Another hero is gone. Today I received sad news – the Bishop who ordained me – the Rt Rev Charles Vaché – has died. He was 83 years old and I had heard recently that he had Alzheimer’s. When I heard that, I felt the loss already as that wicked disease takes a person twice. My mother, who was my all-time greatest hero, died from pneumonia after suffering for more than 5 years with Alzheimer’s and when she finally went, I was relieved. She had left us long ago – for the last 3-4 years of her life, she didn’t even know who she was, much less any of us. I have to admit that I didn’t even go to see her the last few times I was in Virginia because I couldn’t bear looking at her.
She hardly looked like herself because the sparkle was gone. Even though I could still detect a little piece of her, she was almost mean. Once when I was there, I had found a tooth beside her bed on the table and the nurse and I tried to get her to open her mouth so we could see if it was her tooth. She wouldn’t sit up – wouldn’t even open her eyes or her mouth and kept cursing at us to leave her alone – this was all after she feigned sleep for about 20 minutes. I cried for hours after I left her that day.
Her characteristic shuffling gait of the Alzheimer’s patient made me so sad when I saw her that I could hardly breathe. She was such a vital and active person – always working in her garden or “piddling” around the house as my Dad called it. Watching her move all stooped over with no apparent purpose was agony for me and, although people say that Alzheimer’s patients aren’t aware of a lot of this, I don’t buy it. She was miserable – I could see it in her eyes. There was not much there but what was there was misery – for her and for me and everyone who knew and loved her.
So, I’m glad that I haven’t seen Charles Vaché since he was stricken with the big A. My last memory of him was of the most gracious human being and the consummate bishop. I am going to be adding a tribute to him to this blog and sending it to the Diocesan newspaper in Southern Virginia but I feel constrained today to write today about the loss of yet another hero in my life.
Charles Vaché was a man of principle and a spiritual giant. Since the 1970’s when women began to make their voices heard in the Episcopal Church, he had been a staunch opponent of the move in the National Church to allow women to serve in leadership and sacramental roles in the Church. He “led the charge” at General Conventions and House of Bishops’ meetings against any attempt to allow women to serve as Eucharistic Ministers, members of Vestry, Wardens, and as ordained clergy (deacon or priest). When I approached the door to the ordination process, he had summarily closed it in the face of many other women and it didn’t look promising to me except that, at the time, I had fooled myself into thinking that I “just wanted to do youth work” and so wasn’t pursuing ordination. “I only wanted to go to seminary,” I said.
When he agreed to allow me to attend seminary, he said that he was concerned about what I would do if I wasn’t ordained after seminary but he “would send me for a year and then we would see.” Now I know that he knew that I was headed for ordination. The rest of the story is in my book “Lady Father” and he was a large part of that painful journey. But as I think about him now, I don’t believe that he ever discriminated against me. I think he knew from the beginning that I was called by God to be a priest and that even he could not get in the way of that. From the moment I spoke to him on that Saturday morning in 1980, he and I were partners in my journey towards ordination and, for that, he is and will always be, my hero.
Stay tuned for more. . . .
Susan Bowman, the “LadyFather” has written a book on her experiences in the ordained ministry. Aptly named “Lady Father,” it is slated for re-release in the near future. Fill out the form below to receive a publication announcement and check out Susan’s Facebook page at http://facebook.com/ladyfather.