Remembering Telfer Mook

Remembering Telfer Mook

Global Ministries has learned of the death of Tributes to Edwin Telfer Mook, former Southern Asia Executive and former board member who passed away Friday, May 23, 2008.

Global Ministries honors the life and contribution of Henry Telfer Mook, former Southern Asia Executive and former board member.

Telfer Mook died in California on May 23 aged 91. He had had a long and varied career, first as a lawyer, then as a minister in the United Church of Christ, then as a manager of church-supported development activities in India and Sri Lanka, and finally as an environmentalist and community organizer in northern Michigan.

Telfer was educated at Dartmouth College, Cambridge University in England, Yale Law School, and the Chicago Theological Seminary. During World War II he learned Japanese and served in US naval intelligence in the Pacific. After the war, he started a law practice in Des Moines (Iowa), became actively involved in local politics, and was one of the early US advocates of the city manager form of government. In 1950, he entered the Christian ministry and moved to Oak Park (Illinois), where he became a pastor in a local church.

In 1958, after a short assignment in a church in Concord (New Hampshire), he became the India/Sri Lanka Secretary for the United Church Board for World Ministries in New York City. During his 25 years in this position, he was actively involved in the founding of the Churches of South India and North India, as well as in liaison activities between the Tamil and Sinhalese communities in Sri Lanka.

In 1983, he and his wife “retired” to Benzie County (Michigan). One of his first projects there was the building of the Michigan Shores cooperative retirement community in Frankfort. The Michigan Shores model quickly became recognized nationally, and Telfer soon received numerous requests to build similar facilities in locations as diverse as Alaska and New Mexico.

But he was committed to Benzie County. In 1994, he therefore became heavily involved in the founding of the Citizens for Positive Planning, a grass-roots coalition committed to drawing up and implementing an economic, social, and environmental master plan. He also served as interim minister of the First Congregational Church in Benzonia and was recognized as Benzie Country “Citizen of the Year.”

In 1940, Telfer married Jane Day Parker of Des Moines. She died in 2007, soon after their 67th wedding anniversary. They had four children.

A memorial service is planned for Sunday, July 13th at 2:00pm in Benzonia, Michigan at First Congregational Church of Benzonia, United Church of Christ, 900 Barber Street, Benzonia, Michigan 49616 (Ph: 231.882.4922)

Joy of Heaven: In Memoriam Telfer Mook, July 13, 2008, by Dale L. Bishop
Memories of Telfer Mook by Eric A. Gass, Former Southern Asia Executive (from Telfer’s Memorial Service)
Presentation of Dr. Telfer Mook for Honorary Doctor of Divinity Degree (Dr. William Nottingham)


You are invited to submit your memories and stories about Telfer’s life and ministry.  We will add stories and photos as they are received.  Please e-mail your tributes to:

Telfer Mook has been an active member of the US Navy Japanese/Oriental Language School Archival Project since 2001 <>. A number of years ago, he came to Boulder to give a talk on his Tinian School and the reunion that resulted 50 years later. We will post his obituary in a future issue of our newsletter, THE INTERPRETER. He was an admired and well known graduate of the USN JLS/OLS and he will be missed. Here is the story we posted in the newsletter on his Tinian School:

Reverend Mook has now joined his many US Navy and US Marine Japanese Language Officers who have gone before. Please accept my deepest condolences on your loss.

Respectfully, David M. Hays, Archivist
University of Colorado at Boulder Libraries

Dr.Telfer Mook was the first joint staff person in 1967 between the United Church Board for World Ministries and the United Christian Missionary Society as executive secretary for Southern Asia.  This led to the merging of all regional staff and eventually to the Common Global Ministries Board in 1996.   He had standing as a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the US and Canada since that time.   His Disciples colleagues held him in high honor and friendship.   He made a great contribution to our Division of Overseas Ministries and to our church.   No one had a greater commitment than he to the uniting of the world mission outreach of the two churches.  He always gave Christian unity and ecumenical cooperation strong leadership and advocacy, especially when difficulties or obstacles arose through the years, so that he was an example to many in both denominations.

Rev. William Nottingham, president emeritus, Division of
Overseas Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Telfer Mook was one of the ministers at First Congregational Church in Oak Park IL (later First United UCC) when I was a child. I remember that my parents, Lynne and Bill Mason, loved both “Mr. Mook” and “Mrs. Mook” (as I was a child in the 1950’s, there were no first names attached) very much, and enjoyed socializing with them. They blessed my family with their care and ministry.

Rev. Barbara M. Rathbun, First Congregational UCC, Hendersonville, NC

For the past three months, Telfer had been hospitalized in Santa Monica, California.  He had flown there around Easter to visit his daughter, Francie, and her husband, Norman.  But while there, he fell ill and subsequently learned that two major surgeries were necessary for his survival.  All of his life, Telfer has had such an indomitable spirit.  When he set his mind to it, and with the help of God, there was seemingly almost nothing that the two of them together could not do.  It would take many pages of this newsletter and then some to list all the accomplishments of this man.  On this page, suffice it to say, that he was a man who believed in a very large God… a God whose love is so wide and broad and inclusive that people of all faiths, even people of no faith at all, are beloved to God and cherished by God.  Telfer, like few other people I have ever known, was a living example of that love. 

