Howie Wennes Celebration of Life

Howie Wennes Celebration of Life

We pray for the family of Rev. Howard E. Wennes, especially his wife Mary, after his death on July 12, 2022, following a recent hospitalization. Pastor Howie Wennes is bishop emeritus of the Grand Canyon Synod (June 20, 1987 – August 31, 2001), and president emeritus of California Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks.

A Celebration of Life Service will be held on Sunday, August 14 at Ascension Lutheran Church in Thousand Oaks at 1:00 p.m. The service will also be livestreamed during that time on Ascension’s website at The service also will be available for viewing at a later date for those who cannot attend the 1:00 livestream. 

In lieu of flowers, the Wennes family has asked that memorial contributions be made to the ELCA Mary and Howie Wennes Hunger Leaders Endowment Fund or to the David Wennes Scholarship Fund at CLU – links will be made available at Caring Bridge.

Read Rev. Howard “Howie” Wennes Obituary

With Deep Gratitude We Remember Howie Wennes

In 1983, ten years prior to inception of Spirit in the Desert Retreat Center, and six years prior to becoming the first ELCA Bishop of the Grand Canyon Synod, Rev. Howard Wennes completed his Doctor of Ministry study at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary. He entitled his thesis Seasons in the Faith Journey – Patterns of and Resources for Pastors’ Spiritual Growth. In Howie’s own words, “This project was aimed at helping pastors to share resources that have been most helpful in providing spiritual growth in their faith journey and to describe patterns of devotional disciplines that have proven to be strengthening for their ministry.” 

Howie Wennes believed that for clergy and laity alike, we need to pay attention to the most basic area of our life: our faith journeys. He believed that if one’s personal faith relationship to God in Christ Jesus is open and healthy, and being nurtured and strengthened by a regular exercising of the many means of grace, we are able to cope, survive, and perhaps, by God’s grace, even thrive in our personal and professional lives.

Bishop Howie stewards the original gift

Ten years later, in 1993, after serving four of his twelve years as Bishop, Howie was introduced to Malcolm and Maybelle Estrem, then members of American Lutheran Church in Sun City, Arizona

Conversation focused on a $3 million gift of property in Carefree, Arizona. Mac Estrem asked Howie, “If I gave this to you, would you know what to do with it?”  Clearly, the answer was an enthusiastic and gratitude-filled “Yes!,” resulting in the formation of Spirit in the Desert Retreat Center – a dream come true, for a place where people of all backgrounds, religious or non-religious, can experience renewal, reconciliation, healing and transformation.

Throughout the ensuing years, Howie and his spouse, Mary Wennes, have supported, encouraged and mentored this ministry to become the place where this vision of renewal is an available resource for all of us. Spirit in the Desert is a place where we can nourish our faith journeys. In Howie’s words, this is one of our significant “watering holes and resting places as we search for Sabbath rest.”

Bishop Wennes leaves us with many prayers. This one, from one of his sermons during these earlier years, continues to be so appropriate for our day, as we remember with deep gratitude, his leadership and pastoral presence through ministry in this place.

Pastor Howie’s Prayer

Lord, I’m tired. I’m tired of trying too hard and going too fast for too long. I’m tired of being busy, of work that keeps pushing me to do more and more and more, of family life that always has to be going somewhere or doing something, of religious activities that usually leave me worn out instead of rested. 

Lord, help me to learn how to rest, how to relax in your presence, how to breathe in your Spirit. Teach me, Lord, how to pray, how to be still and listen for your still small voice, how to be open to the hearing of your beautiful inspiring words and your reassuring promises, how to discern your will and your way in the midst of a cluttered spiritual life, mixed up values and uncertain priorities. 

Lord be my “resting place” and bring your resources into the chaos of my daily life. Help me to trust that my eternal salvation rests on what you’ve done in Christ Jesus and not on what I can do.  Amen.

We miss you, Howie Wennes, and we thank God for your work in lighting the lamp of Spirit in the Desert that continues to guide us today.

Read California Lutheran University tribute.

Note: If you have visited Spirit in the Desert Retreat Center, you may have noticed the “Wennes Foyer” adjacent to the Ravenscroft Chapel.


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