Saturday, February 24, 2018

Saturday Haiku: Evening Rain

steady bridge
secures safe passage
sudden rain

Image: Evening Rain at Atake on the Great Bridge (Ōhashi Atake no yūdachi), no. 52
            from the series One Hundred Views of Famous Places in Edo (Meisho Edo hyakkei)
Artist: Utagawa Hiroshige
Date: Ninth month of 1857 (series published 1856-1858)
Media: Color Woodcut With Mica


Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Remembering a Remarkable Life

The Rev. Canon William Maurice Branscomb, Jr., at his 90th birthday celebration with longtime parishioner Frances Hinckell, also 90, at Grace Church Woodlawn, Birmingham, Alabama, where he was rector for many years. A parishioner writes, “Grace is what it is because of his leadership.” 
(From The Daily Office, Asia-Pacific, New Zealand, photo by Elizabeth Anderson)

My Memories of Maurice Branscomb

The life of the Reverend Canon Maurice Branscomb, or as most of us called him, “Father B,” was celebrated at Grace Episcopal Church where his funeral Mass took place on January 20. “A most remarkable man,” “one who stood with dignity,” “a priest whose concern for the poor arose from his prayer life,” were some of the comments heard during the service. At 92 years of age, his had been a life of joyful service that had touched many. He was an anomaly to some: a strong advocate for high Anglo-Catholic liturgy, he also had an undying motivation to reach out to the poor and the outcast. As I told one of my friends, “Even now, just remembering Father B inspires me to keep trying.”

That First Encounter

I will never forget my first encounter with Maurice Branscomb back in 1984. I was at a pivotal point in my life. At 29 years of age, I was a Baptist seminary graduate having spent two years on the mission field and involved in hospital chaplaincy, yet I found myself inwardly driven to break away from my Baptist moorings. Even in seminary, my church history studies had peaked my interest in the Catholic Church, and while serving overseas one of my friends was an Anglican priest who had converted from the Baptist faith.

I was considering a move toward what I was seeing as a more historic expression of the Christian faith and had spoken with a few people about my search. One Baptist pastor suggested I go find Maurice Branscomb and see what he was doing on Birmingham’s Southside. An Episcopal chaplain on another occasion had suggested the same thing, “Go see what Father Branscomb is doing at St. Andrew’s and see what you think.”

I had called ahead to arrange a visit. Father Branscomb welcomed me into St. Joseph's House, the parish house that is adjacent to St. Andrew’s Church. Dressed simply in a blue work shirt and slacks, his open countenance was warm and inviting. I had told him that I was interested in exploring the Episcopal Church. He was interested in hearing about my own journey. As I sat with him telling him my story, I could not recall a time when I had been listened to so deeply and fully.

A Rich Expression of Faith

Father B then told me a few things about his church. He picked up a 1979 Book of Common Prayer and showed me how to navigate it. He pointed out some of the founding documents included therein. “These documents show you our history and how we got to where we are now. They are not necessarily things that everyone has to believe to be part of our church, but they give you an idea of who we are.” He pointed out that I was coming at an opportune time – it was the beginning of Lent. “You will be able to witness the church’s preparation for Easter, our most defining season!”

During that conversation, he told me about the ministries that were happening there at St. Andrew's. There was the soup kitchen (Community Kitchens) that served lunch Monday-Friday to anyone who walked in. Southside Ministries operated from there to provide food, clothing and other types of emergency relief. St. Andrew's Foundation, founded by Fr. Francis Walter, provided independent living training for adults with developmental disabilities.

He then showed me around the sanctuary at St. Andrew’s, explaining every arrangement of that physical space and invited me to join them on Sunday. My goal was to enter in to the life of the church, to observe it long enough to find out if it was a place for me. He was more than happy to have me sojourn among them for as long as I saw fit.
St. Andrew's Church (photo from Church's website)

A New Paradigm

Thus began what would be for me not just a pivotal moment, but rather a complete paradigm shift and the opening to a new approach to life. I don’t think I had any other formal one-on-one meetings with Father B, but for the next three months I “sat at his feet” at Saturday morning Eucharist, Sunday worship, Stations of the Cross, etc. It was a small congregation, so anyone involved in the life of the parish had close contact with one another. Sometimes I would stop Father B to ask him questions about “why do we do this in the service?” or “what does this or that mean in the liturgy?” I even sat in on the confirmation class he led that spring.

Then he was gone. After 12 years as rector at St. Andrew’s he accepted a call to Holy Communion Parish in Charleston, S.C. I was sad to see him go, but he had ushered me into a happy communion. I would continue to explore the life of faith at St. Andrew’s Church for a few months before officially being confirmed in November of that year. 

