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    The Upper New York Conference of The United Methodist Church


    news article

    Golf with Bishop Yeakel

    September 16, 2021 / By Gordon W. Knapp

       When Joe Yeakel was about to leave our Conference for another assignment, Irv Hill, Vern Lee, and I gave him a plaque that I made up which read, “May your score glide down with eagles. May you drive and not be weary… sink a putt and not faint.” It commemorated golf with the Bishop.

       I guess that you don’t get to be Bishop without being competitive. Joe was that. I only beat him once, by one stroke when both of us pared the final hole (Cardiac Hill) at Green Lakes. He always knew how many strokes everybody in the foursome had taken. Once at the Colgate course, when Irv announced that he was lying four, Joe told him that he was indeed lying four, but he had hit the ball five times.

    One year, after severely calling me out of order at a Conference Session, Joe phoned on Monday to ask me to play at Green Lakes. Still smarting from the rebuke, I recall answering “Not yet!”

       As we enjoyed a cold drink after a round, a foursome at a nearby table muttered and groused about Joe and me not picking up one of their clubs that they claimed lay near a certain green. I was getting hot. Not Joe. He got up and walked to the far side of the course to see if the club was still there. Not finding it, he returned without saying a word to our mouthy detractors. I have always looked upon this incident as a marvelous lesson in practical Christianity.

       Joe was having some difficulties with a certain pastor and his prominent local church. Whenever I stand at a particular tee at Lyndon Golf Course, I recall Joe standing there, getting ready to hit when I asked, “Have you heard from so and so lately?” The drive was not long and straight. “Yes.” We were not above playing a little psychological golf. But this went two ways. I recall him calling my attention to out of bounds in Winkworth Pky., to the left of the fairway at Bellevue. Off to the left my ball would sail, even though I ordinarily sliced.  

       At the Cortland Country Club Joe and I played in the snow against two of my laymen from St. Paul’s Church. Amazingly enough, Joe was not pleased with the situation as he drove the golf cart amongst the snowflakes.

       Along the way, I never had the privilege of relating to another Bishop in such happy and memorable ways. I prize these memories. But my most cherished memory of Joe Yeakel is not from the golf course. It is of him calling upon me, and praying with me, and not giving up on me during a terribly difficult time in my life. His Bishop’s shepherd’s staff was more than a cane. It symbolized a wonderful, pastoral aspect of Joe’s ministry for which I, and many of his clergy, give thanks.

    Editor's Note: Bishop Joseph Yeakel served as Resident Bishop of the New York West Area, which at the time included three Conferences (Western New York Conference, Northern New York Conference, and Central New York Conference) from 1972-1984. Bishop Yeakel died July 4, 2021. Services were originally planned for Oct. 2 in Syracuse, but his family made the difficult decision to  postpone the services to a later date (not yet determined).


    With more than 134,000 members, the Upper New York Annual (Regional) Conference of The United Methodist Church comprises 865 local churches and 85 new faith communities in 12 districts, covering 48,000 square miles in 49 of the 62 counties in New York state. Our mission is to “live the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to be God’s love with our neighbors in all places."