MARK A. HENDERSON (1958 - 2011)

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Obituary

MILFORD - Mark Alan Henderson died Sunday, July 24, 2011, surrounded by his loving family.

Mark was born Aug. 19, 1958, in Warrensburg, Mo., the son of John M. and Terrill White Henderson.

Formative experiences connected Mark to the Methodist Church, to the family of the Rev. Ted and Melba Akers and to a lifelong connection with the Chautauqua Institution, where he stayed at "The Minister's Union." The connection with Chautauqua, he would say, was "fused in the marrow of my bones."

In his teenage years, Mark earned the rank of Eagle Scout with bronze and silver palms. After graduating Truman High School, 1976, in Independence, Mo., he entered the University of Missouri (Columbia), majoring in political science. He simultaneously began, at age 18, to serve appointments as a part-time student pastor in rural Methodist congregations. He graduated college with a bachelor's degree in philosophy in 1981.

As a young pastor imbued with the Chautauquan spirit, Mark served economically and racially diverse congregations and helped plant the seeds of a humanistic vision, always with a profound regard for the efficacy and power of language. He imparted a keen sense of justice and compassion that informed his life-work, whether he was preaching, leading a congregation, offering pastoral care, or actively engaged in human rights efforts. He ministered for 30 years to Methodist congregations in Missouri and New Hampshire, and as chaplain to patients in the Elliot Hospital (Manchester) and the Concord Regional Visiting Nurse Association Hospice.

Beyond dogma, doctrines and religious institutionalism, Mark said he found deep resonance with a song which proclaims "the poetry of ordinary life is what I live for." His life has been a testament to the depth of that credo. Those lucky enough to be in a conversation with Mark, or to hear his beautifully crafted sermons, will never forget the clarity and rich strength of his voice, and his gifts as a consummate wordsmith, one for whom words and meaning mattered deeply. Those who have been in his presence for even an hour are aware of his kindness, generosity and gratitude for simple things, but also of a keen intelligence, passion for new ideas, political savvy and openness to learning from others.

Mark earned a M.Div. from Boston University in 1984, and was nearing completion of requirements at Rivier College for certification in guidance counseling, in conjunction with an internship at Jacques Elementary School in Milford.

While deeply informed by humanism, philosophy and theology, he was a never-say-die loyal sports fan of his hometown Kansas City Chiefs and Royals, as well as a charter season ticket holder with his son, Asher, to the Manchester Monarchs. Mark was deeply touched when, knowing he had to cancel plans for the upcoming Monarchs season, the team expressed their appreciation by reaching out to Asher with a team-signed, game-used hockey stick. Along with Asher, Mark laughed at Monty Python and The Big Lebowski, and escaped with The Prisoner and Star Wars. He enjoyed the writings of Sherwin Wine, Chaim Potok, John Irving, Philip Roth and Rumi, and claimed the songs of Janis Ian and the Cowboy Junkies as his "soul music."

Mark's recent days, in visits with good friends, writing eloquent blog-essays and spending treasured time with family, all revealed a vigilant commitment to a life of meaning and integrity, even in the face of great suffering from pancreatic cancer. Mark said that even as a very young boy, his father taught him there was no reason to fear death, but to see it as a natural given of life. He has passed that incomparable legacy on to all who knew him. "For the Living of These Days" is not only the title (from a well-known hymn) of one of Mark's most unforgettable sermons, it is also what his life bore witness to, answering profoundly the call for courage and wisdom.

Mark is survived by his parents, John and Terrill Henderson of Milford; son, Asher Ian Henderson; wife, Carin (Bell) Henderson; and stepdaughters, Victoria Van Besien and Vanessa Van Besien.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made in the name of the Rev. Mark A. Henderson to Ecumenical Community of Chautauqua, P O. Box 988, Chautauqua Institution, N.Y., 14722.

A memorial service will be held in the fall.
Published in The Concord Monitor on July 27, 2011
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