Episcopalians are party people. At least that's the impression I got growing up in Redmond, part of the Diocese of Eastern Oregon, which takes up two-thirds of the eastern side of the state of Oregon.
That impression came from the frequent gatherings of their church friends that my parents convened at our home. Now I know that might conjure visions of polite ladies in white gloves sitting primly in straight-backed chairs sipping tea, but, let me tell you, these were anything but.
Rusty at our wedding reception.
Wine flowed, plates of food were passed, loud arguments (but not angry—it was the 60s, after all) erupted and much laughter was heard from my hiding spot at the bottom of the stairs, where I would crack the door, the better to eavesdrop on the adults' conversations. Always at the center was Rusty, known to the rest of the world as the Reverend (and eventually Bishop) Rustin R. Kimsey, and his wife, Gretchen.
St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Redmond was his first assignment, and though he would go on to pastor churches in Baker City and The Dalles, Rusty—not Father Kimsey, Rev. Kimsey or any other honorifics, just call him Rusty, if you don't mind—was always challenging his own and other's beliefs.
Rusty and Gretchen.
In a piece in the Bend Bulletin from January 7, 1967, titled "The Servant Church," the young rector asked, "What is the role or purpose of the Church in society?
"Jesus’ primary mission his life was to serve mankind….There are times when the Church neglects this basic calling to serve mankind. Too often Christianity becomes a comfortably institutional bureaucracy and neglects its service to others. Too often the Church becomes so mindful of the 'housekeeping' within that it forgets the deep needs of those outside its doors….It is most evident that the roads of peace and brotherhood must still be paved with compassion, understanding, justice and, most of all, love."
The chapel at Cove.
His questioning was reflected in his passion for the small Episcopal summer camp in Cove, in far Eastern Oregon, where the children of the diocese spent glorious days swimming in the local geothermal pool and going on trail rides in the hills. Amid the rolling green cattle pastures of that valley he invited some of the most controversial voices of the Episcopal church of the day to its sprawling lawn, including James Pike, Bishop of California, who in the early 1960s was a proponent of ordination of women, racial desegregation, and the acceptance of LGBT people within mainline churches, who narrowly avoided being branded a heretic. These family retreats also featured the theologian Bishop John Shelby Spong and anti-apartheid activist and eventual Nobel Prize-winner, and Rusty's close friend, Bishop Desmond Tutu.
Years later Rusty would officiate at our wedding, unconcerned about the fact that we were, as the quaint turn of phrase at the time had it, "living in sin" or that we had, in another dated phrase, a "mixed marriage," i.e. Episcopalian/Catholic. And despite our mostly non-churchgoing ways, he was always there when we needed him, to baptise our son or to perform the funeral services when my parents died.
An influential figure nationally, willing to speak out on issues and question entrenched beliefs, he was also a great friend and mentor, always ready to gather you in his arms for a hug. He died in his home in The Dalles on the evening of April 10, 2015.
Top photo: Rusty (right, in shirtsleeves) leaning in to make a point with Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey and Bishop John Chien of Taiwan in 1992. Episcopal News Service photo by Bob Stockfield.