I became involved in the life of the church, serving as acolyte at the altar and later singing in the choir. I found gainful and meaningful employment in social services with the St. Andrew’s Foundation, working with adults with developmental disabilities in group homes and supervised apartments. On a daily basis, I witnessed the work of the soup kitchen that Father B had started years before (and which continues to this day). In the meantime, I met the woman who would become my wife right there at St. Andrew’s (at the coffee hour – I remember it like it was yesterday when Vicki and I met). It was a most fulfilling time of life for me.

To my delight, a few years after Maurice Branscomb moved to Charleston, he decided to come back to Birmingham, this time to Grace Church in Woodlawn where he would continue his work of High Anglo-Catholic Liturgy and ministry to the people on the streets. I was deeply involved at St. Andrew’s and felt no urge to go to Grace (though I did visit on occasion to witness Father B in his element). I wrote him upon his return and told him that that it was a joy for me just to know that he was here in town.

Grace Episcopal Church in Woodlawn where Father B continued
his "altar and street" ministries (photo from Church's website)

Final Visits

In 1997, I got word that Father B would be retiring and moving to south Alabama. They had a big celebration for him at Grace. I composed a poem for him on that occasion and presented it to him at the retirement event. It would be another 16 years before I would see him when he returned to St. Andrew’s Church for their 100th anniversary celebration. Three of their former rectors were present to celebrate the occasion. (I told people it was better than when the five Doctors came together on Doctor Who).

I was no longer at St. Andrew’s Church. I had been working in healthcare for a number of years and my family and I were members at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church. I would not have missed the occasion to see Father B again – he would have been in his late eighties by then. I was glad to be there for the centennial service. As I walked out of the church where the three former rectors were greeting the people, I took Father B’s hand. The ageing priest smiled, looked into my eyes and reached out to touch my face, as if to say, “Is that really you?” All I could say was, “After all these years!”

I would not see Father B again. He was in fact living in an assisted living center in south Alabama at the time, though he still took part in priestly duties when he could. When word came in January that he had died, I went back to my files to find the poem I had written 20 years before. Re-reading it, I saw that I could change the first lines and it would be a suitable writing in memorium. I shared it on my blog and with friends who knew Father B. I was glad to have the poem to bring his life to mind, but I was so grateful that I had been able to share those words with Father B himself, while he was still a young 72 year old retiree.

In Remembrance

The Rev. Kent Belmore was the celebrant and homilist at Maurice Branscomb’s funeral. Belmore had been a curate under Father Branscomb at the Church of the Holy Communion in Charleston, S.C. In his homily, he mentioned that Maurice did not talk much about Heaven or dwell on it because living faithfully in the here-and-now was what was important to him. Father Belmore told us that instead talking about Heaven, he wanted to look at the biblical term, resurrection. “The word for resurrection in the Koine Greek literally means ‘to stand with dignity’,” he told us. “Maurice Branscomb was definitely one who stood with dignity in all that he did.” He then asked the congregation to stand for a moment to affirm the reality of standing with dignity as we remembered Maurice Branscomb.

Remembering Maurice Branscomb will continue to inspire me to keep trying. Now I have that sure image of the Christian hope and proclamation that we can and will stand with dignity in the presence of God – and that God’s presence is most surely found in the poor and the outcast as well as at the altar.

Here is the poem I wrote for Father Branscomb upon his retirement and then revised as a memorial to his life:

     In Remembrance of Father Branscomb

All good graces
And light eternal
To the one who has shown great compassion
     in all things.
Your boundless energy
With your endless capacity for caring
     has been a blessing from God.

Many have seen how your compassion
     made the liturgy come alive,
     brought sustenance to the needy,
     created a space for those who would rest
         and a ministry for those who would serve.

A true priest,
     a wellspring of joy
        and a midwife to the soul –
To name but a few traits
Of a servant with no regrets,
Whose magnanimity
Welcomed so many
     (and such a variety)
To the Lord’s Table.

Rest in Peace, Father Maurice Branscomb

~ Charles Kinnaird

And you don't have to take my word for it. You can read a wonderful and insightful article from the local newspaper here.     


Monday, February 19, 2018

Monday Music: Miike Snow--"Sans Soleil" (live)

I discovered this track when it when it was posted by Rob Grano on Mac Horton's blog, Light on Dark Water. According to Rob, this song was featured on an episode of the TV series Justified on the FX Network. The group, Miike Snow is a Swedish group consisting of two Swedish instrumentalists, Bloodshy & Avant, and American vocalist Andrew Wyatt.

Like all songs featured on Monday Music, this sounds much better when you use headphones.

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