Sunday, February 7, 2016


Bishop Laura Ahrens visited St. Andrew's today. She was great--high energy, humorous, engaging, able to get everyone involved in the conversation.

On the way home, I was trying to remember how many bishops I've served with and for. There were two in my time in West Virginia and 8 or 9 in Connecticut--Connecticut always has multiple bishops...the Diocesan and a couple of what are called suffragan bishops. Suffragans are assistants who share the load with the Bishop bishop.

Maybe there were 10 in CT--though I can't be sure. (I am sure Bishops might be surprised that they blur in the memory!) OK, Aurthur, Brad, Clarence, Jeffery, Drew, Jim, Laura, Ian. Eight, like I said.

Bishops are mostly part of the background noise of parish and community life. We know they are there, there's just not a lot of day-to-day proof they are. And, far as I can see, that's good--around if you need them but not in the way.

I used to long for the time when Episcopal Bishops walked the earth like Giants. That used to be the norm, before elections became so terribly democratic (not that democracy is 'terrible', quite the contrary, but because the election of bishops is firmly in the hands of the people, they are so thoroughly vetted no Giants or Ogres get through. I've decided, in my elder years, what I used to call "vanilla bishops" are just fine. Most all the bishops I've served with and for have been decent, well-meaning, gifted people. That's, in the end, what you need as a bishop, not some personality larger-than-life.

The only bishop I've had who was a throw-back to the Ice Age of Bishops was Wilburn Camrock Campbell III. Bishop Campbell did not suffer fools gently; however, neither did he suffer smart, well meaning people either. It was the Campbell way or the highway.

Here's one example: Bishop Campbell owned two Doberman Pincers. They came to his office with him most days. He even had a huge old chair where they would sleep. When you came to visit him, you're initial reaction was "how kind, he's giving me the best chair in his office". The problem was, while you sat there there were two 90 pound dogs staring at you and showing you their teeth! People didn't visit Campbell's office often or for long.

Another story. When I was in seminary, I spent the summer between my Junior and Senior year working at the Highland Education Project with 'Pop' Bailey. (Most Protestants in southern West Virginia couldn't get their mouth around "Father"--too Roman Catholic--so they called Ross Bailey "Pop". The HEP ran work camps for Episcopal Teens the summer I was there. Kids came from places like Chicago and Boston to have culture shock and 'help the poor'. I was their native guide because I spoke the language and understood Appalachians, being one myself. The HEP was 12 miles from where I grew up.

There was a lay reader in HEP--there were two churches (Keystone and Davy) and only one priest--so Dominic Lagatto and I would traipse off the Davy three Sundays a month to lead Morning Prayer. One Sunday, to my complete and utter surprise, Dominic didn't end Morning Prayer but plowed right on into the Prayer of Consecration and celebrated the Eucharist. I've never been one to keep with rules and regulations and since most of the people who came to the church in Davy had been to a Holy Roller service the night before, I thought the sacrament might be good for them.

On the way back to Keystone, I told Dominic never to breathe a word about what he had done and I'd keep mum and it would probably not be something he should repeat often. However, when we got back to HEP, folks from Davy had already called Pop to let him know how much they enjoyed the Eucharist from Dominic's hand and somehow ('how' I know not, this being long before texts and cell phones) Bishop Campbell heard of it Sunday night. On Monday morning, he was in Keystone and Dominic (a frustrated RC priest if there ever was one) was called on the carpet and read out of the church. I was there. It was brutal. I was humiliated for Dominic and tried to speak up for him only to be battered by the bishop myself.

Last Wilburn Camrock Campbell III story (though there are many, many more). One of my friends was a student at Virginia Seminary. He had a scam of sorts going since he'd go to WV and buy dope and then sell it to Virginia students. The Seminary found out and expelled him. Campbell flew to DC and my friend picked him up at what was then National Airport. They stopped to get a bottle of Scotch and then went to my friend's dorm room. Campbell called my friend everything but a straight man and tore his room apart. Then they went to the Dean's office. Campbell walked right in without speaking to the Dean's secretary, picked up the Dean's phone without asking and dialed General Seminary in NYC. (He had already assured my friend had been accepted at General and said that on the phone in front of Virginia's Dean.) The Bishop hung up the Dean's phone, said, "you're losing a good man", and left with my friend.

Great theater! And, my friend was a great priest in the end. But is that the kind of behavior you want from the person with 'authority' over you and you're work?

I think not.

Lots of Bishop Campbell stories left. Some showing how a Giant can move the Earth. Others illustrating how Ogres can destroy the Bridge they guard.

Maybe I'll come back to them sometimes.

But, for now, I'm so joyful and thankful for Bishop Laura and Bishop Ian being part of my ministry and my life.


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About Me

some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.