Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Rector's Monday Message: October 10, 2011

Fredrica Harris Thompsett Returns to CCC This Weekend

My longtime friend and colleague, the theologian Fredrica Harris Thompsett, returns to CCC, the parish where she grew up, this weekend to lead a Saturday workshop on Baptism, a Sunday forum on theology, and to preach at three weekend services: 5 p.m. Saturday, 8 and 10 a.m. Sunday. The Saturday workshop runs from 10 to 2, the Sunday morning forum is at 9 a.m.

Fredrica Harris Thompsett recently retired as Mary Wolfe Professor of Historical Theology at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Before moving to EDS, Fredrica was Director of the national church's Board for Theological Education. Prior to that she taught Church History at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, the school I served as Dean later on. Fredrica is well known as an author, educator, speaker, and leader in Episcopal Church affairs. She currently serves on the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church.

I asked her to come this weekend for several reasons: first, her new book (Born of Water, Born of Spirit) is a lively and accessible reflection on the sacrament of Baptism and how it shapes and empowers all our ministries. Second, her classic text from the 1980s, We Are Theologians, has helped several generations of church leaders claim their authority to think independently and collaboratively about theological issues. I taught Anglican Studies at three seminaries, and We Are Theologians was consistently evaluated as the students' favorite book of all the classroom texts I used. So a large part of my wanting Fredrica here has to do with how her life and her thought can help us at Christ Church engage and deepen our own ministries.

But there is another reason for Fredrica's visit here. She grew up at Christ Church Cranbrook, arriving at age 6 and leaving when she went to college. During that time her whole family was involved in all aspects of parish life. Her parents were active in St. Dunstan's Theater. Her father advised rector Bob DeWitt on legal matters. Her mother taught Sunday School. But it was the mentor relationship forged with Diantha Higgins, CCC's legendary Director of Religious Education, that helped Fredrica articulate and pursue her lifetime career path as a lay woman theologian in an era when most American theologians were ordained men.

This is what Fredrica says about Diantha Higgins:

Basically she, an adult, took an interest in me as a child, cared about what I was thinking and experiencing. I asked Diantha questions about the parish about why we did this or that. I remember her as "more patient" than my parents, warm, funny, and always glad to see me. As far as I was concerned Diantha "ran" the church. I, on my part, always looked for her each Sunday (even the "long Sundays" when we had Communion). Throughout high school, and even into college days, I would also "check in" with Diantha, which was not hard as she was a close friend of my mother. She always encouraged my interest in teaching from the get go.

I first met Fredrica in the late 1970s when she came home for a visit and I was on the staff here. Because of our continuing collaborative interests in theological education and social justice issue, we have developed a strong professional and personal friendship. I have learned a lot through collaborating with Fredrica. She has helped me come to understand the church and ministry in more dynamic and creative ways than before. And because she loves this parish as I do, she is the perfect guide to help lead us on the next steps of our journey together.

Please join me in welcoming Fredrica Harris Thompsett back to Christ Church Cranbrook this weekend. And please join us for conversation on Saturday and Sunday. Copies of both Born of Water, Born of Spirit and We Are Theologians will be available for purchase. Our weekend with Fredrica will be both a reunion and an initiation into a new vision of how we together can be the church.

Gary Hall

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