Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Nine years a priest today

Nine years ago today I stood before Bishop Jerry Lamb and took my vows to be a priest in Christ's Church. Many of you were there, and some of you "laid hands" upon me. In that moment I felt a moment of peace; the realization of what this was really about came much later.

This ninth anniversary of my priestly ordination has been much on my mind the past few days, partly because of the wonderful ordination on Saturday of Ann Willms, our associate rector at St. Paul's. During her ordination, I could not help but reflect upon my own journey these past nine years, and give my thanks for the support from so many of you in so many places.

So if you will indulge me, I'd like to take a few moments of looking back at this improbable journey. I am going mention names, which runs the risk of leaving someone out. Forgive me.

I was born into the Episcopal Church; my mother and her mother were Episcopalians. My father's family was Methodist, but my mother set the tone for many things including where we would worship. My earliest church memory is my baby sister's baptism in 1959. I went to Sunday school as a child, rarely missed a Sunday, and I was confirmed by Bishop James Pike of the Diocese of California. I fell away from church life in the 1970s while in college, but came back when I met Lori.

Lori and I are newspaper people. Ink is in our blood and always will be. Lori was an editor at The Sacramento Bee when I met her, and I was a reporter in the state Capitol Bureau. Together we put in more than a half-century of toil in the newspaper biz, and many of our best friends are journalists. We love them for their skepticism, their warped humor, and especially their deep sense of what is right and wrong in the world.

Yet I left that world for this one. It is a long story, too long for today.

I've had many mentors along the way, and no one looms larger than Don Brown, the Dean of Trinity Cathedral, Sacramento, the church we joined in 1988. His openness, his permission to ask hard questions, his willingness to admit that he did not have all the answers, his irreverent sense of humor (there's an understatement), and the brilliance of his preaching struck a huge chord with me. He mentored me in the ways not just of the church, but more deeply in the ways of Jesus in the world. And he proved to be a great friend, then as now. His wife Carol Anne took us under her wing, truly giving us her unconditional love and showing us grace in moments of great adversity.

I was much formed by the Education for Ministry program, first as a student, and then leading groups; Lori also went through EfM. Nearly all that I have learned about how to lead groups and how groups behave I learned from the enormously talented Michael Cunningham.

At Trinity, Lori and I shared many ministries. We accompanied our teen youth group on mission trips to Indian reservations with our wonderful friend Karen Harris Boone. We served on the vestry and as wardens (at different times) and Lori became an extraordinary cook for huge gatherings, including cooking for 2,000 people at the ordination of Barry Beisner as our bishop. Barry, I might add, was my shepherd through the ordination process when he was the rector at St. Martin's, Davis.

I went off to seminary in 1997, sponsored by the good people of Trinity Cathedral. I left Trinity, and served for two years at Faith Church in Cameron Park, in the Sierra foothills. At the time, Faith Church was a start-up Episcopal Church in a shopping center. The priest and founder, Kent McNair, gave me his friendship, showed me priestcraft and was patient with my stumbles and bumbles. Charlie Karoly, now deceased, and his wife Marilyn were caring in big ways and small to Lori and myself as we entered the ranks of the ordained. The people of Faith Church, many still my friends, showed us tremendous support and the meaning of a loving nurturing community.

I was also supported along the way by my parents' church, St. Timothy's, Danville (Calif.), where Lori and I were married. The rector, Steven Strane, has a good ear, and is a wise counselor. And Carl Gracely, now 100 years old, presided at our wedding, pastored my parents, stood with Bishop Lamb at my ordination as his chaplain, and has been my role model since I was 14-years-old.

To my amazement, I was called back to Trinity Cathedral after my seminary graduation to serve as the associate dean. It was my dream job, the chance to work with Don, to minister with long-time friends, to learn the craft of being a priest with the people who knew me best. It was my privilege to be on the staff for six years.

I learned the deepest meaning of being a priest at Trinity from Grant Carey, Winnie Gaines, Don White and Lynell Walker, and I learned what it means to be a deacon from Tina Campbell. I learned about gentleness and music from a giant, David Link.

