Former Emory dean
and world Methodist
Cannon has died
Bishop William R. Cannon Jr., 89, whose varied national and global activities
on behalf of the United Methodist Church helped introduce the Candler School
to a worldwide audience, died Sunday, May 11, of heart complications.
Cannon served a year as pastor of Allen Memorial Methodist Church on
the grounds of Oxford College after graduating from Yale Divinity School.
He joined the faculty at Candler in 1944, where he was dean from 1953 to
1968, when he was elected bishop. Cannon Chapel was named in his honor.
"He was a unique intellectual, passionately committed to higher
education," Candler School Dean Kevin LaGree told the Atlanta Journal/Constitution.
Cannon was one of the youngest faculty members to join the theology school,
LaGree added. He served as professor of church history and historical theology.
He was dean when the "God is Dead" controversy swirled around
Emory in the mid 1960s. In a lengthy essay that appeared in The Mississippi
Methodist Advocate, Cannon cleared up the misconception that Thomas Altizer
taught at Candler-he taught in the religion department at Emory College.
However, Cannon added, "From all I hear, Dr. Altizer is an interesting
teacher, and the fact that his thought is now receiving national attention
indicates his gifts as a philosopher and religious thinker. . . . [Emory
is] big enough to absorb and use all forms of opinion," he wrote. "We
exercise the privilege of discussion, dialogue and debate. We are strengthened
and in turn we strengthen others by having to give a reasonable account
of the faith that is in us against strong and intelligent opposition. We
never progress by restriction and exclusion."
Cannon helped create the World Methodist Evangelism Institute. He was
later honored with the establishment of the Bishop William R. Cannon World
Methodist Evangelism Fund, which reflected the global outreach that so characterized
his career with the Methodist church.
While dean, Cannon was appointed Protestant observer in 1965 to the historic
Vatican II Council. He served as president of the World Methodist Conference
and was twice a delegate to the World Council of Churches. He served on
the governing body of the World Methodist Council, including a five-year
term as chairman of the executive committee. He was only the fourth person
from the United States and the first from the South appointed to the council.
In addition, he is remembered for his efforts and ongoing conversations
with Catholics and Lutherans worldwide. He had an audience with every Pope
since Pius XII.
While still at the Candler School, Cannon led an initiative to move away
from voluntary local church support of theological education to the establishment
of a ministerial education fund, comprised of 2 percent of each church's
operating budget, to benefit students at Candler, Duke Divinity School and
Atlanta University's Gammon Theological Seminary, according to the Wesleyan
Christian Advocate, a weekly newspaper for Georgia Methodists.
He served as bishop from 1968 to 1984 in Raleigh, N.C., (twice), Richmond,
Va., and Atlanta. He delivered the invocation at President Jimmy Carter's
1977 inauguration and remained a friend to the former President and Rosalyn
The author of 13 books, Cannon was reportedly working on a 14th at the
time of his death.