Early Sunday morning, July 18, 2021, Henry J. Fordham III, president of the Allegheny East Conference (AEC), and his wife, Sharon Elaine (Wright) Fordham, passed away due to a fire in their home in Douglassville, Pennsylvania, United States.
Their son, Shawn Fordham, who was with them at the time of the fire, sustained minor injuries and was taken to a local hospital, where he was treated for smoke inhalation. He is in stable condition and is expected to be released. The cause of the fire has not been determined and is still under investigation.
A Long Career
At the time of his death, Henry Fordham was serving as president of AEC, a post he had held since October 2012. AEC is an administrative unit in the Columbia Union Conference, part of the North American Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It comprises approximately 32,000 constituents who worship in around 150 congregations and operate 11 schools and numerous ministries in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia.
After graduating from Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama, in 1973 with degrees in theology and history, Fordham went on to attend Ohio State University, where he obtained a master’s degree in Jewish theology. Fordham spent his entire 47-year ministerial career serving AEC as a teacher, pastor, departmental leader, and administrator.
For two years, he taught history at Pine Forge Academy in Pennsylvania, which he had previously attended as a student. He then was pastor of the Sharon Temple church in Wilmington, Delaware; the Emmanuel-Brinklow church in Ashton, Maryland; and the Berea Temple church in Baltimore. From Berea Temple, he was elected as the Ministerial, Personal Ministries, and Religious Liberty director for AEC, headquartered in Boyertown, Pennsylvania. While in this role, he also served as interim pastor at several churches within the AEC territory. He later was elected to serve as conference executive secretary, a position he held for several years before becoming president. As conference president, he chaired the AEC Executive Committee and served on the Oakwood University, Washington Adventist University, and Adventist HealthCare boards, among others.
Fordham considered himself privileged to participate in evangelistic efforts in South Africa, eastern Africa, western Africa, England, Australia, Puerto Rico, and South America. He also participated in several campaigns in India and once met Mother Teresa in Calcutta.
He was an avid photographer and collector and enjoyed sharing stories about his travel experiences.
Sharon Fordham worked for the United States Social Security Administration office in Baltimore for several years. In addition, she dedicated her life to raising her children and grandchildren. As the first lady of the Columbia Union’s second-largest conference, she was instrumental in supporting her husband’s ministry. She often accompanied him to churches, meetings, and itineraries abroad.
The Fordhams, who were both 77 at the time of their death, had been married for 53 years. Together, they felt blessed to dedicate their lives to loving God, family, ministry, and people.
Family and Remembrances
They were affectionately known to family and friends as Butch and Sherry. The family was of the utmost importance to them, as they were very close-knit. Sharon had recently been battling brain cancer, during which time Henry lovingly supported and cared for her, with the help of their sons. They leave to mourn three sons: Henry J. Fordham IV, Donovan Fordham, and Shawn Lamar Fordham (their daughter, Danielle Fordham-Brown, preceded them in death).
They also leave 10 grandchildren: Shane Brown, India Fordham-Brown, Brooke Fordham-Brown, Kaleb Marshall, Kristen Fordham, Henry J. Fordham V, Shawn Lamar Fordham II, Shane Fordham, Leila Fordham, Donovan Fordham; and three great-grandchildren: Journey Brown, Elijah Fordham, and Alaina Fordham.
The loss of the Fordhams is being felt by many who knew and served with them. Tributes and condolences are being received from around the globe.
Dave Weigley, Columbia Union Conference president, shared, “Today, we lost a giant, a legend in Adventist ministry — Elder Henry J. Fordham III, and his dear wife, Sharon. Together, they made an indelible contribution to the work of God. Anyone who knew and worked with Henry knew him to be a Christian gentleman who had a soft touch, a big heart, and a tremendous love for Jesus. Sharon, a gracious, kind, and dedicated woman, was the quintessential first lady of AEC and all the churches Henry pastored. When we all get to heaven, I'll be the first to ask the Lord why we lost our dear friends. Today our hearts are broken, but, as the Apostle Paul says, we do not grieve without hope!”
AEC executive secretary Pete Palmer shared these sentiments: “My wife, Dahlia, and I, along with the AEC members, employees, and administrators, are grieving the loss of the Fordhams, who were our friends, mentors, and spiritual parents. Elder and Sister Fordham were more than colleagues and fellow administrators; they poured into us, prayed over us, and counseled us. To say that we will miss them is an understatement. Beyond their leadership role in the conference, they were the consummate examples of a Christian loving couple, and all of us will feel their loss until Jesus comes. We can’t wait to see them again on the sea of glass. May God continue to lift and comfort the family.”
Lawrance Martin, AEC vice-president for finance, said, “We are shocked by the loss of the Fordhams, who truly demonstrated what it meant to be Christians by the example they set and the ministries they performed. They will be missed.”
Gwendolyn Bradford-Norwood, Elder Fordham’s executive administrative assistant, reflected, “He was a God-fearing Christian man and was a supervisor whom you didn’t mind working with because he was always so thoughtful. He also loved his wife and strongly believed in family.”