The weekend of Palm Sunday was a busy one for the clergy and parishioners of Church of the Heavenly Rest (CHR) in Abilene. The Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, made his way to Abilene following a series of events "nextdoor" in the Diocese of Ft. Worth. The first public event was the dedication and consecration of the newest portion of the CHR plant - Gerhart Hall, named for Pastor Willis Gerhart, who served as their rector from 1920-1957. To this day Pastor Gerhart is much beloved and fondly remembered.
Joining other clergy and guests were four retired Bishops - The Rt. Rev. Wallis Ohl, and the Rt. Rev. Sam B. Hulsey, both retired Bishops of Northwest Texas; as well as the Rt. Rev. Claude Payne, and the Rt. Rev. Rayford High, Jr., both retired Bishops from the Diocese of Texas. Bishop Ohl, Bishop Hulsey, and Bishop High have all served as interim Bishops of the Diocese of Ft. Worth, as they continue to heal after their painful diocesan split several years ago.
The dedication of Gerhart Hall was held outdoors next to the hall, which was dedicated and consecrated by the Most Rev. Michael B. Curry. Following the ceremony, those who processed in the Palm Sunday procession gathered outside the nave doors, and were announced by trumpeter, David Amlung, as the procession entered the nave. The preacher for the Palm Sunday service was Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. A video of his wonderful sermon may be found by following this link: Palm Sunday Sermon.
Then, during the announcements, the Rev. Luke Back, Rector of Heavenly Rest, presented Bishop Curry with a beautiful cross as a momento of his time at Heavenly Rest. The cross was designed by artist Nolan Kelley, the same person who designed Bishop Mayer's pectoral cross. Bishop Curry was also given a handmade quilt, which was made for, and given in thanksgiving for Bishop Curry, by Deacon Thomas Keith and his partner, Steve Hennessee, of Grace Episcopal Church in Vernon. Following the service, a luncheon was held for parishioners and guests in Heavenly Rest's lovely, new courtyard.
Later that night, parishioners, clergy, and guests from the southern portion of the diocese gathered to hear the Presiding Bishop speak again. The topic of his presentation was, "I Love to Tell the Story." Before he spoke, he met with the clergy from the southern portion of the diocese, and answered questions they had saved for this special time with their leader. His actual speech was held in the nave of CHR, and opened with an official, warm welcome by Fr. Luke, a hymn, and a glowing introduction by Bishop Mayer. The audience was hopeful, and anxious to his powerful speech, during which Bishop Curry had them all laughing aloud and grinning. Photos of the events in Abilene are available by following this link: Abilene photos. An article about his visit to Heavenly Rest may be found on their website.
After his time at Heavenly Rest, Bishop Curry and his entourage, consisting of the Rev. Canon Michael Hunn, Canon to the Presiding Bishop for Ministry within The Episcopal Church; and Tara Holley, the Director of Development for The Episcopal Church, journeyed northward toward Amarillo. (Those who attend diocesan convention will remember Tara as Seminary of the Southwest's former Director of Development, as well as her visits to the diocese for convention.) The group made a brief stop in Lubbock to meet the Bishop Mayer's staff, to tour the Hulsey Center, and to have a light lunch before they completed their drive to Amarillo. During lunch, Bishop Curry indicated that he was overwhelmed by the friendliness of the people in our diocese, and asked for more history and information about the diocese. He kept the staff "in stitches" throughout their time together.
Upon their arrival in Amarillo, Bishop Curry met with the clergy from the northern portion of the diocese in St. Catherine's room, located in Lowndes Hall, at the south end of the St. Andrew's church complex, and encouraged them to ask questions of him. Afterward the group gathered in the Children's Chapel for formal photos and "selfies", which Bishop Curry not only allows but also seems to enjoy.
A delicious seated dinner was held in the dining hall of St. Andrew's Episcopal School, located across the street from St. Andrew's Episcopal Church. As guests finished their meals and conversations, they walked back across the street to the nave of St. Andrew's, where Bishop Curry was to speak. There was a hint of anxious anticipation in the air, and the crowd chatted nervously as they awaited Bishop Curry's speech. The organist and Music Director, Michael Mitchell, performed a lovely organ voluntary, followed by the choir as they sang the familiar hymn, "There is a Balm in Gilead."
The Rev. Robert Pace, Rector of St. Andrew's, greeted the crowd and welcomed them to St. Andrew's, followed by introducing Bishop Scott Mayer, who received a warm round of applause. Bishop Mayer then introduced the gathering to Bishop Michael Curry, who received a standing ovation. During Bishop Curry's presentation, he quoted numerous lines from the Acts of the Apostles, from the Bible, and shared his energy and passion with the people as he spoke about serving our fellow man, and feeling compassion for those less fortunate. Again, he charmed the crowd with his delightful sense of humor, which caused them to laugh, at times, until they had tears in their eyes. He certainly gained the love and approval of the crowd that night, and was given a rousing standing ovation when his speech concluded. Those seated in the chancel that night were the Bishop's staff members - Canon Mike Ehmer, and Deacon Nancy Igo, who sat with Tara Holley on the left; while the clergy of St. Andrew's sat on the right. They processed out to the hymn, "The Church's One Foundation," and gathered in the back of the nave where Bishop Curry and Bishop Mayer greeted everyone as they departed. Once again, many cell phones were snapping photos and "selfies" with Bishop Curry, who undoubtedly enjoyed every moment. As the crowd departed, a beautiful full moon rose in the eastern sky, and was captured through the trees by Deacon Nancy Igo and Canon Mike Ehmer. In all it was a glorious night! Photos of the events at St. Andrew's may be accessed by following this link: Amarillo photos.
The Diocese of Northwest Texas is very grateful for the presence and the insightful words of the Presiding Bishop, who definitely won the hearts of everyone he met. The diocese is also grateful for Bishop Curry's genuine leadership, and the leadership of Bishop Mayer, in these troubled times. Thanks be to God!