Occasionally I would have the privilege of hearing Telfer preach.  He didn’t always comfort people with his words, but that was never the purpose of preaching for Telfer.  The purpose of preaching was to proclaim the gospel, the good news of God’s love for all humankind… not just the rich but also the poor, not just Christians but also Hindus and Buddhists, not just Americans but also people of every ethnicity and nationality around the globe.  Telfer was a person who made you think about your faith.  You may not have always agreed with his point of view, but he made you think… and more often than not, he challenged you to push out the boundaries of your mind and enlarge your understanding of God.  And what was so remarkable and wonderful about Telfer is that he did all of this challenging, whether from the pulpit or in personal conversation, in a spirit of kindness and love, accompanied by a laugh that was truly inimitable.

Everybody, I suppose, is a one-of-a-kind person.  God makes no duplicates.  But for me, Telfer was a stand out in that respect.  I have never met anyone even close to having his affable spirit, his passion for justice, his interfaith sensitivities and his willingness to give of himself in so many ways.  He was not perfect, to be sure, but he was indeed faithful.  And so on this day I am reminded of those beautiful gospel words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.  Come now, inherit what has been prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

By the way, Telfer died on his late wife Jane’s birthday.  I’m sure he would have been pleased about that.

Rev. Fred Edmonds, Benzonia Congregational Church, Benzonia, MI

I was so saddened to learn of Telfer’s passing. He was a great individual! He really introduced me to the world of Christian Mission many years ago and I will never forget his enthusiasm and deep commitment to telling the story!

I was selected by the UCC World Board many years ago to serve as a “lay mission interpreter.” As part of the process to become acquainted with the working of World Ministries I flew to Indianapolis and met Telfer.

He had just gotten back from India and was excited about the new film that he had been so instrumental in seeing produced! As I said, his enthusiasm was contagious. As a result, I visited India and saw many of the places Telfer had spoken to me about. I can honestly say, my life and dedication for the mission of the church / Christ’s mission has never been the same since! I thank Telfer for this!

Blessings to all in the family. We will all miss him!

Mark Beckmeyer

I treasure the memory of introducing Telfer Mook to the Disciples as he introduced me to India.

Joe Smith
(formerly Executive for East Asia and Assoc. Secretary for India with the Disciples Division of Overseas Ministries)

Telfer Mook’s passion for the global mission of the church was endless.  I remember meeting him for the first time in the early 70’s and being impressed with his amazing way of combining that passion with a genteel simplicity that was stunning.  In 1976, I had the privilege, as a young member of the national UCC Executive Council, of traveling to India with President Robert V. Moss and a number of the national instrumentality executives.  We were to experience our UCBWM mission at work, and did we ever!  Telfer had arranged for us to sit with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi for 45 minutes, and those minutes ultimately stretched into two hours as we talked with her about the challenges of leadership in India at that moment in history.  I remember her saying to us “The United Church of Christ will always be welcome in India because you respect our people.  Can you do anything about these others who try to convert all our people?”  It made a great impression on me, and I am sure that it was the careful and respectful work of Telfer and Jane Mook that had built that reputation.  I tell that story frequently among our churches, and it is my testimony to a great saint of our tradition.  May the Amen at the end of Telfer’s life become a great Alleluia! 

Rev. Dr. Davida Foy Crabtree
Conference Minister, Connecticut Conference, United Church of Christ

Recently I received your message about the death of Telfer Mook and of his wife Jane’s previous death.  My husband, Lawrence Henderson, who was Africa Secretary of Wider Church Ministries for a time, was close to Telfer when they worked on the UCBWM staff.  I knew Jane from my connection with the Board for over 20 years.  They lived near Auberndale – that wonderful place that was hospitable to many of us passing missionaries.  We resided for a time in one of the cottages provided.

So many of us have left this earth now and we have faith that both Telfer and Jane are in God’s Kingdom.  Truly, both of them were God’s workers.  My condolences to their family.

Muriel W. Henderson

Just returned from attending a very special memorial service for Telfer Mook. It was an excellent tribute to his lfe on earth.

During summers at the Congregational Summer Assembly my sisters and I had the privilege of knowing him through our father, Jesse Pindel Peirce. To our family he and his wife Jane were giants among the many ministers and their families at the CSA. In August of 2006 Telfer did us the honor of baptizing two of our grandsons at the CSA, For those who may not know Telfer brought water from the River Jordan and we mixed it with water from Crystal lake for the baptism. He did this for many families here. How blessed our family is to have this wonderful memory of him.

Eleanor Peirce MacKinney

The following tribute was recorded in the minutes of the Trustees of the Endowment Fund for The American College, Madurai, India, on November 18, 2008. 

