I lost a fellow sojourner in the faith this week. The Rev. Mary Pat Ashby was well beloved in the Diocese of Maryland and certainly there were many who knew her better than I did; however, she graced me with time and care, especially in my call to serve as a priest.
I met Mary Pat+ at Diocesan Center in the summer of 1996. I had been selected to be part of a five woman delegation to the Diocese of Tokyo to discuss women's ordination to the priesthood which had been considered by their national synod convention the prior year. The vote was split with the House of Deputies (lay persons, deacons and priests) voting in favor of full ordination for women and the House of Bishops voting against. There was discouragement among the people, especially those women who felt called to the priesthood and had to continue waiting.
That September, the five of us journeyed to Tokyo for a whirlwind 12 day trip. I say whirlwind not just because of the pace of all our visits and presentations (and there were many panel discussions with lots of question and answer sessions), but also because Typhoon Violet made an appearance that first Sunday we were to visit our sister congregations! We all made it to our various churches in spite of wind, downed trees and flooded streets. We were all greeted most warmly and shown amazing hospitality.
Midway through the trip, we went into the Japanese Alps (yes, they have serious mountains there!). There we spent two days with women and men in retreat where we were housed in a dormitory style setting. Mary Pat+ and I went walking early the first morning we were there ... and found ourselves locked out of the building. No matter, there was an open window and with a boost, up Mary Pat+ went and scrambled through the window. We had a hard time stifling our laughter so as not to wake our companions.
After the retreat, Mary Pat+ and I were slated to go on to Nagoya for a Sunday service and to speak at "St. Matthew's Church" while the rest of our group went to Osaka. Our guide was Yoko Tachikawa - a very short Japanese woman who spoke no English. We figured we stood out in a crowd, so English or no English, Yoko would be able to find us if we got separated. We boarded the train to Gifu City where Yoko's husband Paul+ was the priest at the local Anglican church. Paul+ spoke a little English and drove us from the train station to our hotel. As Paul+ sped along the narrow road, he got just a bit too close to the railing on the right side of the car and BAM! off went the side mirror! Mary Pat+ and I about jumped out of our skin but Paul+ seemed rather nonplussed about the whole thing ... which made us politely stifle our laughter until we got into our hotel room. I swear we laughed until it hurt!
In hindsight, that trip, and our misadventures on it, inched me closer to ordination to the priesthood. Mary Pat+ quietly supported me and gave me encouragement. As a former transitional ministries officer, she helped review my resume and my CDO profile with helpful suggestions. She knew how difficult my first year of ordained ministry was. Closing a church is never on a new priest's radar and to find myself on Good Friday saying good-bye to the members of that church and knowing I had nowhere to go on Easter Sunday was just devastating. My first Easter as a priest ... all dressed up and nowhere to go.
Last year, Mary Pat+ retired from Grace Episcopal in New Market. She called me before she left and basically set me up to be the supply priest for a few months while the congregation took the time to call an interim. It was the first Easter where I was the chief celebrant at the Eucharist. Yes, I had assisted in other congregations in prior years, but it wasn't quite the same. Mary Pat+ made sure I would be chief celebrant at Grace on the holiest day of the Christian year - and for that I will always be grateful.
Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone? I will miss Mary Pat+ and will wait with patient expectation for the day when we will see each other again.