I am taking this opportunity to express my profound gratitude to a man of great love, spiritual wisdom, kindness and compassion, the Rev. Dr. Tim Vivian, priest-in-charge of St. Paul's Episcopal here in Bakersfield on this, the time of his retirement after 30 years of serving the people of God.
Ten years ago, there was a schism within the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin when the bishop at that time took the diocese out of the National Episcopal communion due to the issues of ordination of women and LGBT inclusiveness. Within the Episcopal community of Bakersfield, there were a handful of people who agreed with the national church and wanted to remain within that communion. They needed a spiritual leader and Tim Vivian stepped forward and offered his leadership and support.
Starting first in homes with only 12 members and then later meeting in the chapel of the UCC Church, eventually this small group of believers grew large enough to be able to return to their traditional home of St. Paul's on 17th Street. This was the direct result of building a faith community under the leadership of Rev. Vivian where all are welcome.
Today St. Paul's Episcopal is a growing, dynamic parish that is inclusive, diverse, loving and actively engaged in their neighborhood and in the community. We have programs that assist the homeless and dispossessed, we offer free counseling by a licensed counselor, we have outreach programs for immigrants and refugees (including offering our worship space to the Syrian refugee community here in Bakersfield), and we reach out to those who who have hurt or turned away by their home churches especially to those in the LGBT community. On any given Sunday you will find in attendance life long Episcopalians, former Roman Catholics, former LDS, and a wide range of other faith traditions all worshiping in a spirit of truth and love. None of this would have been possible without the the leadership and true Christian love of Rev. Vivian.
On a personal note, when I came to St. Paul's five years ago, my life was adrift and I realized that I needed to find a spiritual home where I could worship in truth and integrity. As a divorced, openly gay, Roman Catholic man in Bakersfield, this was not an easy task. A friend recommended St. Paul's and from the moment I attended a service and then met with Father Tim personally, I knew that at the age of 50, I had at long last found a spiritual home.
Although Rev. Vivian will be leaving us this week, he has, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the teachings of Jesus helped form a church community where all are welcome and will continue to be so. Our bulletin has this statement written by Rev. Vivian: "We welcome as friends everyone, of any race, gender, creed, denomination, political affiliation, or sexual orientation, for all of us 'are one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28).'"
We love you, Tim Vivian, and we will sorely miss you and your dedication to create such a church community. Thank you for your service to all of God's children and for being a living, breathing, loving example of the very best of Jesus' love and compassion.
David Clark is a member of St. Paul's Episcopal and eight-year resident of Bakersfield.