Bishop John Harvey Taylor, assisted by Canon Bob Williams, presents a certificate of appreciation to Bishop Chet Talton. Photos: Janet Kawamoto

[The Episcopal News] Retired Bishop Suffragan Chet Talton drew sustained cheers and applause when addressing several hundred Episcopalians from the dioceses of Los Angeles and San Joaquin, saying, “today I feel loved by The Episcopal Church.”

Talton’s life and ministry were celebrated with a special May 18 service at St. John’s Cathedral, sponsored by the Program Group on Black Ministries and the H. Belfield Hannibal Chapter of the Union of Black Episcopalians.

Talton, 82, who was consecrated Los Angeles’s first Black bishop suffragan in 1991, told the gathering: “When I was a young man and I had decided to become a priest, I told one of two black priests in our diocese in California that I was going to do that. He said, ‘Don’t do it. The Episcopal Church will not love you the same way you love The Episcopal Church.’

“Well, today, I feel loved by The Episcopal Church.”

After retiring in 2010 in Los Angeles, Talton served as the first Black bishop provisional in the Diocese of San Joaquin, from 2011 to 2014, when he returned to the Southland and for a time served as an assisting bishop.

Multiple emotional tributes and glowing accolades included remembrances of Talton’s commitment to building beloved community and racial reconciliation, as well as excerpts from Race and Prayer, co-edited in 2003 by Talton and the late Rev. Canon Malcolm Boyd, former diocesan poet-in-residence, who died in 2015.

Canon Suzanne Edwards-Acton and Victoria Baskervill Fussell read a prayer written by Talton.

Canon Suzanne Edwards Acton, an organizer of the event and co-chair of the diocesan Program Group on Black Ministries, along with her cousin Victoria Baskervill Fussell, read Talton’s prayer about the Rev. Lewis Baskervill, who was vicar of St. Augustine’s Church in Oakland, California, where Talton grew up. “He made me centered in something larger than myself; he gave me regard for myself. A Black man, he made me want to be like him. I want to help people the way he helped me,” Talton had written. “That is what I will do. I will be like him. Lord, help me to be like him.”

Edwards Acton cited the African tradition of calling in ancestors: “One of the things we always do is, we call our ancestors to be with us for our services. This is a special and important thing for me. We wanted to bring Lewis here with us, because he was an extremely important person to Chet.” Baskervill was Edwards Acton’s great uncle and her cousin Victoria’s grandfather.

Baskervill Fussell later presented Talton with a proclamation on behalf of St. Augustine’s, stating in part: “We, the people of St. Augustine proudly proclaim Bishop Chester Talton as one of our own, and hope that he proudly claims us as one of his own. He will always be a ‘Baskervill Boy’, chosen by God and Fr. Baskervill to serve the church.” Talton had taken up the torch passed by Baskervill, according to the proclamation, “and run an amazing race, opening doors, and passing the torch much further down the path. The people of St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church say thank you and Amen, and on behalf of my grandfather; … job well done.”

Bishop John Harvey Taylor welcomes the congregation, expressing his gratitude to Talton for having ordained him to the priesthood in 2004.

Bishop John Harvey Taylor welcomed the gathering and thanked Talton, “on behalf of a grateful diocese” citing the ministries of the diocesan Program Group on Black Ministries and the H. Belfield Hannibal chapter of the Union of Black Episcopalians, in creating opportunities for bringing people together and lifting up the ministries of those of African descent and of historically Black congregations, including St. Barnabas, Pasadena, and St. Philip’s, Los Angeles.

“Today I proudly proclaim that Chester Lovelle Talton ordained me as a priest and confirmed my daughters, Lindsay and Valerie,” Taylor said. “When it was time for God to do this work in our lives, God sent Bishop Talton, and our family won’t ever stop talking about it.

And we’re not the only ones. When you mention Chet’s name in churches all over the diocese, the reaction is the same. Whomever you’re talking to, their face softens, their smile widens, and they say, ‘I know Bishop Talton. So kind; and so devoted to justice. Such a great pastor; and a true prophet. So gentle; and so strong.’”

Taylor recalled reading about Talton’s consecration in January 1991: “We needed room for 3,000 people, so we borrowed the Congregational church in Pasadena. Mayor Tom Bradley of Los Angeles was there,” along with people from St. Augustine’s Church in Oakland, where Talton had served as rector. “A hundred came all the way from historic St. Philip’s in Harlem, where he’d served.”

Massachusetts Bishop Suffragan Barbara Harris, The Episcopal Church’s first woman bishop, was preacher that day. “This was just nine days after the launch of Desert Storm in Iraq. The thunder of war echoed in everyone’s ears. Bishop Harris told the great congregation that being a bishop in that time was “surely being called to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land.” And surely this land has grown stranger and the world even more perilous. But the Lord’s song is just as sweet as it’s ever been.

