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Saint Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church

An Episcopal Church in the Anglo-Catholic Tradition Where All Are Welcome

At the Solemn Requiem Mass for the Repose of the Soul of William Lon Farris
February 24, 2024

O God, whose mercies cannot be numbered: Accept our prayers on behalf of thy servant William, and grant him an entrance into the land of light and joy, in the fellowship of thy saints; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, on God, now and for ever. Amen.

Lamentations 3:22-26, 31-33
2 Corinthians 4:16-5:9
John 6:37-40

Bill was among the first people I met when I came to Saint Ignatius in the fall of 2007. Right away he made the lovely connection that he and Carol had been married at Calvary Church, Gramercy Park, which had been my parish when I was in high school and college, and that had first sponsored me for ordination. It was clear to me from the outset that Bill’s faith and intellect, coupled together as they were, were a force to be reckoned with. He was passionate about Scripture and Christian thought. He knew the Bible much better than I did, and, having read very widely, he also possessed a profound understanding of theology. I was also aware that my theological perspective and his were not always in agreement. Indeed, I remember him walking out of a sermon I preached back in those early days, which put me on my toes and makes preaching this homily a little daunting.

“Great is thy faithfulness,” we read in Lamentations, and Bill’s faith – and great it was – was always an inspiration to me. During the worst of the Pandemic in that spring and summer of 2020, each morning a group of parishioners shared with each other a written reflection on that day’s Daily Office readings. Everyone in the group took their turn. It wasn’t meant to be a critical reading, an exegesis, or a sermon. It was what it was: one person’s reaction that day, in the midst of a worldwide crisis, to the Word of God in Scripture. How is God speaking to me in this moment? Writing these reflections was, I saw, truly an exercise in vulnerability, putting yourself out there, opening yourself to the judgement of your friends, especially in a community like Saint Ignatius where you can’t throw Hymnal without hitting someone with a Ph.D. Quite purposefully, I stayed out of these discussions. I wanted parishioners to feel free to express themselves without worrying about the possibility of clerical scrutiny. I do know, however, how meaningful everyone who participated found it. I also knew Bill was a part of this group, but it was only in the last few weeks that I saw anything he wrote, when Holly Hughes shared with me a few of his reflections.

I was blown away; not by his erudition – I expected that – but by the profound and intimate expression of faith that Bill openly shared with his brothers and sisters in Christ. With great openness, and bringing to bear his keen intellect, he reflected on God’s Word, and unhesitatingly expressed his confidence in the Resurrection Life I knew he professed. Not only this, but he did it with humour and a light touch that brought his meditations to life, making them accessible to everyone who read them. Bill would have made an extraordinary preacher. I believe, however, that his witness was even more powerful as a lay person, testifying that ministers of Christ are forged in Baptism, not ordination. It is hard to be openly Christian in our world today. Bill did it with unapologetic good grace.

Bill saw that the Resurrection and the gift of Easter, which he called “our festival of freedom and new life in Christ,” are directly connected to how we conduct our lives in the here and now. He wanted “the world to act like” the Resurrection is “the dawn of the age to come.” He knew, however, that the we don’t. His conclusion was not to despair, but to see this as a challenge, giving us “all the more reason why we have to” see it that way. The problems we find in the world are not obstacles to Christian witness, but calls to action.

In a reflection on Jesus’ saying about the Lilies of the field, “how they grow; they neither toil nor spin,” that he began with a quotation from a P. G. Wodehouse story, he concluded that Jesus’ “striking language is an invitation to dwell under [the reign of God], at least imaginatively.” He continued, Jesus “invites us to grasp that under that reign familiar priorities will be reordered. By pointing to the birds and the lilies he wants us to see that the Kingdom of God is closer than we assume. He anticipates that Kingdom, and he invites us to join him.” Bill captured just how the balance between looking to what comes next, what comes in the Kingdom of God when it is fully realised, and the conduct of our lives in the world is the essence of the Gospel.

Bill knew that God already provides us with the resources to undertake this work in the gift of the Holy Spirit, the “‘Paraclete,’ variously translated,” Bill pointed out, as “Defender, Counsellor, Comforter.” He continued, “I don’t know about you, but to me that sounds like a personal trainer, and there is no reason at all why you can’t think of the Holy Spirit as your personal trainer, summoning you to flourish in your new life as a forgiven sinner, sustained by your growing awareness of and gratitude for everything that God has done for us in Jesus Christ.”

I quote Bill at length, perhaps, giving him the chance to be the preacher at his own requiem. Bill knew that God has acted. God sent Jesus into the world as the Word, Love incarnate to defeat death in his passion and resurrection. Bill knew that God gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit to help us, coach us as we live as ministers of Christ’s Love while we wait for the fulfilment of the Kingdom’s promise. Bill trusted that God in Christ will bring that Kingdom to fruition and that we will share in his Resurrection. It is in Bill’s faith that we can see so clearly – I certainly can – Jesus’ proclamation in the Gospel: “For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

And so, to God the Father, Christ the Son, and to the Holy Ghost the Paraclete, be all honour and glory, from this time forth for ever more. Amen. And may Bill’s soul and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen.

Andrew Charles Blume ✠
New York City
Ember Day, 21 February 2024

© 2024 Andrew Charles Blume