Friday, May 13, 2016

Remembering Father James Parker

If one listens to the recordings of the 1977 Congress of St. Louis, that gathering of concerned more than 2000 Canadian Anglicans and American Episcopalians concerned about the direction of their Church that saw the birth of the Continuing Anglican movement, one will hear Father James Parker, then-Rector of St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Albany, Georgia, offer a prayer and then the following observation: 

We live, as  we all are aware, in a tragic moment in the life and the history of the Episcopal Church. I've always felt that we ought to look for some good even in the greatest difficulties, and I have to say that coming from Georgia as I do...  the kind of encouragement and consolation I find is the realization that a lot of you are beginning to learn what the word "secession" means.
For those who knew him, the remark was classic Parker, both in its appreciation for the South and for its quick wit.

Born Luther Wood Parker, Jr., in Charleston in 1930, he was graduated from Porter Military Academy, the University of South Carolina (A.B.), Virginia Theological Seminary (M.Div), and Rosary College (M.A.L.S.), he married a lovely lady named Mary Alma Cole who bore him two daughters and served tirelessly alongside him. After his ordination to the priesthood in the Diocese of South Carolina on 25  July 2957, the Feast of St. James, he adopted the name of his patron -- James -- and served parishes in South Carolina, Indiana, Illinois, and Georgia and also served as a librarian in Tennessee. Of Anglo-Catholic convictions and High Church inclination, he was made Master of the Province of the Americas of the Society of the Holy Cross (SSC) in 1977. 

All of the preceeding would've constituted a distinguished career for an Episcopal priest of his day but, as he noted in his St. Louis remarks, the era around the 1970s were turbulent times in the history of the Episcopal Church (something that has not changed). Clergy and laity who found that they could no longer in good conscience remain in the old church went a number of places. Some went to the Continuing Church that came out of the St. Louis Congress and then sadly fragmented, a few into the Reformed Episcopal Church, which had departed in 1873, others left Anglicanism or the church altogether. Through the years there had been Anglicans who "swam the Tiber" and became Roman Catholic, most notably among them John Henry Newman in 1845 but Newman, who reentered Holy Orders, wasn't married and clerical celibacy had meant that those married Anglican clergy wishing to go to Rome would do so as laymen. Until, as it were, Father James Parker.

Shortly after the St. Louis Congress Father Parker, who remained in the Episcopal Church, inquired of the Holy See whether or not he and other married priest might be able to be ordained as Roman Catholic priests. After a lapse of two papacies in 1978 following the death of Pope Paul VI and the 33 day reign of Pope John Paul I, approval came from Pope John Paul II. Father Parker resigned from St. Mark's Church and the Episcopal ministry in 1981 and was, with his beloved Mary Alma at his side, ordained a Roman Catholic priest on 29 June 1982, the first married western rite priest in nearly 1000 years. Father Parker was in his early 50s at the time and he continued in active ministry, serving as Pastor of several congregations, most notably Holy Spirit Church on John's Island, South Carolina, where he led a substantial building campaign. He and Mary Alma also served as mentors to clergy and their wives who were serving under Pastoral Provision.

I first met Father Parker in the mid-2000s, although I really can't remember where. We shared a love of our heritage and it may well have been at a meeting of one of the heritage societies to which we jointly belonged. Despite the fact that I am happily and committedly an Anglican, in the words of Bishop Cosin "Protestant and Reformed according to the principles of the ancient Catholic Church," Father Parker and I struck up a friendship through which I was blessed and I hope that he was as well.

Because much of my ministry has taken place in the context of hospice chaplaincy, he was a useful contact. One patient's daughter, sure that her mother would want her funeral mass said "the old fashioned way" asked me if I could call Father Parker to see if he could say it; I laughed and told her that I would because, "If you want a Roman Catholic mass said the old fashioned way, get a guy who used to be an Episcopal priest" -- the lady, who remains a friend, saw the irony (unfortunately trouble with his knees prevented him from fulfilling the request). On another occasion, I called upon him when a Roman Catholic patient who was near death and needed sacramental ministry that I, as an Anglican, couldn't provide; he was very helpful. 

I saw him at Mary Alma's funeral and it was clear that the loss of his longtime wife and helpmeet had taken its toll on him. Learning of his death yesterday was bittersweet; I will mourn his passing but give thanks that I had the privilege of counting him a friend and, most of all, that he rests in the Lord. 

1 comment:

  1. I look forward to seeing you again this weekend: vigil at James McAlister at 6 or 6:30 tomorrow and Mass at the Cathedral at 10 on Monday. Bless you and your continued ministry.