Well, last week was certainly an unusual one at St. Nicholas. I was away at Camp Mikell for a week with 100 or so 6th & 7th graders (more on that in another post). A few weeks before I left, I had contacted my friend Ron Davidson to cover for me, which he did last month when I was on vacation. I had gotten rave reviews on Ron, and since he was available and very willing to serve, I called him again.
A little background on Ron and how I know him. Growing up in the Diocese of Georgia, I got to know Ron’s kids, Lee & Diana, at the diocesan camp Honey Creek. Lee, Diana, and I quickly became close friends, co-workers as camp counselors at Honey Creek, and I was honored to be Lee’s best man at his wedding. Diana and I served on the Diocesan Youth Commission and travelled together on a life-changing mission trip to Belize. Over the years, Lee and I have floated in and out of each other’s lives, but last year, we floated back in and like we never missed a beat, reignited our friendship. In fact, it was reconnecting with Lee that helped me discern my call to leave St. Peter’s and begin searching for St. Nicholas. He talked me through a lot of thoughts during that time. Nowadays, Lee and I get together on a regular basis for dinner and a movie since he only lives an hour or so away.
Anyway, back to Ron…Ron had spent the last 3 years serving as interim at St. Anne’s in Tifton. He had recently ended his time there, as they had called their new rector, another good friend of mine, Lonnie Lacy. I was looking for a supply priest for a few dates this summer, and Lee suggested his dad.
The last few conversations I had with Ron were simply wonderful. He wanted to know all about St. Nicholas and was so happy to be asked to supply. Of course, he came and served well in June and was planning to be there on Sunday.
However, as he and his wonderful wife Zibi were about to leave to drive to Hamilton, he breathed his last, suddenly and unexpectedly. Zibi told me that her first thought was to contact St. Nicholas. She first called Ron’s best friend and priest Bill Stewart, who made the call for her.
Luckily, folks at St. Nicholas scrambled and pulled off a successful service of Morning Prayer, thanks to the combined leadership of Gene Demonet, Connie Blackmon, Bill Hogg, and Mabry Collins.
I found out about Ron’s death that afternoon as I checked my e-mail from Gene. My heart broke.
I had only a few conversations with Ron in my life, but all were warm and meaningful. I was also a little scared of him, not because he was scary, but because I respected him so much. He was the kind of guy you wanted to be on your side, and I knew that he was on mine. He was warm and funny, intelligent and caring. When I see him in my mind, I see his fuzzy beard with that smile behind it.
The worst part about having a supply priest for me is that I don’t get to be there to hear their sermons. Ron and I had talked about that a few weeks ago. I really wanted to be there to hear him preach, even more so now.
Molly, the kids, and I left Camp Mikell early to come back for Ron’s funeral on Wednesday in Albany, which is where Ron and Zibi live and also where Ron first served out of seminary. The service was a true celebration. Usually, the Bishop presides over a funeral of a priest, but with General Convention going on in California, it wasn’t possible for him to come back. So Bill Stewart preached a touching sermon and celebrated a beautiful Eucharist and invited Lonnie and me to preside with him, which was an unbelievable honor. Ron was active in the Cursillo community, so the music and spirit of the service was wonderfully jubilant and sincere. We all cried as we sang loudly, “And I will raise them up, and I will raise them up, and I will RAISE them up on the last day!” It was a moving liturgy.
Now as I reflect on Ron’s death, I think about what it means to me. A few of us in my group of friends who were gathered at the funeral talked about how Ron’s death signals a significant shift in our lives. We’re all in our 30s now, we have careers and children. And now we lean on each other as we mourn the loss of our friends’ parents. It’s a new place for us, and one that is difficult, but full of grace as we take the lessons and examples that Ron gifted to us, and continue the mission of God like he did.
Thank you, God, for Ron Davidson. Thank you for the many gifts Ron gave–his love, his example, his wonderful family, and his service to the Church.