I had seen him at a couple of Acolyte Festivals at the Cathedral when I was growing up, and his daughters were camp friends of mine, but I did not know him personally. I did, however, know him by reputation. He was a larger than life priest who was a very warm, charismatic, spiritual person, deeply engaged in the community.
This last Saturday I was in the middle of a conversation with the Presiding Bishop when a small, older gentleman walked up and gently interrupted us by saying to Bishop Curry, “My curate has turned out pretty well, don’t you think?!” As you might imagine, laughter and a fair bit of ribbing followed. Now 92 years old, and a fair bit smaller in stature, my mentor priest Fr. John (as he was always known) was as sharp as ever, and even more joyful – which is saying a lot.
In the Spring of my senior year, like most seminarians, I was working hard on what was next for me. My Bishop told me he did not have anything definitive for me, but was working hard on a possible option. Meanwhile, there was another congregation in another diocese that was interested in offering me a position. Through lots of negotiations and arm twisting, my Bishop and his long time friend Fr. John cobbled together a very financially thin position for me. As always, my Bishop was great and said it was my task to discern which position I was called to. I recently preached about this discernment as my temptation story. In the end, it was clear that I was called to work with Fr. John.
There was absolutely no shortage of Grace in this discernment. I came from generations of Episcopalians, I had a solid theological education and excellent Field Education experience, yet Fr. John faithfully walked with me into my understanding of the priestly vocation. He never lectured, never demanded I do things a certain way, rather he always approached things from a sincerely curious standpoint.
“Share with me why you did this in the baptism.”
“What kind of response were you hoping for when you said that to so and so in the hospital?”
“I heard the class you’re teaching is going really well. What are you hoping people are taking away?”
His genuine curiosity caused me to become even more curious. Through this, I became even more clear about why I was doing what I was doing.
Still to this day, Fr. John sends me hand written notes pondering things in the Church, knowing fair well of my involvement. Still curious – still a mentor, a colleague, a companion in following Jesus.