Tribute to Telfer Mook

The Trustees of the Endowment Fund for The American College, Madurai, India, meeting November 18, 2008, remember with affection and profound respect our friend Telfer Mook, who died at age 91 on May 23, 2008. 

As a Trustee and throughout his career, Telfer was a global citizen, with infectious smile and easy laugh, at ease with and respectful of colleagues with differing backgrounds, and, with his keen mind, able to assess possibilities and achieve accomplishments where others might have hesitated.   He was a mentor to many and formidable influence in the lives of those who knew him and his beloved wife, Jane.   We are grateful that as trustee emeritus, he was with us in our 2007 annual meeting helping us shape the direction of the Trustees in the decade ahead.  He is missed.  His impact will be discernable for a very long time.


Back in what I increasingly refer to as “the good old days,” when the United Church Board for World Ministries had its offices at the InterchurchCenter in New York City, back when Telfer Mook was in charge of the Mission Division of the UCBWM, we had daily prayers on the 16th floor. “Prayers” usually consisted of a hymn, followed by a brief meditation or reflection, prayer—for missionaries or church partners or a particularly troubled part of the world, and a closing hymn. Leadership was voluntary, and pretty much rotated among the staff, and there was a sign-up sheet prominently posted. But if you were running a little late to get to Prayers, and heard the hymn, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” being played, you didn’t need to look at the signup sheet to know who the worship leader for the day was. Everybody knew that it was Telfer’s favorite hymn.


And this got me to wondering why. (“Wonder” was one of Telfer’s favorite words, and appropriately so, because he approached life “lost in wonder, love and praise,” to quote the hymn.) I didn’t need to go farther than the second phrase of the hymn, “Joy of Heaven, to earth come down,” to be struck by how appropriate it was that Telfer loved this hymn so much. “Joy of Heaven to earth come down,” is an evocation of the incarnation of Jesus—that’s what the hymn is about, after all—but it’s also an eloquent description of Telfer’s approach to life. If you want to understand something about joy, you need look no farther than the life of Telfer Mook.


Telfer was one of the most joyful people I’ve ever met. There was that sort of crooked smile of his, the strength of his handshake, the warmth of his greeting, the engagement of his eyes. But above all there was the laugh. It wasn’t a chuckle; Jane chuckled. And it really wasn’t so much a laugh, really. It was more like an explosion, often followed by a series of breathless hoots. I can’t imitate it; I don’t know anyone who even tried.


But that laugh told you a lot about Telfer. It wasn’t that Telfer wasn’t serious. He was very serious, serious about the needs of the world that he encountered, and to which he responded as a pastor, missionary, church executive, and the world’s most active retiree. Telfer was seriously impatient with the disparities he encountered in the world: the disparity between the wealth of this country and the poverty of southern Asia; impatient with the spiritual richness he found in the church in India and spiritual poverty he found in some churches in the United States. He was impatient with the practice in this country of warehousing older people.


And Telfer was serious about the church. He was serious enough about the church to be a loving critic of it—neither an uncritical lover, nor an unloving critic. He was serious about the church’s divisions, and was embarrassed by them. The creation of the Common Global Ministries Board of the UCC and the Disciples was, in large part, a product of his embarrassment and impatience with the church.


No, despite that ready and booming laugh, Telfer was serious. He just wasn’t self-importantly solemn. His laughter most often was at his own expense, and never can I remember it being at the expense of someone else. He loved to tell stories in which he wasn’t the star; he wasn’t the all-knowing patriarch. He loved to tell about the things that he didn’t know, but that he learned—about others, about himself, about his God.


Joy, after all, isn’t the same thing as happiness. Joy is deeper. True joy always comes against the backdrop of tragedy. Telfer knew tragedy. He saw it in the lives of people he cared about around the world; he experienced it in losses in his own family. He knew loss, felt it keenly, grieved it generously. But for Telfer there was engraved in his soul the paradigm of the cross, the cross that reminds us that out of despair comes hope, from mourning comes laughter, from death comes life, even life abundant. Telfer knew that, and so he laughed, not as an expression of frivolity, but as a statement of faith.


Telfer meant more to me than I ever was able to tell him. He meant more to me than he ever knew. More than any other person, Telfer sought me out and called me into the church, just as he himself had been called out by the likes of Fred Hoskins and Alford Carleton. I know that I’m not the only person who, in mourning his loss, also celebrates his unending graciousness and generosity. Telfer’s presence in this world, his joy of heaven to earth come down, made a difference in people’s lives. We’ll miss him.


But even in the shadow of his death, in the emptiness of his place around the table of fellowship, there is the joy he leaves behind as a legacy to his family and his wider family of friends. And so we thank God for him, thank God for the love he embodied in this world, and we contemplate the very source of the blessing he brought to us. To cobble together two phrases from that beloved hymn of Telfer’s: “End of faith as its beginning, lost in wonder, love and praise.” Amen.