We had many joys, many sorrows at Trinity. We traveled with the choir on its English cathedral tour in 2003. We welcomed new people, buried friends. We shared great moments of joy, and terrible moments of anguish. We showed the Sacramento community what it means to be the Church the week of Sept. 11, 2001. We stepped into the community with two Habitat houses, Loaves & Fishes and Francis House, River City Community Services, and many more projects for the poor I have now forgotten.

I was also invited back to my old haunts in the Legislature, and served for four years as the Chaplain to the California State Senate (the photo above is me in the Senate). I enjoyed every minute in the Senate, especially because I didn't have to write any newspaper stories about it.

Don retired in 2005, and so began the odyssey that brought us to Virginia. When a new dean came to Trinity, he cut me loose. I went through a difficult period of unemployment, and doubting whether I had much of a future as a priest.

That is when the Holy Spirit, or an angel, or the Great Force of the Universe, found me and lifted me out of the mire. The good people of All Souls Episcopal Church in Berkeley (my hometown) called me to be their interim rector in 2007, and the year we spent together was the best year of my life. The people of All Souls were smart, courageous, honest with each other and with me, and willing to take risks big and small. They loved to sing and they loved to share a meal. Every Sunday was wonderful, and it was my privilege to work with associate rector Kristin Krantz, music director Christopher Putnam and parish administrator Joy Shih Ng.

That is where the good people of St. Paul's Memorial Church, Charlottesville, found me. Lori and I came to this community in July 2008, and we are discovering anew what it means to be a caring, loving parish that looks beyond the walls of the church and constantly asks what role we are to play in the community. We are amazed at the life and vibrancy of this faith community, and are so very touched by so many people who have welcomed us and taken us into their hearts and homes. I am very grateful to so many of you, and especially to our rector emeritus David Poist and his wife Betsy for building such a great parish, and for taking us into their hearts; and I am grateful for the continued wisdom, humor, and support of Paula Kettlewell, our retired associate rector.

Along the way these nine years I have felt so very blessed by all of you. You have given me so many more blessings than you can imagine, many more than I have given you. Thank you for your patience, your good humor and for taking a risk or two with me.


George L Johnston said...

Jim, I will always be grateful that I was allowed to walk some of this path with you. God continue to bless your and Lori's ministry my dear friend.

George L Johnston

Anonymous said...


Thank you for sharing this journey with us. We are so blessed to have you at St. Pauls, with your energy and openness.

The Rev. James Richardson said...

George and Megan,
Thank you for your kind words, your love and support. Walking this path with you is my honor and privilege.
-- Jim

Anonymous said...

Jim, you are exactly where the Holy Spirit wants you to be.

Betsy Daniel

Ilana DeBare said...

Jim, congratulations on this milestone. I've been awed and fascinated to enter your spiritual and communal world through this blog over the past couple of months.

When we overlapped at the Capitol bureau in the early 90s, you always seemed the pinnacle of the smart, experienced and CYNICAL political reporter. I had no idea of what was there under that cynical exterior.

What a journey! I look forward to following as you continue along it.

Have you ever sat down with Willie Brown since you entered the ministry? What did he have to say about this?


Harry Allagree said...

Stories like yours, my brother, are what cement us together in the Communion of Saints. God is alive and well and working in all our lives. I'm sorry I didn't get to know you better while you were in this Diocese, but am glad to at least reconnect through FB. Thanks for sharing yourself in this blog.

Vickie said...

Thanks for sharing your story, Jim.

Emily Guffey said...

Congratulations, Jim! Beautiful post. Thank you for sharing your ministry with us!

Janice Dean said...

I love you, Jim (and Lori, too)! I'm learning a lot from you, and I can tell you're paying attention to opportunities to learn from us. I give many, many thanks for you and your sojourn through the wilderness of Virginia with us.

The Rev. James Richardson said...

Thanks to all for your kind comments. And for the cake last night!