The Rev. Dr. Earl A. Pope was known by many as a teacher, scholar, and ecumenist with recognitions, publications and awards that fill several pages on his curriculum vita. But by those who got to know him best, his family, his friends and colleagues at Lafayette College, in Lehigh Presbytery, in professional circles throughout this country and in religious communities as far away as Eastern Europe and Russia, Earl was known not as the larger than life person that his credentials might have implied but rather as a kind and gentle man who could and would talk with anyone. One learned of Earl’s impressive achievements not from him but rather from hearing and reading about his feats from others. Earl’s warm and understanding manner put people at ease and his goal in conversation was always to learn more about you and from you. God gave Earl the gift of caring for others and Earl conveyed that gift to all of us who got to know him.
Earl was born in Akron, Ohio and earned degrees from Wheaton College in Illinois. He was ordained in the Evangelical Covenant Church of America but after a degree from Yale Divinity School and a Ph.D. in Church History from Brown University and pastorates in New York and Rhode Island, Earl was called to teach Religion at Lafayette College and became a member of Lehigh Presbytery.
During Earl’s thirty year tenure at Lafayette he served as department head, academic dean and held an endowed chair. He was cherished as a teacher and won numerous awards while offering courses in scripture, world religions, religious history, ecumenism and interfaith relations. His dissertation on Calvinism in New England was published in book form and we wrote scores of articles in professional journals. Earl’s particular scholarly interest was examining religious life in Russia and Eastern Europe during Communism and after its fall. He took students to the Soviet Union and organized a student exchange with a University in Moldavia. On sabbatical he was a Fulbright scholar, teaching at the University of Bucharest and he became the Director of an Ecumenical Studies Seminar at the Black Sea University in Bulgaria. Earl’s ancestral roots in Romania and his fluency with languages and with the various religious traditions in the region made it possible for him to facilitate dialogue among leaders from very disparate and sometimes hostile faith communities.
Earl was also quite active in the Presbyterian Church (USA). He served interim pastorates in churches in Lehigh and Newton Presbyteries and supplied pulpits in churches large and small in our Presbytery. He also served on several Presbytery committees and was instrumental in setting up the global partnership between our Presbytery and the Hungarian Reformed Church in Romania. He represented the National Council of Churches on several occasions in European gatherings and served as a consultant for the State Department, the World Council of Churches and the United Nations.
The prophet Micah tells us that what God requires is “to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.” Earl Pope’s life gave vivid and enduring witness to that charge and with his wife Mim, his daughters, Marilyn and Laurel, we give thanks for his life and the legacy of peacemaking and interfaith and personal understanding that he has left for us all to emulate.
“Well done, good and faithful servant.”