Today I want to address the subject of memories and reflections. We are a people with many stories to tell and we always need to be able to tell our stories and listen to the stories of others. First of all, I want to hold up the memory of Herod who was the king when Jesus was born. The Herod we are hearing about today in the Gospel story was his son. But, he had inherited all the traits of his father. His father, Herod the Great, was a great builder but people feared him because of his cruelty. He was very ambious and was a vassal to the Roman Empire for over 40 years, doing their bidding and holding on to his power. He married 9 times and during his reign he executed his first wife and later on he executed 3 of his sons. He was paranoid and unstable……so our memory of Herod is of someone who rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem, built Masada, built the Herodian and Caesarea along with many palaces and fortresses. His tomb was discovered 20 years ago in the Herodian, which is a mountain fortress he built that today looks like a volcano, outside of Bethlehem and his history is being rewritten in the Israeli Museum. His tomb was violated and destroyed apparently by those who were angry with him during his lifetime. He had 2000 personal guards to protect him while he was King of Judea. Herod was and remains a person who changed history by his building program. But, his cruelty is the main memory that remains.
Secondly, I would like to address you today with my own memories and reflections on my beginning of ministry here at Grace Memorial in the years 1967 – 1970. I have alluded to those years in past sermons and several have asked me to speak to them.
I was in seminary at the Church Divinity of the Pacific in Berkeley, California, from 1964 – 1967. Each senior class would visit parishes throughout the Northwest in January of their senior year to promote and raise money for the seminary. I was assigned to come to Grace Memorial in January of 1967. I came and met people and told about the seminary on Sunday morning from this pulpit. Bud Hewitt was the Senior Warden and Duane Alvord was the Rector. I returned home to Berkeley and received a call that Grace wanted me to come back and bring my wife, Elaine, for a job interview. I was scheduled to go to my diocese in New Mexico and Southwest Texas to take care of three missions 100 miles apart from each other. I wanted to begin my ministry as an assistant to learn what to do before I got out on my own….so I said “yes” and came back to Portland to interview. So, I moved to Portland….I did not know a soul. It was exciting. I did feel that God had given me the right place to begin my ministry. We moved here after seminary concluded and I started work in July, 1967. We moved into the corner house on Halsey as the Parish had purchased it recently. We lived there for 3 years and both David and Sondi were born and baptized here at Grace Memorial. I was ordained a Deacon at my home parish in Pecos, Texas, on June 29, 1967 and ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Carmen on January 10, 1968, here at Grace Memorial.
My job included 4 days a week at Grace Memorial working with young people, church school, and acolytes. My Diocesan job was to spend two days a week working with setting up services in retirement homes, nursing homes and hospitals for Episcopalians, visit local jails, take tasks assigned by the Bishop with things he did not want to address, work with the Portland Council of Churches on minority issues, work with civil rights issues, etc, etc, etc. My salary was $3,600 each year, plus housing. By the end of two years, I realized I had two full time jobs.
The 1967 Convention of the Episcopal Church was in Seattle, WA and it was that convention that voted to allow women to be on church vestries and to allow women to be deputies to conventions. Women’s ordination was beginning to be talked about. Janet Graue was the first women on the Vestry at Grace Memorial and became treasurer. Janet signed my first paycheck. She attended my parish at St. John’s in Milwaukie and would come up on her birthday every year until she died at 105. She would always tell the people she had signed my first paycheck.
It was also the 1967 Convention that started the process of changing the 1928 Prayer Book. We began to have trial services of what became our new prayer book.
We started using the trial services at Grace Memorial and discussing the reasons for changes.
It was in April of 1968 when Martin Luther King was assassinated. I remember joining a silent procession with candles what was then Williams Avenue near Emanuel Hospital. It is now Martin Luther King Street. The country was in turmoil. Grace Memorial was right on the edge of the intercity. We were a congregation without anyone of color belonging to the parish. Then one Sunday, a Black family by the name of Baugh showed up in the congregation. The name, Ted Baugh, may ring a bell with some of you because he kept coming with his family and remained a member of St. Philips. When I asked him about his choice to come to Grace Memorial he informed me that he felt called as a missionary to help white people to understand what was happening in the civil rights movement…..and so he did. We had living room dialogs on the subject of racial discrimination, civil rights, and the differences of our various church beliefs. We entered into this dialog with Augustana Lutheran, Central Lutheran, West Minister Presbyterian and Freemont Methodist that brought us together with youth programs as well.
Robert Kennedy came to Portland in 1968 on his journey to run for President. I along with 25 other clergy had breakfast with him at West Minister Presbyterian Church the day before he left for California. He was assassinated during his visit in California. The country was coming apart at the seams. The Vietnam War was happening and getting worse. Young people were fleeing to Canada to escape the draft and were sleeping in the parks and churches along their way. I became the Chair of the Alienated Youth Program for the Portland Council of Churches. My committee included Tom Walsh, from the now Walsh Construction Company and Neil Goldsmidt who had just graduated from law school and would become Mayor of Portland 6 years later. My baptism by fire continued.
When I left to go for a year of chaplaincy training at Emanuel Hospital, I felt that I had really gotten a full dose of learning from the parish. I was not sure about my calling to parish ministry and thought I was being called to hospital chaplaincy. Bishop Spofford in Eastern Oregon asked me to come to Baker in 1971 and it was clear my calling was to parish ministry. I served as a parish priest for 37 years before my retirement 15 years ago. I give credit to Grace Memorial for launching me as a parish priest.
And now for my third memory and reflection. The Episcopal Church finished its’ convention this past Friday. I planned to attend and made plans months ago to attend. I put off knowing where I would stay and then out of the blue I was contacted by a childhood friend who asked me to stay with him and his wife in Austin, Texas, where the convention was held.
I had not talked with Sam Williams for 60 years. We grew up next door to each other, we played together, got in trouble together, our sisters were friends with each other, the relationship had been there all the time we were growing up. Sam is 2 years younger and so I became something of a model for him as he told me last week. His dad was always putting him down with, “Why can’t you be more like Dick Toll?”
And so last week was a week not only filled with memories and reflections from the church convention but with memories and reflections of growing up. Sam became a helicopter pilot for the Navy at the same time I was ordained. I did not know this but he often had to refuel in Pecos, my hometown, and would stay over with his family. During that time, he would help with my mother in taking care of my dad who had had a serious stroke and was home in bed. He would come over and help my mother put him in bed. Memories like that in our knowing the same people and listening to memories of things I had forgotten, it was a wonderful time for both of us.
And so I want to leave you today with the memory and reflection of the Bible story and the cruelty of Herod and his son.
The memories and reflections of Grace Memorial, 1967 – 1970.
The memories and my reflections of last week with a friend I have not seen or spoken with in 60 years.
And, to remind you that whenever we worship together we are in a moment in time of memory and reflection of salvation history. We listen to the Bible, sing songs written by people who often tell us of their faith through songs, and we remind ourselves of Jesus and the Last Supper as we enter into a moment of memory and reflection in the Holy Eucharist. We remind ourselves where we come from and to whom we belong, to God and to each other. Amen.