Friday, January 31, 2014
Here I Am Lord
Thirty years ago this Sunday, February 2nd, Glenn Evans Derby was ordained a priest in God's church.
Glenn was a child of prep schools, a leader in his toney Episcopal church in Pittsburgh, and had won a scholarship in football to Duke University. Between a serious knee injury, being away from his controlling mother, and the presence of beautiful southern girls, he kind of forgot to come back from spring break one year. Oops.
Sparing the details, he was a dad at 20 and had three children by age 25. He worked hard and played hard. By his own account, he never went to church except for his children's baptisms. Glenn and his first wife Ellen lived a rather vagabond life, traveling through Texas and Wyoming , working as ranch hands where there was work, and finally settling in Montana. Glenn went back to college, earned a degree in vocational agriculture and landed a sweet teaching job in Red Lodge, Montana, at the base of the Rocky Mountains, where he also coached football. They lived on beautiful acreage and had horses, dogs, cats, and the kids got out at noon every Friday to ski. He went back to the small local church and as was his nature, became a leader. Life was good. Really good.
And then he got the call.
You know, THE call.
The one you question whether to answer. The one from God, and fellow believers who believe you should be set apart for ordination. He answered the call, and in 1980, he arrived at Nashotah House Episcopal Seminary, outside of Milwaukee, with a multitude of dogs, a wife, two teenagers and a 5th grader, none of whom were excited to be there. Glenn described to me the nightmare of walking into his first class with others who had already earned PhD's and other higher degrees. He was an ag teacher from Montana.
Three years later he graduated with an M.Div. (Masters of Divinity), and 6 months later was priested at Zion Church in Oconomowoc, Wi. And so his journey in parish ministry began.
I used to tell him that his ordination was proof of God's excellent sense of humor. Glenn Derby was just what you saw. He so wanted to be the intellectual muse of a scholar, but never could pass it off. He was the proverbial bull in a china shop.
Glenn loved his calling. Loved it. He took to heart his vows, that through the laying on of hands, his vocation became who he was, not what he did. He wasn't a " Father knows best" kind of priest. He rarely wore a collar, unless deemed necessary. He never announced his vocation unless asked. His gift to evangelism was the people whose lives were broken like his- divorced, perhaps estranged from family members, hurting. He offered them them safety, dignity and hope through our faith. He welcomed back the disenfranchised. One of his favorite quotes was, " The trouble with following Jesus is that He brings his friends along, and they don't always look like us." He loved those people that stopped by his office for money or food vouchers.
As often happens, his strength was his weakness. He didn't know how to play the game. A woman who was a priest in Milwaukee told him in front of me, "Glenn..you are either the stupidest person or the most trusting person I've ever met. I'll go with the second." He didn't know that people didn't always mean what they say, even in the church. He trusted people to a fault. He thought when we arrived here in conservative Brainerd, that he could stand in favor of gay ordination and people would love him anyway. And he got hurt. Wounded. Devastated. Eventually thrown out. Our life got turned upside down financially and otherwise.
There were more than three years where we never darkened the door of a church. The depth of the hurt was that hard. Oh, we joined our UCC friends now and then, having found kindred spirits, but our traditions were so different.
It was Glenn's time to be in the desert of his soul.
During that time, we found many friends, mostly through my job. Eventually through therapy and time, he was able to embrace his retirement and look for new ways to serve. Although not church related, he loved being the resident " man - nanny" for our friends with school aged kids.
And then three plus years ago, he got a call to do a Sunday supply in Alexandria. And it became a living version of the story of the prodigal son. He was gone....they welcomed him back with open hearts, minds and love. They gave him the best of them. And in turn, I saw him reemerge and give the best of himself. He celebrated with them on the day of his death. As fitting, and almost eerie , his sermon was about finding the Christ in each other.
Happy anniversary dear Glennee..you were indeed, truly called.
It was an honor to walk the path with you..
Rest in peace. I'll continue the journey.