I worshiped at Central Presbyterian Church in Houston for several years, and it was there that we got to know Dick and Ruth who worshiped there as well.

A native of Pennsylvania, Dick graduated from Princeton Seminary and accepted a call to the First Presbyterian Church in Summitt Hill, PA where he met and married Ruth. I encountered his sense of humor when he told me that, in referring to their number, Presbyterians were “denser” in Pennsylvania than anywhere else in the country.

In 1948 he became pastor of the Church of the Open Door in Brooklyn. He shared with some of us one of his methods of evangelism while there. He would walk his dog, Marco Polo, through the neighborhoods, and Marco Polo would become the subject of conversation which would then lead to other, more serious matters for discussion.

While in ministry in New York, Dick earned a Master’s degree in sociology from The New School for Social Research. He had a keen sensitivity to and interest in issues of fairness and justice and believed that the church needed to address such issues.

When the two main branches of the Presbyterian Church reunited in 1983, Dick was serving as executive presbyter of Gulf Coast Presbytery and John R. “Pete” Hendrick was serving in the same capacity for Brazos Presbytery. The two became co-general presbyters. When Pete moved to Austin Seminary, Dick became the sole general presbyter of New Covenant Presbytery.

When I delivered several presentations on the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy several years ago, he asked if he could go along. What delightful conversations we had! His knowledge of persons, churches, and events made driving to and from the event a wonderful learning experience.

Dick’s wide range of interests -- from cooking to woodworking to classical music to traveling -- kept his mind nimble. This spirited gentleman bore a faithful witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Surely now he has heard the welcome words of our Lord, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of the Master.” Thanks be to God for this kind and gentle, strong and devoted disciple who exemplified God’s grace to so many ways and contributed to the strength of the fabric of the church.

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