Obituary: Rev. Robert Humes / Outspoken pastor who urged presbytery to stay focused on Jesus
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Whether other Presbyterians considered him a prophet or a gadfly, the Rev. Robert Humes alleviated boredom at meetings of Pittsburgh Presbytery.
Rev. Humes, who died Sunday at 92, spent his retirement years prodding the local governing body of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to be more spiritual and less bureaucratic. To make his point he wore sandwich boards, pitched hardball questions at candidates for ordination and sometimes drove moderators to distraction by challenging parliamentary procedure.
"Bob challenged the presbytery to keep Jesus Christ at the center of everything that we do. He was always questioning how we could make so many decisions as a presbytery without referring to Jesus," said the Rev. John Lolla, pastor of Northmont United Presbyterian Church in McCandless.
Once, when questioned about his "silliness, " Rev. Humes told the presbytery, "I am much more serious about Jesus than many people might legitimately presume from my attitude sometimes. Usually people mention Jesus with all the seriousness of a funeral. I want to say the name of Jesus with a smile, with a certain sense of frivolity."
Born and raised in Latrobe, he graduated from Waynesburg College. Although he was exempt from the draft as a student at Princeton Theological Seminary, he enlisted in the Army Air Forces and served during World War II. He graduated in 1952 from a predecessor of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.
He was ordained that year and called to a church in West Virginia. On Aug. 31, 1952 he married Margaret Wilder, who had been a Baptist missionary. She would serve as his secretary, watching their three children in the church office, said his daughter, Candace Patsy of New Brighton.
From 1957-62, he was pastor of Allison Park Presbyterian Church. He then moved to a 24-year pastorate at Unity United Presbyterian Church in Plum. His daughter recalled him as a gifted preacher who spoke from the heart, without a text.
After he retired from Unity, he served part time as pastor of Moon Run Presbyterian Church, preaching his last sermon when he was 90. It was during those years that he became known for his antics at presbytery.
"He told me once that being free of a [congregation] that would be upset about what he was saying gave him a newfound freedom," the Rev. Lolla said.
In the early 1990s, he came to meetings wearing sandwich board signs with slogans such as "It's Jesus, Stupid" -- a riff on a Clinton campaign slogan.
Two former presbytery moderators recalled him bringing meetings to a standstill with objections to their work, starting with adoption of the docket, or their agenda.
"He really believed that we were missing the point of what it meant to be Presbyterian when we slavishly followed the docket" instead of seeking the Holy Spirit, said the Rev. Beverly James.
Jean Kennedy once told him that if he continued to disrupt a meeting she would have a recently ordained former Pitt football player remove him.
"And Bob said that he would love that. He said, 'Go ahead, have this young guy lift me and carry me off the floor,'" Ms. Kennedy said laughing. She didn't do it.
When candidates for ordination were questioned, Rev. Humes was famous for his inquiries. A common one was a version of "If someone has never had the opportunity to hear the gospel and accept Jesus, will God send them to hell?"
The answer he was looking for was that humans aren't the judge of such decisions, which belong to God alone, Rev. James said.
He ran for moderator at least twice. He won 25 percent of the vote in 1996 although he had asked that his votes go to another candidate.
He argued that the presbytery's biggest problem was failure to talk about what Jesus wanted the church to do.
When he was asked if he could keep the required "decency and order" at meetings, he replied: "I'm sorry you brought that up. I am much more inclined to indecency and disorder."
Proper procedure is too often an end in itself, he said.
"We need to use order and decency [to achieve] something greater than order and decency."
Rev. Lolla, who was a new pastor when Rev. Humes began his crusade and rose to leadership positions, said Rev. Humes made a deep impression on him.
"I don't know how much it affected the presbytery as an institution. Did it affect me? Yes. Did it affect the way I began to look at the presbytery? Yes," he said.
The biblical prophets, he noted, used strange antics to make points.
"Whenever you have a prophetic voice, they aren't necessarily accepted by other people. But that doesn't mean the prophetic voice isn't the voice of God," he said.
Rev. Humes struggled to care for his wife, who has Alzheimer's, until his own health failed three years ago. They moved to Presbyterian Senior Care in Oakmont.
But his mind remained focused on Jesus, said his daughter.
"One day when he was in the hospital this past month we talked specifically about the centrality of Jesus, that Jesus was the center of everything," Ms. Patsy said. "He really wanted me to understand that that was his purpose in life, to get that message out."
Besides his daughter, he is survived by his wife, Margaret; a son, Frank, of Titusville; six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Visitation is from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m today in Soxman Funeral Homes, Penn Hills. The funeral is at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Unity Community Church in Plum, with burial at Unity Cemetery, Latrobe.
First Published June 19, 2012 12:00 am