“The lyrics are unchanged: “Love and justice; reconciliation and peace.” And when the world tries to rip us apart, to make us enemies and strangers to one another, certain people come in the name of Christ. Truth tellers and bridge builders. Leaders like Bishop Talton who are kind and just, pastor and prophet, gentle and strong.”

Guy Leemhuis reads several of Talton’s contributions to the book “Race & Prayer.”

“So this isn’t a retrospective. This is us reminding ourselves of who we are at our best, embodied in one great bishop. This is us resolving to lead as he has led, so that we might yet do all we can to save this country and this creation.” (Taylor’s remarks may be read on the Bishop’s Blog.)

The Rev. Guy Leemhuis offered greetings from the UBE family and called for a “new normal” of celebrating people “just because” and not waiting until they have passed on to honor them. He invited contributions over the summer for a “Love Book” being compiled of memories of Talton and tributes shared by those who were unable to be present for the celebration.”

Former Los Angeles Bishop Suffragan Diane Jardine Bruce, now serving as West Missouri bishop provisional, sent greetings and gratitude via a letter read to the congregation by Edwards Acton: “I send love and many, many thanks to you, Bishop Talton. Your years of excellent service as a bishop suffragan was my guidepost in stepping into that role after you. I had big shoes to fill. Thank you, Bishop Talton for the love and care you have shown for so many … You are a great bishop, and you are loved much.”

The Episcopal Chorale, directed by Canon Chas Cheatham, performed music for the service, including an original song, “Just Chet,” created especially for Talton and his wife, April Talton.

Lester Mackenzie preaches at the service honoring Bishop Chet Talton.

The Scripture lessons for the day were incorporated from Talton’s 1991 consecration service, noted the Rev. Lester Mackenzie, rector of St. Mary’s Church in Laguna Beach, who served as preacher. “We see how his life has been steeped in scripture,” Mackenzie said. “Isaiah (61:1-8) speaks to us of a mission filled with hope and transformation. Bishop Chet lived out this prophetic call, bringing good news to those on the margins. This leadership about guidance and embodying love and the compassion of Jesus.”

Talton, he said, “shows us what it means to be a true servant, always seeing and acknowledging the humanity in others.” The second lesson, from 1 Peter 1:16-21, “reminds us of the authenticity of our faith,” he added. And Talton’s ministry testifies to the living gospel (Matthew 17:1-9), “a truth he witnessed and shared with unwavering integrity.”

The Rev. Vanessa Mackenzie who served as officiant, shared how a chance meeting with Talton changed the course of her life, leading her from South Africa to become rector of the Church of the Advent in Los Angeles. “He said to me, ‘There is a parish in the Diocese of Los Angeles waiting for you.’” Mackenzie said it took some persuasion but eventually she answered the call.

Vanessa Mackenzie was celebrant for the service honoring Talton.

Taylor presented Talton with a certificate thanking him for faithful ministry and for bringing “the mission and love of God and Christ to life” and providing “faithful and compassionate leadership to the Diocese of San Joaquin in contentious times.”

The Rev. Canon Kate Cullinane, who served as Canon to the Ordinary with Talton in the San Joaquin diocese, shared with the gathering that one of Talton’s greatest gifts “is his ability to be present to you, his ability to meet you in the parking lot, or to meet you in his office, and you have 100 percent of his attention. And you feel special.

“His gift of presence and listening and attention was exactly what the people of San Joaquin needed at that moment. They were torn apart as a diocese with a lot of hurt, and he was the gift that God gave them in those years.”

Also, San Joaquin deacon the Rev. Stephen Bentley said that although he grew up in the Los Angeles diocese, he really got to know Talton during his tenure as provisional bishop.

“I was – we were – beginning to heal,” said a visibly moved Bentley. “He was a very calming, warm, caring presence. He helped me to get through the process to become a deacon. I am fortunate to be in the first Black person in the Diocese of San Joaquin that he ordained. There were others and they had transferred from other places, but I was the first to be ordained in the diocese. So, I needed to be here to celebrate you and to honor what you have given to me.”

Talton, born in El Dorado, Arkansas, was ordained a deacon in 1970 and to the priesthood in February 1971 in the Diocese of California. He earned a bachelor’s degree from California State University at Hayward in 1965 and an M.Div. and D.D. from CDSP in Berkeley.

A longtime member of the UBE, he has also served as rector of the historic St. Philip’s Church in Harlem, New York (1985-1990); as mission officer at Trinity Church Wall Street (1981-1985); rector of St. Philip’s Church in St. Paul, Minnesota (1976-1981); vicar, Holy Cross Church in Chicago, Illinois (1973-1976); vicar of St. Matthias Mission and curate, All Saints Church in Carmel, California (1971-1973) and vicar of Good Shepherd Church, Berkeley (1970-1971).

A seafood gumbo and peach cobbler meal followed the celebration.