We are gathered here this morning to give thanks for the thirty-year ministry of Stephen Elkins-Williams as our Rector and to say a fond farewell to Stephen and Betsy as they begin a new life away from this parish which has been the center of their lives for thirty years.
It is appropriate that we are gathered here in the Great Hall, for it was Steve’s vision that we should have a space big enough – great enough – if you will, to hold the entire congregation for a moment like this. How many times already have we said to each other – “How did we ever get by without this wonderful space?” Seeing us all together here this morning is, once more, proof of the validity of Steve’s vision.
Because the Light on the Hill Campaign really reflected Steve’s vision, and because of several gifts to that campaign in Steve and Betsy’s honor, the Vestry decided to dedicate this hall, as the plaque outside the door states, “To the Glory of God and in honor of Stephen Elkins-Williams, Rector of this Church from 1985-2015, and Betsy Elkins-Williams.” I hope that you also saw the beautiful photographic portrait of Steve hanging in the hallway just outside the entrance to this hall.
Before saying more about Steve, I do want to pause and ask you to thank Ted Vaden and the Celebration Committee for planning all of the events leading up to this day and this day itself. It is a wonderfully joyous occasion for us to be all together, to celebrate our love for this church, and our love for Steve and Betsy. Thank you, Ted, and the Celebration Committee.
I think most of us realize that thirty-year Rectorates are almost unheard of in the Episcopal Church. However, I submit to you that it is not the length of his service that is so outstanding, but rather the depth of his service and leadership.
F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said that the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. I think Fitzgerald must have been thinking about Steve. Steve has been leading a congregation for thirty years that is seriously divided. Divided not about liturgy – high versus low church; not about theology, evangelical or orthodox; not about any of the things that can and do cause dissension in a church, but about basketball. Steve may just be the only person I know who can be equally at home in Cameron Indoor Stadium or the Dean E. Smith Center. Somehow, he sees no conflict in what most of would regard as the most bizarre form of ecumenism in the world. I suppose it is his Jesuit training – this ability to be utterly at peace in a context that would find most of us in a state of extreme anxiety.
It is that same spirit that he brought to being the shepherd of this flock. No conflict that we could imagine – about carpet or other controversial floor coverings, gay unions, or political divisions, could disturb the quiet equanimity of someone who could be for both Carolina and Duke. (It is a good thing that blue is not a liturgical color, so that he never had to decide which blue.
So, today, we have to say goodbye to our faithful shepherd. We say goodbye and Godspeed to you and Betsy.We are grateful for all of the blessings you have given us – including your wonderful farewell sermon this morning (copies of which are available to us as we leave this morning, another example of his thoughtfulness to us), and so on behalf of the people of the Chapel of the Cross, I offer this benediction to you, Stephen and Betsy:
The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine upon you, and be gracious unto to you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. Amen.
And now let us stand and sing the Doxology, and as we sing, I am going to ask Steve and Betsy and Peter and Tyler to make their way to the Parlor, where you may go to have a personal word with them. I ask that you form a line in the hallway toward the Parlor and exit the Parlor through the double doors back into the Great Hall.
Now, let us sing.