Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Farewell to the Cramptons

Scripture for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost includes Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67; Song of Solomon 2:8-13; Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

I hope you won’t be too disappointed to hear that I’m not prepared to delve into that hot little passage from the Song of Solomon. No other book in the Bible has had as many commentaries written about it than the Song of Solomon—no wonder, with its blend of almost Harlequin romance and almost Shakespearean sonnet, not to mention that peeking through the lattice that makes us wonder how the author would fare in safe church training.

We likely associate this passage with weddings, since it’s one of the readings suggested for such an occasion, and on the face of it the context appears to be the union of two people fulfilling their hearts’ desire. On the other hand, all those commentaries are bird-dogging the scent of allegory, hearing in these verses the spiritual union between Christ and his Church, or the intimate union of the soul with its champion, the Christ who speaks from Matthew’s Gospel promising rest from the weariness of life’s heavy burdens.

I’m also not going to attempt to do justice to today’s story about what happened to the patriarch Isaac after he escaped his father’s religious zeal on Mount Moriah, heard last Sunday. Let it be enough to hear that, some years later, the young man again becomes a project of his father, who this time assumes the role of matchmaker, aiming to find for Isaac a wife from the old country. This is an interesting companion piece for the Song of Solomon: by contrast to the rhapsody sung there, here it’s jaw-dropping amazement at how many times good fortune can strike when a missionary journey is blessed by God.

Themes of journey and pilgrimage hover over us, this summer. In our 9:00 gatherings, we’ve walked the Camino, the ancient pilgrim route across Spain, with Jamie Martin. We’ve stood on the heights of Machu Picchu in Peru with Jim and Alison Kolesar. Perhaps you have a journey or a pilgrimage to share, this summer (let me know, if you do!), while next Sunday Drew Gibson will lead the gathering in Bible study that will do justice to what becomes of the posterity of Isaac: the pivotal journey of his son Jacob, to be recounted from the Book of Genesis next Sunday.

And on Sunday, July 20th, our guest speaker at 9:00 will be Deborah Nathan, Executive Director of Artsbridge, an exchange program that makes Buxton School here in Williamstown the destination for twenty-four teenagers, nine pilgrims from Palestine, nine from Israel, six from the United States, on a journey to discover how reconciliation can be reached through the arts.

Today, we have a different journey to consider, one about to be made by Stuart and Susan Crampton, their move to Ohio to a retirement community near their son and his family.

Stuart’s ties to Williams College date back sixty years, to 1954, when he arrived as a freshman. Ten years later, he would return to teach physics. With him came his bride of almost three years, Susan, and (Susan reports) one-and-a-half little Cramptons.

Fast-forward to February 4, 1978, and here in this church, Susan was ordained a priest, the first female diocesan resident to be ordained, just two years after the national Church decided that women should be ordained. For six years, Susan would serve as Associate Rector here, before going on to serve as Vicar of St. John’s in Ashfield, Associate at St. Andrew’s, Longmeadow, and Rector of Christ Church, Sheffield until her retirement in 2003. I wonder how many women—and men—Susan has mentored on their journeys to and through ordination.

For the eleven years since her retirement, she has served as one of several priests who have made it possible for us, hand in hand with lay members of our healing team, to offer anointing and the laying-on of hands for healing at every principal Sunday eucharist. Susan has also preached and celebrated for us, and in recent years has, with Charles O’Brien, served the people of St. Andrew’s in Blackinton.

Together, she and Stuart have been stalwart members of our choir. They have both been leaders of Coffee Conversations, popular gatherings after worship to read and discuss books that present brave options for understanding theology, scripture, spiritual practice, science and religion (and that last topic is another frontier that both Cramptons have tackled together in the wider community—imagine their pillow talk about quarks and dark matter and the Big Bang…)

You may not know that both Stuart and Susan have served in countless ways to strengthen the Diocese of Western Massachusetts. For years, Stuart served on the diocesan Finance Committee. Susan has served on several task forces, including an advisory committee on the full inclusion of LGBT people in the life of the Church.

And both have lent their support to the fledgling Berkshire Organizing Project. Stuart is one of the founders of the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative, whose members run the Friendship Center food pantry in North Adams, and he championed the transfer of the long-standing Ministry Fund that provides emergency assistance, from the defunct Williamstown Ecumenical Association to the interfaith group.

The same analytical skills and systemic thinking that led to Stuart’s appointment as Provost of Williams College have been his hallmark here, in his service in our capital campaign, our Finance Committee, the Vestry, our first Website design, to name a few. He shaped and led our Planned Giving program, and passionately advocated maintaining a Youth Minister on our staff.

Did you know that for several years, Stuart has quietly and single-handedly handled this parish’s recycling of paper (all those Sunday leaflets!) and bottles, etc.?

And with all that said, I know I’ve not named all the ways these two people have strengthened the hearts and hands of this parish, our wider community, the Episcopal Church, Williams College, and the many other churches, schools, and institutions that they hold dear.

How fortunate we are! And how we will miss them.

May they keep opening their hearts and minds to the grace of God in Jesus Christ that hallows all our journeys by the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, reigning over us, and illumining the path before us.