Monday, September 30, 2013

Deposing the Bishop

My friend Alice Sea was really something. She lived to be 99 and had a lot of fun doing it. She was much loved by everyone and a power to be reckoned with in the Episcopal Diocese of California. Not wealthy, not a society woman, not a clergy member, but so charming and so much loved that people really listened to her.

Alice was especially fond of the Franciscan friars and she adored Bishop C. Kilmer Myers. Me, too, and like everybody else, I adored Alice. She and I were besties and we had a lot of fun and shared adventures. This one was the best one of all.

Alice and I used to go to a retreat center every summer, the Bishop's Ranch in Healdsburg, California, for something the Diocese of California put on called The Adult Conference. It was a week long summer camp for grownups, with indoor plumbing and a cocktail hour. I ran the arts and crafts program. Alice was the social center. Every year we had one night when people put on skits and displayed their talents of one kind or another, just for fun, and the year the Episcopal Church decided it was OK to ordain women as priests, Alice decided she was going to go General Convention one better and declare herself to be the first lady bishop of California. This would include firing the sitting bishop, her good friend Kilmer Myers. We had a lot of fun setting it up -- she wore her long purple dress, I made her a paper miter and we used her cane to make a kind of crosier, which I, as her chaplain, carried, preceding her. Someone else went ahead of us carrying a paper thurible, pretending to spread clouds of incense ahead of her as she majestically entered the room.   When we entered, someone read a proclamation, announcing her as first lady bishop and deposing Myers. It was great silly fun.

What we didn't know was that Kilmer Myers was actually at the ranch at the time and got wind of  her plan. Just at the critical minute, he appeared from an anteroom in full episcopal vestments with his real chaplain and real crozier and real incense, and deposed her on the spot. It was hilarious. Couldn't have gone better if we had planned it that way. As a gift, he presented her with a real bishop's miter.

Fast forward a few months. The bishop had to go to NY on business and left instructions for his staff not to change anything while he was gone. As luck would have it, all the Cathedral House locks were about to be changed for whatever reason, and the staff thought it would be fun to also turn his entire office around - move the bookcases and the desk and everything else, as a joke. His real chaplain, Br. John George, one of the Franciscan friars, had an even better idea. He called Alice.

The evening Bishop Myers returned from NY, his chaplain picked him up at the airport and drove him back to Cathedral House, where he lived and had his office. They pulled up in the parking lot and parked in a different spot than usual. The bishop's reserved spot had a new sign taped to it that read "Bishop Sea." What? They went inside and John George told him, "I'll take your luggage to your room. You go ahead to your office and check your mail."

When the bishop got to his office, he found his key didn't work. That couldn't be right! He fumbled around with it for a minute, and noticed there was an envelope taped to the door, addressed to "Mr. Myers". He removed it and as he was opening it, the office door opened and the "secretary" greeted him. Not his real secretary, Binnie, but a young man! "Oh, hello, Mr. Myers. Would you like to see the bishop?"

He was totally disoriented by then and nodded agreeably, wondering just what had happened in his absence. What he knew and we didn't, was that he was having real problems with the powers that be in the diocese and wasn't at all sure these sudden changes weren't real.

When he entered the totally re-arranged office, he found Alice in her purple dress, wearing the lovely white miter he had given her, her family pictures on the desk and his gone, the air perfumed with her favorite fragrance, and me beside her in a cassock, holding her "crozier." The phone rang and it was the diocesan officer, also a good friend, calling to congratulate her.

What could he do? It was a clear coup. He walked over to her, went down on one knee and kissed her ring.

All the while, our parish priest, whose best friend was playing the secretary role, was quaking in the drapes -- he wasn't sure if he would still have a job after this, but of course he did.

The letter that had been on the door informed him that he had been replaced and his new office could be found in the cathedral undercroft, to the left of the stairway. (in the men's room...)

We all laughed until we cried, Bishop Myers as loudly and freely as anyone, in great relief that it had all been a joke. Truly a night to remember. We all had a drink of very good scotch.

I miss those two a lot.

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