[Episcopal News Service] The Rev. Terry Star, a 40 year-old deacon in the Diocese of North Dakota and a member of the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council, has died suddenly at Nashotah House Theological Seminary in Wisconsin, where he was studying for ordination to the priesthood.
After Star did not attend chapel the morning of March 4 and failed to show up for classes or meals a member of the Nashotah House community went to check on him and found he had died, according to the Rev. Canon John Floberg, a fellow member of the Diocese of North Dakota and also an Executive Council member, and the Rev. Phillip Cunningham, Nashotah House associate dean of administration.
Floberg told Episcopal News Service that there was no indication Star was ill. “It took everybody by surprise,” he said.
Star, whose council term would have ended after General Convention in 2015, was also a convention deputy. He belonged to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and considered St. James Episcopal Church in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, to be his home church. He served as a deacon for the Standing Rock Episcopal Community.
Star had been a youth minister on the reservation for many years. When Episcopal News Service reached Floberg on March 5, he was en route to the reservation high schools to talk with students who knew Star. Floberg reported that the principal of the high school in Fort Yates, North Dakota, had asked him to come in as a counselor after word was received of Star’s death. Floberg said he also planned to go to the high school in Solen, North Dakota, “because they’re in the same place” about Star’s death.
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said in a statement that “the Episcopal Church has been much blessed by the ministry of Deacon Terry Star, on Standing Rock, as a member of Executive Council, and through the many relationships he had built throughout the church and beyond.”
“We give thanks for his life and witness, his prophetic voice, and his reconciling heart. All his relatives are grieving, and we pray that his soul may rest in peace and his spirit continue to prod us all in continuing the ministry of healing we have from Jesus.”
The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, House of Deputies president and vice chair of Executive Council, called Star “a dedicated and passionate deputy from the Diocese of North Dakota and member of Executive Council, a fierce advocate for the people of his beloved Standing Rock, and a loyal and faithful Episcopalian.”
“He was also smart, witty, and a good pastor and friend. His death is an enormous loss for his family, the Cannon Ball community, the Episcopal Church, and all of us who served with him,” she added.
Reaction to his death and tributes to his life soon began to appear on Facebook.
“Deacon Terry Star was a holy witness to the lived gospel – I am so sorry to hear the news of his death,” Diocese of Long Island Bishop Larry Provenzano said in reaction to Diocese of North Dakota Assisting Bishop Carol Gallagher’s posting of the news on her Facebook page. “May he rest in the loving arms of Jesus, whom he served so well.”
The Rev. Jennifer Phillips, of St. Francis Episcopal Church in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, said “May he feast with the ancestors!”
Star’s own Facebook page is now filled with messages and tributes.
“Oh my friend, I know you are where your light will continue to shine and we will always feel your support and love,” wrote Janet A. Routzen from Mission, South Dakota. “Praying for your family….”
BobbiBrandon Bear Heels wrote “RIP my sundance brother we shall see each other again…look down on us from time to time from the heavens my brother. will miss seeing you every year at Mato Woapiya sundance.”
Fellow Executive Council member John B. Johnson wrote on Star’s page that he was “deeply saddened to learn this news.”
“Terry was literally a rising star in the Episcopal Church. I will miss him terribly on Executive Council of the Episcopal Church. My heart goes out to all of his friends, classmates and family. May he rest in peace.”
It would appear that Star last posted on his page at 10:35 a.m. on March 3 and he last tweeted on his account at 1:46 a.m. on March 4 when he was listening to Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” on Spotify.
Star was prayed for at the Chapel of Christ the Lord at the Episcopal Church Center in New York on Ash Wednesday morning “for his journey to the spirit world and for comfort to his mother Charlotte Star in her time of grief,” according to Sarah Eagle Heart, missioner for indigenous ministries.
Eagle Heart said a group involved in native youth ministry that was meeting at the church center “will continue this work in his memory.”
Star, a member of council’s Joint Standing Committee on Local Ministry and Mission, was an advocate for people marginalized by society, especially native peoples.
At the most recent council meeting, Star helped lead an effort that resulted in the council joining what has become a nationwide effort that has reached to the White House to convince the National Football League’s Washington Redskins team to change its name.
“I’ve been fighting with this issue since I was in high school 22 years ago,” he said at the time.
Star was born in Seattle, Washington. He lived on 10 Indian reservations, in part because of his father’s career in tribal law enforcement, according to information on Star’s LinkedIn page.
Lillian Ironbull-Martinez, his maternal grandmother, raised him in the Episcopal Church and, according to his LinkedIn biography, he and other members of the Standing Rock Episcopal Community liked to joke that they are “cradle-board Episcopalians.”
When Star was confirmed at Our Father’s House/St. Michael’s Mission in Ethete, Wyoming, his grandmother predicted that someday he would be ordained in the Episcopal Church. Star was ordained into the diaconate in June 2007.
He is survived by his parents Charlotte and Woodrow Star of Pendleton, Oregon; his brothers and sisters and “many relatives and friends,” according to Diocese of North Dakota Bishop Michael Smith.
Funeral service arrangements have not yet been announced, but Floberg said they will take place on the Standing Rock reservation. He said Star’s parents were en route to the reservation on March 5.
— The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.