Remembering Howie Wennes

Remembering Howie Wennes

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.


  1. Dick Faser

    Dear Mary
    We were young once…
    You and Howie married 1962.
    Marilyn and I in 1965…
    Remember Glacier National Park summer in 1959 or was it 1960?
    You told me you had a great boyfriend back home..
    Little did I know we would again meet in Scottsdale about 1965… and you had married the guy you told me about!
    Marilyn and I married at Ascension Lutheran Aug 1965… what an adventure to be an active Lutheran in a growing Arizona!
    You and Howie have been such an inspiration to all here in Arizona!
    Spirit in the Desert will always house Howies Spirit!!
    God bless you Mary as you now go forward ….
    As I know … we do feel deep sorrow when our spouse passes….
    I have learned since 2014 when Marilyn passed… she is still with me …talk with her on my daily walks… going over our life’s adventures….
    Memories are gifts…. Not as good as real life… but good gifts fromGod….
    Dick Faser
    Ascension Lutheran Paradise Valley

    • Solveig Muus

      Thank you for sharing your precious memories about Howie and Mary with the Spirit community, Dick. God bless you!

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