Alaska Conference chancellor dies while doing volunteer work in Mississippi


By Elliott Wright
United Methodist News Service

A retired clergyman, who was also a lawyer and chief counsel to the Alaska Missionary Conference, has died following a fall while taking part in a United Methodist Volunteers in Mission home repair project in southern Mississippi.

Thomas H. Dahl, 66, of Anchorage was injured when he fell from a ladder in Moss Point on March 28. He was part of an Alaskan Missionary Conference volunteer team working alongside people from the St. Paul United Methodist Church in the town east of Biloxi and north of Pascagoula. He never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead March 30 at an area hospital.

“Tom Dahl was a man filled with a spirit of love and care in the name of Jesus Christ,” said Bishop Edward Paup of Seattle, whose episcopal area includes Alaska.

“We are deeply grieved and are in constant prayer for the family of Tom Dahl,” said Bishop Hope Morgan Ward. “Tom was a leader in our church. In my conversation with Bishop Paup, I sensed the powerful way God has used Tom Dahl across The United Methodist Church. May our shared faith be a source of comfort and strength for the Dahl family and for the Alaska Missionary Conference.”

A veteran mission volunteer, Dahl led a 15-person team from Alaska that worked in Moss Point in late March. His oldest son, Steven, was at the site when the accident occurred; his wife, Gail, had been part of the crew but had returned home before the accident.

“It was obvious that service and mission were very important to Tom and his family. They came to offer themselves in service to Christ here in Mississippi,” said the Rev. Chris Cumbest, who is serving the Mississippi Conference by helping Seashore District churches recover. “Through an unfortunate accident Tom gave his life while in service to Christ and the church. He and many others have come from around this nation and the world in the name of Christ to offer healing and hope through their labors. I know that Christ has welcomed a true servant into His presence.”

Moss Point, a community of 15,500 people, is one of many sites of post-hurricane relief efforts in the southeastern part of the Mississippi Conference.

A native and clergy member of the Minnesota Annual Conference, Dahl went to Alaska as a missionary pastor in 1964 following his graduation from Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington. He later worked in urban renewal and decided to attend law school in California. He returned to practice in Juneau in 1977, with an emphasis on administrative law.

Dahl was for many years the chancellor (chief legal counsel) of the Alaska Missionary Conference, handling a landmark case that resulted in the upholding of the property trust clause of the United Methodist Church.

He returned to active clergy status in 2000 and for four years was pastor of Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Juneau. Ten members of the UMVIM team of which he was a part are members of that congregation.

Dahl held many positions of leadership within the United Methodist Church, including being a delegate to several General Conferences and a director of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries from 1988 to 1996.  He was related to that mission agency when he was a missionary pastor. 

Dahl was born in Duluth, Minn., in 1939 and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1960. Survivors include wife Gail; three grown children, Steven, Kathryn and Michael; and three grandchildren.