By Barney Blakeney
Charleston educator, administrator and minister, Reverend Helen Lee Thomas McKune, the first African-American woman to be appointed to serve as a minister in the United Methodist Church, entered into eternal rest March 19. She was 78.
A teacher and an administrator in Charleston County School District from which she eventually retired, McKune was a 1960 graduate of Burke High School. A City of Charleston Scholarship recipient from 1960-1964, she entered and graduated from South Carolina State College in Orangeburg. McKune later entered Gammon Theological Seminary and the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia. While matriculating there, she was president of the Student Christian League in 1974-1975. In May of 1975, McKune received a Masters of Divinity Degree.
The Resident Bishop of the South Carolina Conference, E.L. Tullis, appointed McKune January 1, 1977 to serve as the minister of the Bamberg Circuit. Her responsibilities included pastoring at Orangegrove, Mt. Zion, and Bethel United Methodist Churches. She also pastored in southern New England at Wairham United Methodist and Marion United Methodist Churches. She also served as an Associate Minister of Old Bethel United Methodist Church in Charleston and most recently McKune was an assistant minister at Calvary AME Church in North Charleston.
A believer in education McKune never stopped learning. She enrolled at the College of Charleston where she received her Master’s Degree in Special Education with an emphasis on Teaching Educable Mentally Handicapped students in 1981. McKune’s thirst for knowledge continued as she graduated from The Citadel in 1988 with her Specialist Degree in School Administration and Supervision. She was a Candidate for the Doctorate of Ministry Degree at Boston University School of Theology, Boston, Massachusetts, in Pastoral Counseling.
She furthered her knowledge by enrolling in additional studies at South Carolina State College, the University of South Carolina, Norfolk State College and Emory University. One of her greatest accomplishments was serving under Bishop Desmond Tutu on the Committee on Theological Funding which awarded $3 million dollars in grants and scholarships. Another accomplishment was visiting England and Scotland to serve with the Commission on Theological Funding for the World Council of Churches.
An organizer, McKune helped to charter the Bethune-Leonard Section of the National Council of Negro Women, Friends of the Cannon Street YMCA of Charleston and helped to charter Omicron Rho Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated located in North Charleston. She was a Life Member and a former Cluster Coordinator of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated; a member of Eastern Light Chapter Number 360 Order of Eastern Stars, Clemmons Court Number 1 Heroines of Jericho, Golden Rule Tent Number 63, United Order of Tents; Royal Degree Chamber Grand Order of Tents; and Henrietta B. White Temple, Number 1, 1342 I.B.P.O. Elk of the World.
Her brother, Robert Thomas, preceded her in death. McKune is survived by her son, Delaine LaMont McKune; her much-loved step-daughter, Denise McKune-Nicks; her sisters; Margaret Thomas and Virginia Thomas; her grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great granddaughter, her sisters, Margaret Thomas and Virginia Thomas; her nephews and nieces; and a host of relatives and friends.