The Foundation for Theological Education in
South East Asia




Tributes to Rhea Whitehead

From Kwok Pui Lan, William F. Cole Professor of Christian Theology and Spirituality, Episcopal Divinity School

I was saddened to receive the news that Rhea Whitehead has died of cancer on June 14, 2011. I first met Rhea and Raymond Whitehead in the 1970s when I was a college student in Hong Kong. Ray was teaching at the Chung Chi Theology Division of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He introduced me to feminist theology and the works of Mary Daly and Rosemary Radford Ruether. Rhea and Ray have always shown their love for the Chinese people and their commitment to theological education.

After returning to Canada, Rhea served as Asia Pacific Area Executive for the Anglican and United Churches of Canada and General Secretary of the Division of World Outreach. She traveled extensively throughout Asia, establishing long-term friendship with many church leaders and supporting the work of Asian churches. Many remember Rhea as a patient listener, a leader with strong visions, and a staunch supporter for women's concerns.

After retirement she taught at Silliman University in the Philippines and at Nanjing Union Theological Seminary in China. She introduced to her students feminist theology and the women's movement around the world. At the library of the Nanjing Union Theological Seminary, there is a special section of books on feminist theology. Many of these books were donated by Rhea.

I last saw Rhea in April when she came to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to listen to a concert performed by the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra. She was very proud of her granddaughter Clare who plays the cello and is the president of the Orchestra. We had dinner at a Chinese restaurant and we shared memories about our friends in Hong Kong.

Clare sent me a book Christianity and Chinese Culture edited by Miikka Ruokanen and Paulos Huang. The editors expressed their deep gratitude to Rhea for helping to polish the English of the work. Rhea has served on the board of the Foundation for Theological Education in South East Asia for many years and has made significant contributions. She will be lovingly remembered as an invaluable bridge-builder for cross-cultural understanding between China and North America.

From G.A. Wenh-In Ng, Centre for Asian Theology, Emmanuel College, University of Toronto

We at the Foundation for Theological Education in South East Asia are profoundly saddened to learn of the death in Toronto on June 14, 2011, of Rhea Whitehead, denominational Trustee from The United Church of Canada.

We remember Rhea

  • for her tireless dedication to the rights and welfare of the people and the churches of Asia;
  • for her selfless giving in nurturing the growth and learning of Asian women and developing their leadership for church and society;
  • for her persistent modeling of lifelong learning by her proficiency in the Chinese language by mastering Cantonese for her work among the people of Hong Kong, and then adding Putonghua/Mandarin for her subsequent call to teach in China.

We give thanks for Rhea

  • for her years of service in the Joint Centre on Modern East Asia at York University and the University of Toronto, as [Asia] Area Administrator for the Anglican Church of Canada, and as General Secretary of the Division of World Outreach (now Partners in Mission) of The United Church of Canada;
  • for her pioneering role in initiating post-Korean War discussions between the churches of North Korea and those in South Korea;
  • for her courage in visiting political prisoners in times of martial law both in the Philippines and in Korea;
  • for her teaching ministry at Silliman University in the Philippines and at Nanjing Union Theological Seminary in China after her retirement.

Even as we lament Rhea's physical absence from our midst and miss her wisdom from our deliberations, we want to promise Rhea that we will

  • continue to walk supportively with partners in China and SoutheastAsia in the task of educating theologically in forming ministers, teachers and scholars for the missio dei in their own context;
  • strive to be as faithful as we can in discerning and sharing the resources entrusted to us for that walk;
  • strengthen our efforts to share our commitment by inviting communities and institutions of theological education in North America to catch a glimpse of our vision.


Living the Mission