Rest in Peace: Rise in Glory

The Rev. Alison Cheek, the first female priest to publicly celebrate the Eucharist in the Episcopal Church, died September 1, aged 92.

Born near Adelaide, Australia, she moved to the Washington, D.C. area with her husband in 1957. After serving as a lay minister at several churches in the D.C. region, she became one of the first women to graduate from Virginia Theological Seminary. She was ordained as a deacon in 1972, and while on a retreat, Cheek said she heard God saying to her, “I want you to be my priest.” She said later, “It was a powerful experience. It’s why I never thought of giving up.”

Two years later, Cheek was one of the Philadelphia Eleven, ordained at the Church of the Advocate on July 29, 1974, two years before the Episcopal Church authorized the ordination of women to the priesthood. She celebrated the Eucharist at Washington’s Church of St. Stephen and the Incarnation, where she served as an assistant priest, on November 10, 1974, in what The Washington Post described as “a service that ranged from solemn prayer to joyous hugs and bursts of spontaneous applause.” Cheek was named one of twelve Women of the Year by Time Magazine in 1975, appearing on the magazine’s iconic cover in clerical dress.

She worked for many years as a counselor, and was Episcopal Divinity School’s director of studies in feminist liberation theology from 1989-1995. She retired first to Maine, where she taught at a retreat center, and later to North Carolina. A friend, the Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton said of her in a Facebook post, “She was a wonderful teacher and role model for the women for whom she helped make possible the actualization of their priestly vocation in The Episcopal Church. When her story is told, it will be said that we once walked among giants.” She is survived by four children and six of her “sisters” among the Philadelphia Eleven, one of whom was with her as she died.

Richard Parkins, who led Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM) for fourteen years and was a key advocate for links between the Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Church of South Sudan, died September 1 in Washington, D. C.

A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Parkins worked for decades in refugee resettlement. He was operations director of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Refugee Resettlement from its establishment by the Refugee Act in 1980 until 1995. The Office of Refugee Resettlement provides grants to authorized non-profit agencies who resettle refugees who are granted asylum from persecution and human trafficking, or who are victims of war or torture. Episcopal Migration Ministries is one of nine organizations authorized to resettle refugees in the United States. Parkins became director of EMM in 1995.

Parkins became involved in assisting refugees in Sudan in the late 1990s, when a decades-long civil war began escalating, displacing millions. In 2005, Parkins helped found the American Friends of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, an organization devoted to advocating for peace and justice in South Sudan, sharing information about the church’s needs there, and facilitating partnerships between Episcopal parishes, dioceses and organizations and the Sudanese church. He became executive director of the organization when he left his post at Episcopal Migration Ministries in 2009.

Russell Randle, a member of the Episcopal Task Force on Dialogue with South Sudanese Diaspora, said of Parkins, “His work for over a decade for AFRECS showed what a big difference one talented and dedicated Christian can make for peace, for the relief of many thousands, and for the hope of an entire province of the church when hope has often been in very short supply.”

The Most Rev. Justin Badi Arama, primate of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan, visited Parkins in the hospital shortly before his death, praying with him for over an hour.

The Rev. S. Lester Ralph, who gained national acclaim for his reforming work as mayor of Somerville, Mass. in the 1970s, died August 20 at his home in Reading, Mass.

He was a graduate of Virginia Theological Seminary and Boston University Law School. Ralph was serving as rector of Christ Church in Somerville and was a political unknown when he toppled the incumbent mayor in the small city outside Boston in a 1969 election.

Somerville was then deep in debt, with crumbling schools and poorly maintained roads. His obituary in The Boston Globe described him as “a much-needed reformer in an age of rampant corruption.” He opened city hall to investigative reporters from the Globe in 1971. The newspaper’s reports exposed rampant use of no-bid contracts and kickbacks under several former mayors, and the series of stories they published won a Pulitzer Prize.

Under Ralph’s leadership, the city built multiple new schools and transformed the public park system, and he helped bring the Red Line commuter train to the city. He was reelected to four successive terms, and Somerville was awarded the All-America City Award in 1972. Throughout his political career, Ralph served as rector of Somerville’s Episcopal church. He is survived by his wife, Joyce, three children and seven grandchildren.

The Rev. Edward Anthony Scully, a professor of respiratory care who served as a parish priest in Canada, Michigan and Florida, died September 7 after a long illness.

A native of San Francisco, Scully worked as a practitioner and teacher of respiratory therapy for 57 years, only resigning his position at Concord College the day before his death.

Perceiving a call to ministry, he and his wife moved to Boston without diocesan sponsorship so he could attend Episcopal Divinity School from 1984-1987. A chance encounter with a Canadian bishop led to his ordination in the Diocese of Manitoba, where he served parishes in Bethany and Minnedosa. Scully moved to Michigan in 1989, and served as rector of St. Mark’s, Newyago; St. John the Evangelist, Fremont; and St. James, Albion. He helped the congregation at St. James rebuild after the building was consumed by a fire started by an unextinguished Paschal Candle.

Scully moved to Florida in partial retirement in 2011, and served as priest-in-charge of St. Elizabeth, Zephyrhills for seven years, where the parish began hosting a senior meals program under his leadership. Scully is survived by his wife, Susan, and two daughters.

The Rev. William O. Stewart, a Cursillo and prison ministry leader who served three churches in the Diocese of Georgia, died on August 30, surrounded by his family and friends.

A native of Cordele, Ga., Stewart moved back to his hometown to serve as chief appraiser for Crip County, and became involved in a variety of lay ministries in his home parish. He helped found local chapters of Habitat for Humanity and the United way, and became a leader in the Kairos prison ministry, saying of the program, “It was a time of an astonishing awareness of the incarnate God breaking into that broken world. I think each of us serving were continually stunned by how God used our fish and barley loaves to feed His people.”

Ordained as a deacon in 2001, Stewart was subsequently prepared for the priesthood at Sewanee. After his priestly ordination in 2004, he served in the Diocese of Georgia at St. Stephen’s, Leesburg and Annunciation, Vidalia, and as rector at St. John’s and St. Mark’s, Albany. Stewart is survived by his wife, Sharon Costello Stewart, and by a daughter and two sons.


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