Recalling Greatness: Bishop Judith Craig
So many memories, joyful ones, of Bishop Judith Craig. That laugh — so often laughing at herself. Those hands on your shoulder as she teased or counseled or intermingled the two and you didn’t realize you had been “schooled” until the next afternoon. Those eyes — that voice. That wisdom — cutting through the antics of clergy or lay person who would seek to damage the whole.
I think of her as one always open to delight — she lived with an expectancy of something better. And could she preach and pray — yes, my Lord, she could! Losing dear Judy in this hour in the life of our United Methodist Church is heartrending. I salute you, dear sister and beloved friend. May perpetual light shine on you.
I remember how moved I was when Judy was the first woman to give the episcopal address for the denomination back in 1996. She called for a church that could be bigger than the narrow bigotry that entrapped us. She was unashamedly a champion of full inclusion of our LGBTQ siblings.
At the time (1996), I thought the church would make a transition to a more accepting and courageous witness quickly. I was wrong. It has now been over twenty years of regressive movement. Twenty years of narrow interest caucus groups using the scriptures and our guiding documents as a blunt instrument of exclusion and harm. How can the good news of Jesus have been so disfigured into another kind of news? What hermeneutic can justify this push to separate and move away from one another in a time when the gospel is so relevant to a hurting world?
We seem to have been “trading down” as a denomination for these two decades. Giving away our legacy, our commitment to loving acceptance for all. Open hearts, minds and doors of welcome has been replaced by a move for the withering of the church by exclusion. It is fostered by those who build fences of fear and use the very resources and structures of the church against it. The church has lost a great visionary leader. She was mentored in East Ohio by another great, Bishop James Thomas. They were of an uncommon kind. I see them together — one testimony to our church at its very best. Both were able to stand tall for justice and piety. Neither would sell out for a false sense of peace. I saw both of them stand tall in difficult circumstances. Each possessed a wisdom that would not accept the ill-considered proposal, the seeking of unfair advantage of others, or the mean-spirited tactics of a caucus group.
Judy’s death comes within hours of poet Mary Oliver. Two women, two singular voices. I wonder if they ever met? Let me suggest that Judy offered us the poetry of a life-well-lived and of poetry-in-action. Or, as Mary Oliver might say, Judy “didn’t end up simply visiting the world.” She was indeed “a bride married to amazement.”
I give thanks for the witness, the joy, the friendship of Judith Craig… I now laugh through my tears. I have been touched by greatness and I know her expansive witness will endure and thrive in places we do not yet see, no matter the petty politics of the current United Methodist Church.