Born in Claremont, raised outside any tradition of faith, the Rev. Dr. Karri Backer, when she was in early twenties, worked in a coffee house in Rancho Cucamonga and had lots of friends who tried to persuade her to give herself to Jesus Christ. But she resisted until she studied religion at UCLA, was assigned to read the Bible as literature, and experienced, instead of Christian doctrine, the actual life, words, and actions of Jesus of Nazareth and his model of self-sacrifice ministry.

That did the trick. Now her life took on the shape of Christ. After college she joined the St. Joseph Center in Venice, working with the housing and food insecure. At St Augustine by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Santa Monica, the Rev. Canon Hartshorn Murphy, then the rector, helped her understand the Christian’s true work in the world. She was ordained a priest in 2012. Her doctorate in practical theology and spiritual formation in helped broaden her ministry as a counselor and therapist. She’s also been a head of school.

All those gifts and more enliven her work at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Riverside these last few years, where I was blessed to preside and preach this morning and afternoon at her celebration of installation as vicar. Friends from all over the diocese came along, including the Rev. Michael S. Bell and the Rev. George Daisa, members of her clergy support group. Kim Ericson, coming to the end of seven epic years as bishop’s warden, ran the audio and livestream; Kim’s spouse, Shelby, was crucifer and eucharistic minister.

Thirty years at St. George’s, director of music ministries Dr. Virginia Haisten led the choir, spectacular as always. I boggled at the Taylor guitars deployed by Katie Larsen, Kris Moore, and Joe Ochoa. Diane David was minister of ceremonies for a beautifully designed and executed liturgy. Rose Versace led the prayers and co-commanded the team that offered us a magnificent lunch of Mediterranean cuisine after the service.

With all that, everyone was in agreement that, besides Karri and her family, receiving the most favor from God most high were fifth and first graders Sadie and Lily Blandin, appearing in their first service as candle bearers. You would not have known it was their first. You would have thought it was they who trained the chapel teams at Washington National Cathedral. Their mother and grandmother, Shelli and Teresa, watched proudly. What a strong, brave family — just like St. George’s, a lively mission church with a deep devotion to spiritual practice and interfaith ministry. The Holy Spirit has done something wonderful bringing them and their new vicar together. “Sing to the Lord a new song,” was the psalm 96 antiphon, led by cantor Tripp Doepner. Indeed St. George’s will.