Grace Cathedral

Grace Cathedral

Article | November 3, 2023

Sermon: Election of the Bishop

Blog|The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm Clemens Young

Watch the sermon on YouTube.

“Those who trust in [the Lord] will understand truth, and the faithful will abide with him in love…” (Wisdom 3).

At the Bishop’s Ranch for my first clergy retreat I remember the late afternoon heat and that September smell of dust, chaparral and Bay Tree (with a hint of campfire smoke). I knew hardly anyone there as I walked up the Ranch House driveway. The first person to greet me was sixty-eight year old David Forbes. He was fit and trim, wearing a t-shirt and short cut-off jeans. He called me by name. He knew that I had graduated from Cal, that I played rugby there and that we were the national champions.

In those days everyone confused me for Bruce O’Neill and for what seems like years David was the only senior clergy person other than the bishop who actually knew my name. David had grown up in San Francisco. He served here for years as we finished constructing this building’s four walls and as the modern cathedral came into being.

David was involved in building the back half of the Cathedral, installing the human endeavor windows in the clerestory, the East lancet windows and the rose window. He was intimately involved in choosing vestments that we still use, making this granite and redwood altar at the center of the crossing, the governance structures of the cathedral and even the design of our worship services. It was his idea to engrave on our pulpit “In the Beginning” in Hebrew, Latin and Greek.

David founded the Cathedral School for Boys (1961) and St. Paul’s School in Oakland (1965), and later the National Association of Episcopal Schools. He helped me a great deal twenty years ago when our church started our own school in the South Bay. When I joined Grace Cathedral, David served as a chaplain to our staff and especially to me. The two of us would have monthly lunches on Polk Street. Sometimes we would drive around town and he would describe his childhood memories of different neighborhoods.

Although David died in April 2022, I think of him nearly every day when I bike past the restaurant where we used to talk. As we celebrate All Souls Day together we remember the people who have died but who seem almost tangibly near to us. David was the most

youthful person in his nineties who you will ever meet. He loved new beginnings. He was always oriented toward the future and cared passionately about the Cathedral.

I want to talk briefly about the message David would share with us. We served together on the board for the Cathedral School for Boys almost to his death. David was active on the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion taskforce. For him the purpose of the school is to give students from disadvantaged backgrounds a chance. As a gay man and a passionate advocate for justice David would be alarmed by our national politics. He would insist that Grace Cathedral more eloquently speak out on behalf of the dignity of all LGBTQ+ people.

Today we are not just celebrating All Souls Day, we are also welcoming our three candidates (with their spouses) who will be in the election for a new bishop on December 2. You may be wondering what David would have to say more specifically in this setting. And I would be too if it were not for a surprise gift I received.

A month ago the Postal Service delivered to my office an old weathered manila envelope with David’s handwriting on the outside. David didn’t use notes when he preached, but this folder contained five typewritten manuscripts for sermons preached at Grace Cathedral in the 1950’s. It also included a stole that his daughter said was given to him by his parents at his ordination here at Grace Cathedral.

The first sentence of his sermon on February 2nd 1958 begins with these words. “Churchmen throughout our Diocese will all testify, I believe, that the topic of the moment is the coming election of the Bishop, who… will succeed Bishop Block.”1 The whole sermon is about the 1958 bishop election! Let me share with you three things I especially noticed.

First, the sermon addresses a pervasive sense of worry in the Diocese. Up until that point there had only been four diocesan bishops in the history of the whole diocese. In previous cases the new bishop had for all practical purposes been chosen before the balloting. To make matters worse the newspapers were carrying quotes from different candidates. David uses words like perplexity, confusion, disillusionment, smear, inuendo. And phrases like, “battle royale,” and, “less than Christian tactics.” Reading the sermon made me feel so grateful for the civility and graciousness that I have been experiencing through our process.

Second, the sermon points out just what high expectations we have for bishops. A bishop must have the “purest and noblest motives” and spend much time in prayer. The bishop should have the tongue of Chrysostom to stir people to action. The bishop

should have color and personality to show the relevance and power of the gospel. This person should have breadth of vision to solve vexing problems and be a capable administrator in managing a “financial empire.” David points out that of course the clergy above all want a sympathetic and discerning pastor. In my experience I do not think this has changed. We still want to be seen for who we are and helped when we feel defeated.

Finally, after considering who we are looking for, David asks us to look at ourselves, that is the ones who are doing the looking. He reminds us that we are fallible and sinful people, that we are liable to error and then to persist in it. The church forgives us from sin but cannot completely stop us from sinning. For this reason we have to depend on the Holy Spirit.

“Those who trust in [the Lord] will understand truth, and the faithful will abide with him in love…” (Wisdom 3). On this day when we remember friends and family members who we love and who have died, I pray that their words will come easily to you, if not by postal service as in my case, then through the theater of your memory. I pray that they will feel so tangibly near that you will hear them call you by name.

No one knows for sure what happens when you die. But when I think of seeing David again I always imagine the two of us greeting each other at the Ranch House, walking down the grape arbor to the swimming pool on a warm fall day. There is so much that I would want to share with him. His childlike embrace of new beginnings would make him love what we are doing today. He would want to know all about our candidates for bishop and the upcoming election. He would laugh at how much and how little has changed.

David finishes that sermon from 1958 with these words, “God does have a purpose for this diocese. It is a simple one, although its execution is not so easy. The purpose is to have us grow in zeal and effectiveness, witness powerfully to the love of God for all [people]… Yes, God is with us now and will be with us at Convention… let us ask that He guide us to a knowledge of His will and that he give us the courage to stand for it. May God grant us wisdom and understanding, faithfulness and charity.”

1 David Forbes, “Sermon Preached in Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, February 2, 1958 (Prior to the Election of the Bishop Coadjutor).”

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