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Saturday, January 16, 2016

A force to be reckoned with

Sally Mitchell Bucklee
Sally Mitchell Bucklee, called “the dean of women in the Episcopal Church” by former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, died on January 8, 2016.  Her life was celebrated today at her beloved home parish, St. Philip's Episcopal Church in Laurel, MD.

She designed the service herself. Of course. And, it was wonderful.

There were also five women at the altar - two priests, two chalicists and a crucifer.

The rector said she didn't plan it that way. It just happened. Silly woman! Anyone who knew Sally knew immediately that she was orchestrating that one from heaven. 

We just call it "coincidence". 

Sally was a force to be reckoned with.

I can only imagine her reaction to the statement of the Primates this week, in which they outlined "consequences" for The Episcopal Church because it had made canonical changes to allow for full sacramental inclusion for all of God's people in the life of the church, including marriage equality.

Women serve at the altar at St. Philip's, Laurel, MD
I suspect she would have been first to point out that the Primates have no authority to impose "consequences" - much less "sanctions" - on anyone else except within their own provinces. 

"They're neither popes nor princes, " I can hear her say in that voice of hers, filled with the full authority of her baptism.

She would also have been quick to point out that "consequences" are things parents impose on naughty children.  It's also the hallmark of an abuser to blame the victim. "See, we don't want to do this because we love you, but you made us, so we have to."

"It's the death rattle of patriarchy," she'd say, shaking her head and adding, "Scared little boys, grabbing for power and authority they don't have. Pathetic."

Then, she'd be quick to put her arm around you and assure you of her love and support.  And then, she'd go off to 'work the phones', calling people to organize and coordinate a response.

Sally was a lifetime member and past President of The Episcopal Women's Caucus, which is one of the places our paths crossed. She was also a staunch supporter of IntegrityUSA. She never missed a Caucus Breakfast at General Convention, and she always made it her business to stop off at the booths of all the justice groups of The Consultation, talking with folks and strategizing with the various legislative lobbies on pending resolutions.

Sheila McJilton, rector, preaches the homily
I was fortunate enough to attend an Education for Ministry (EfM) mentor training weekend led by Sally. I learned so much from her, but mostly I learned the real difference between a teacher and a mentor.

"This is about the bonds of baptism," she'd say, "and the priesthood of all believers. Your job is not to pour information into their heads. They are adults. They will learn what they need to learn from what they read."

"You are to be a mentor to the EfM students and enable them to find, claim and celebrate the ministry of their own priesthood from what they learn in their studies."

That made EfM so much more meaningful for me - and, I think, the EfM students in my group. It certainly shaped and formed my own leadership in parochial ministry.

Indeed, when Jane Holmes Dixon was rector of St. Philip's, attendance in and/or graduation from EfM was required of anyone seeking an elected position of leadership in the church. 

Sally had a wonderfully imposing presence but she did her best work deep in the background, quietly enabling men and women to discern and then live into their baptismal vocation.  I think even she lost count of the number of women she supported in their journey toward ordination.

That number includes helping to raise up Jane Holmes Dixon as the second woman to be elected bishop suffragan in The Episcopal Church, in the Diocese of DC.

Sally was, undoubtedly, the "dean of women in The Episcopal Church".

The 85 year old body of Sally Mitchell Bucklee was laid to rest today, but her spirit continues to inspire and guide and mentor. Today, the church was filled with some of the women she mentored.

We wore our collars in honor of Sally. And, women's voice could be heard the loudest as we sang, "God of the Women" and "All Who Hunger Gather Gladly"

After her ashes had been interred next to those of her beloved husband Brian, who died in 2003, several ordained women came forward, picked up a handful of dirt, and tossed it into her grave.

"Goodbye, "we said, softly, as the dirt covered part of the urn.

Past Caucus Presidents: Carol Cole Flanagan and Elizabeth Kaeton
"See you again, Sally," one whispered, "rest well".

"Thank you, Sally," we each said, as we tossed a handful of dirt into the grave.

It's what women have done since the beginning of time.

We were there for her because she was there for us.

And, we wouldn't be where we are today without her.

She was a force to be reckoned with.  I have no doubt she'll continue to be just that in the place some call "eternal rest".

Well, maybe for some. But not women like Sally Bucklee

Her memory - like her life and ministry - will always be a blessing.


Ann said...

Thanks Elizabeth. All I can say is I was blessed to meet her and work with her as a trainer in EfM - I learned so much but she never made one feel "the student" but always a valued colleague.

8thday said...

I am sorry for the loss you and those who knew her are feeling. And I am always sorry for our hurting world when bright lights fade from our view.

(Perhaps they are meant to light the way into the next chapter?)

Anonymous said...

A lovely tribute, and I am glad to see you are back. In many ways (except through ChrIst, the only way that matters) I am your polar opposite. But I was worried when I saw that you had not posted since Thanksgiving. I enjoy your writing, even the 10% of it that makes me want to bite a wall!


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Ann, Sally Bucklee loved and lived the baptismal covenant. She was a real role model for me. I have been missing her for some time as she has been ill but the loss of her is still deep and profound.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hi, 8th Day. Thanks for your sympathies. Even though I miss her, I have no doubt that Sally will be lighting the way from the heavens.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, J. I'm not sure who you are but I'm glad I have a few friends on the polar opposite side of the theo-political landscape who are mature enough to "bite the wall" instead of me for my position in God's Realm. Truth about my writing? I've just gotten lazy. I blame FaceBook. LOL. I'm going to get back in the saddle. Stay tuned. I look for the bite marks on the wall.

Mary Stuart Turner said...

A beautiful memory, Elizabeth! I could hear Sally's voice as I was reading your words. I worked with EfM, so saw Sally about once a year for several years. She was real and straight forward in a world where many are not.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

She was the best, wasn't she, Mary?