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ALONE IN STATE

He lay there, alone in the church he led for a decade. The mitre Louise had made for him by Wippell, alone distinguished the scene from any other perhaps old fashioned funeral. The scene was so evocative of the man whose strife was finally over, sixteen years after he was diagnosed with cancer. He was a private man, a privacy sometimes mistaken for loneliness, sometimes for aloofness, until a smile lit up his mutton-chopped framed expressive face and a quip put his interlocutor at ease. He could be stern, but always with reconciliation in mind. He could infuriate the powerful to whom the exercise of power seemed necessary no matter the effect on relationships.

 

Edward Lloyd Salmon always believed that Jesus called us into relationship with God and each other. There it was, nothing more, nothing less. He became fascinated with systems that promoted healthy relationships, not merely as theory, but as means to restore and strengthen the fabric of families, churches and communities. Within days of his death his large fingers, appended to huge hands were still pecking out words of encouragement to a leader who left the church, a young priest in conflict with his bishop, a parish in an uneasy relationship with its diocese and a troubled couple. Called to the ministry of reconciliation, he practiced what he preached. The practice was not without pain. He was misunderstood, rejected by erstwhile friends and humiliated by the powerful.

 

Yet when he died one of the finest tributes came from the bishop of one of the most progressive dioceses in our church. Alas, the pile of letters of condolence contained not one word from our church’s leadership. Six years ago he and other bishops were ordered to recant their opposition to a theory that locates power in the church in the hands of a few elected officials. To Ed. Salmon, such a location and concentration of power was the very antithesis of his  theory and practice of Christian relationships. Fear of division over sexual matters issued  an ecclesial version of the Patriot Act. Ed. Salmon believed that a theory of coercion, born in panic, hastened division and schism. He grieved to see his former diocese, in which he had labored with success for seventeen years, one of the few dioceses that grew in an era of decline, split and wander into mutual recrimination. He loved the Episcopal Church, into which he was baptized and confirmed in rural Mississippi. (One of his oldest friends was a black seminarian with whom he traveled to VTS each term, forsaking white privilege in that segregated era by staying in black friendly places on the way.)  And there he was, aged seventy-six, after a life of service to the church he loved, accused of  disloyalty.  He recanted. But he remained convinced that a policy of division was the antithesis of the Gospel.

 

We spoke together often of how the church might respond with affirming pastoral care to LGBT people without requiring men and women to renounce the holy vocation to which Jesus calls them in Matrimony. Called at a moment when most seek a leisurely retirement to be dean of Nashotah House, he affirmed its historic mission as an Episcopal Church seminary to train ordinands in academic and formational excellence and its accidental vocation to welcome and train ordinands from separated Anglican churches. When he invited the then Presiding Bishop to visit the campus he was stung by the level of vituperation aimed at him by traditionalists to whom that which divides is all important. Not for Bishop Salmon. He believed that all that was important was the relationships we enjoy together because Jesus came, died, rose and lives for us. How we respond to such love is often inconsistent, messy, self-serving and even hypocritical. Yet in our response there is to be discovered relationships in themselves godly and redeeming.

 

I was privileged to be included among the “outer family”during his last years, to be welcomed and to share in his last battle. It is tragic that in the divisions that beset us, the unity of Ed. Salmon’s vision is dragged out of focus by being appropriated by factions. He didn’t join factions. He wasn’t an Anglo Catholic or an Evangelical, a progressive or a traditionalist. At heart he remained a mere Episcopalian, what might be called a Southern Catholic. His religion was developed and defined by Scripture – he loved the Gospel stories -and the Prayer Book. He loved his family, his dogs, his house and his routine. He loved to be on the road amassing friends and encouraging relationships. He was the last Edwardian. I miss him. May he rest in peace.

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