Friday, February 22, 2013

Richard Race

By the time I met him, when he was well into his 60's, everyone called him "Bud".  He's one of those people I regret my granddaughter will never meet, as she is to be a native of western Massachusetts and Bud embodied the rapidly evaporating traditional values of that region.

In the 1980's, Bud was the senior warden of the now-departed St. James' Church in Great Barrington when they were faced with finding a new rector, which meant that he also had to take responsibility for the search process.  As the greater church was just coming into the "post-Christian" age, it was a challenging time for most serious Episcopalians.  We were in that decade when we had changed the Book of Common Prayer, for better or worse, changed the Hymnal, ditto, and begun to address divisive social issues in a way that ensured that congregations would be split and dissenters from the accepted narrative would be labeled, ridiculed, and eventually driven from the Anglican nest into congregations that were more reflective of Jesus' tolerance.

As with most secularized organizations, the Episcopal Church learned during that decade to value "groupthink" over the Gospel.

There was one issue that Bud was not quite ready for, and that was the prospect of having a woman as the new rector of his parish.  Certainly, it was something with which he struggled.  In the 21st century church, he probably would have been removed from his position by some bureaucrat at a diocesan house where, when his name was mentioned, those wearing the apparel of authority would shake their heads in wonder that such a morally un-evolved person would have even been elected to a vestry. 

In those days, however, it was accepted that everyone had his or her own path to follow, and through prayer and practice, would discern God's will as to what matters and what doesn't.  Perhaps diocesan authority will reach that point one day, too, but I digress.

When it became obvious that the best candidate for the job was a woman, Bud engaged in that wonderful moral re-evaluation for which Christians were once noted, and put aside his discomfort with the notion of female clergy, and a woman rector, and voted to call my wife.

It should come as no surprise to Christians who have struggled with prayerful re-appraisal [or even to diocesan bureaucrats] that Bud and my wife would become good friends.  That's when you know that Jesus is at work.  Of course, it helped that he was the head landscaper at Chesterwood, the mansion and grounds that host the museum of the works of the American sculptor, Danial Chester French, and that my wife was and is an avid gardener.  Together, they would spend five years or so at St. James' rectory creating what always appeared to me a miniature version of those gardens.  They would also enjoy a martini or two upon occasion.

Bud died earlier this month at the age of 90.  When she's old enough, I'll walk my granddaughter around those grounds and show her what a living tribute to a person of nature looks like.  I'll also tell her how Jesus can overcome even the petty and transient differences that can sometimes divide people and reveal something deep, marvelous, loving, and eternal, such as the friendship between Bud Race and her grandmother.  As nature evolves and adapts to a point where beauty may be realized, so can human relations if given a chance to grow and develop.