Wednesday, August 24, 2005

On the passing of an ancestor in ministry

I got a call from the new rector of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church and School, where I was the interim vicar and interim head of school. Peggy is a good friend from my Madison, NJ days. She was the associate at Calvary, Summit when I was at Grace; and we had an associate's group that met regularly at the time.

The call came ostensibly to get the main password for the computer in the rector's study. But, once that information was exchanged, we had a chance to catch up.

Aside from a lovely conversation about what it is to be a newbie rector, and what I have learned in six months here (and what I learned while at St. Andrew's) that assuaged her first-day anxieties a bit, I also got the news that the founding rector of St. A's had passed away a couple of weeks ago.

Now, I had never met the man...Only labored in a vineyard that he had planted (proverbially speaking). We had never even spoken to each other. He had been a retired priest in his nineties living on the West Coast. I was the upstart interim serving an east coast church. Still, we exchanged written notes, and I was honored to be a priest presiding over a church he had founded that was experiencing a revival and renewal of sorts. He got the chance to "bravo" me, and I got the chance to thank him for founding a church that was playing such an instrumental role for me in my early ministry. Two priests at either end of life and ministry, loving the parish that is/was their respective home at a given point in the history of the world.

And now, I hear he has passed.

I am both sad and glad. I am sad to know that a truly eccentric and inspiring character is gone from the earth. He was a larger than life figure in a world of larger than life figures from an era that was larger than life. He had Eddie Rickenbacker preach once in his parish. He imported a Spanish artist to paint a mural at St. A's of the Twelve Disciples...And his face is immortalized as the visage of St. Peter (the artist did it as a prodding joke). He founded a church that came into being in a little over a year as a vital parish. He supped with prelates, ambassadors, movie stars and the poor and oppressed. He had a full life, and a full ministry. I am sad he is no longer these things in life; but I am glad that he has left such a lasting handprint on the Church...And that church. He was a friend I never met face to face...Yet I walked for a year and a half in his footsteps.

He was never a bishop. He never "made a million." And yet, I truly look at him as one of the great priests I have ever encountered...Because he left a wonderful legacy at St. A's that inspired me to be a better priest.

His name was Charles Shreve. His friends called him Charlie.

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