Siblings in Christ – fellow friends in Chet – on behalf of a grateful diocese, I offer blessings and thanks to the Program Group on Black Ministry and the H. Belfield Hannibal Union of Black Episcopalians for getting Chet and April back to the Cathedral, for getting Canon Dr. Chas Cheatham back out of Atlanta, and for all the ways both organizations have been lifting up ministry to people of African descent in our diocese – especially our historic Black churches, St. Philip’s Los Angeles, born when an earlier iteration of this very St. John’s said no to Black people, and St. Barnabas in Pasadena, organized after nearby All Saints also said no.

As a weekly visitor to our missions and parishes I try to be careful to say that I don’t confirm or receive people. The sacraments are not the work of human hands, no matter how heavily our hands may lay atop human heads. I always say that we preside as God does the work. Baptism, confirmation, ordination, and consecration – these surely are the works not of people but of the Holy Spirit. But not this afternoon. Today I proudly proclaim that Chester Lovelle Talton ordained me as a priest and confirmed my daughters, Lindsay and Valerie. 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.” Notice the classic Anglican both-and formulations – kind and just, pastor and prophet, gentle and strong.

They take us back to his consecration day in January 1991. I wasn’t there, but I read about it in “The Episcopal News.” We needed room for 3,000 people, so we borrowed the Congregational church in Pasadena. Mayor Tom Bradley of Los Angeles was there. Forty people from St. Augustine’s in Oakland, where Chet had served. A hundred came all the way from historic St. Philip’s in Harlem, where he’d served. And Bishop Barbara Harris of Massachusetts, The Episcopal Church’s latest official saint, was the preacher.

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.

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.

— My opening remarks Saturday afternoon at St. John’s Cathedral at a celebration of the ministry of the Rt. Rev. Chet Talton, former bishop provisional of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin and bishop suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. The Rev. Vanessa Mackenzie and the Rev. Lester Mackenzie were celebrant and preacher. The Rev. Margaret Hudley McCauley and the Rev. Stephen Bentley served as deacons. Under Canon Cheatham’s direction, the Episcopal Chorale raised the roof. Special thanks to the Rev. Guy Leemhuis and Canon Suzanne Edwards-Acton for envisioning and executing a glorious celebration, which included, at a festive reception after the service, two types of gumbo with peach cobbler and ice cream.