Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Farewell to a Giant ... Rest in Power, Emery Washington

If we are truly blessed, we get to share our lives with a few women and men who are truly giants. People whose manner of life and very presence truly hushes our speech and fills us with awe.

Emery Washington was such a man. Emery died last night, succumbing to pancreatic cancer. And today I am filled with how much poorer our world is by his absence ... and how richer we are by the years he gave in service to Christ, church and world.

I first met Emery in the late 1980s when my mentor, the Rev. Jim Fallis, rector of Calvary Church, Columbia, introduced me to him at a diocesan convention.  As a young college student, then seminarian, then young priest who served with Emery as a General Convention deputy, my first memories of him were of him speaking with incredible power and grace ... and being infinitely patient with a wet-behind-the-ears neophyte who thought he knew way more than he did and had youth's sense of urgency rather than age's sense of wisdom. 

I know that whenever Emery spoke, I listened and listened deeply. I watched him sustain what seemed to me unlikely friendships -- like with seminary classmate and conservative bishop Ed Salmon -- that incarnated for me what it meant to be an ambassador of Christ given the ministry of reconciliation. 

When I lived with one of his parishioners, Edwina Corbin, during a college internship at Grace Hill Settlement House and sat with her in the back pew at All Saints every Sunday morning at 8 am, I heard preaching that was both powerful and pastoral -- and saw that priest, pastor and prophet could exist in the same person.

I remember Emery standing up at our diocesan convention as we prepared to approve our companion diocese relationship with Lui, and, while expressing support for the relationship, with his customary measured and gracious tone, warn us that relationships around the globe with people in extreme poverty do not relieve us of responsibility of healing grave injustices in our own cities. 

I remember every time I was in Emery's presence walking away so deeply glad that I was. For he was a paragon of faithfulness without being overly pious. He had deep compassion and twinkle-in-the-eye humor. He had a fierce sense of justice and the capacity for forgiveness. 

For me, Emery Washington will always be a giant. A model person and priest. To the very end following Jesus the best he knew how. 

This day I am filled with regret that I did not seek him out more. I wonder how much more wisdom I could have ingested, how much grace I could have experienced.

The church ... and all of us .. have lost a giant. But in the past decades of Emery being here, we have gained so much more.

Thank you, Fr Washington. Thank you for your witness and power. Thank you for your grace and humor. Thank you for your patience and thank you for your courage. 

Rest with our Lord as you lived in life -- in grace, peace and power. Amen.

A memorial service for Emery will be held at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion at 4 pm on Saturday, October 17. Bishop Smith will preside and Bishop Salmon will preach.