When I arrived as bishop of the Eastern PA Conference in 2008, it was not long before I heard the phrase “Ask Rev. Palmer.” I was quick to seek out the wisdom of this retired Elder in the conference because of his experience, graciousness and keen insight. People encouraged me to “Ask Rev. Palmer” whenever there was a need for “big picture” thinking around challenging issues regarding the urban churches of the annual conference.
His vast experience and longevity in ministry was part of it. He began as the pastor of Emmanuel UMC in Philadelphia in 1963 and served a half-dozen churches, ending with Tindley Temple UMC in Philadelphia, before retiring in 1994. Rev. Palmer also was appointed to executive positions of leadership as the District Superintendent of the South District and as the Director of the Office of Metro Ministries and later, Urban Ministries.
Even after his retirement in 1994, he was constantly called upon to fill pulpits as an interim pastor and to assist with challenging conversations. When he stood to speak, the room always got quiet. His years of faithful, effective service in this conference has left a legacy of church growth and community outreach. He knew the people, the pastors and the communities with all of their joys and struggles.
But another important reason that he was universally held in high esteem was because he was a loving, humble, selfless, genuine Christian servant of God. Any time I would call him for advice there was a deep respect for the office of bishop. And he radiated the same respect, along with warmth and caring for his colleagues and parishioners. In his smile was the face of Jesus. I thank Rev. Palmer for his years of loving service and for his helpful advice to me as bishop whenever I would call.
It was a great joy for our annual conference when the “Urban Ministry Award” was renamed in 2019 to become the “Herbert E. Palmer Urban Ministry Award.” At that session of conference, which was sadly our last gathering in person since the pandemic prohibited large conferencing, Rev. Palmer and his wife Peggy were on stage. He received the good news about the award being named for him, and he helped to bestow the annual award on its first recipients.
There was also a surprise video from his son, Bishop Gregory V. Palmer, the episcopal leader of the West Ohio Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. He offered greetings to his beloved father at that special moment. As the video played, I observed Rev. Palmer watching Bishop Palmer on the screen. Rev. Palmer’s smile of pride and deep love for his son at that moment was the highlight of the conference for me that year.
What a legacy of ministry Rev. Palmer instilled in his son, Bishop Palmer, who went forth from the Philadelphia area years ago to become a giant among the bishops of this denomination!
Rev. Palmer commented at the awards ceremony, “I have been blessed to fellowship and work with a lot of people, and whatever I have accomplished has been because of so many people who held me up, taught me, guided me and made me keep on going when I felt like stopping.”
I say to Rev. Palmer: You have held us up, taught us, guided us and kept us going as a conference! At the age of 96 you have joined the church triumphant and your legacy of leadership and grace lives on in the churches and lives of all the people you have served. Great has been your faithfulness!