Rest in Peace, Rise in Glory: September 23, 2020

These obituaries were published in the September 20 issue of TLC.

The Rev. Virginia Page Dabney Brown, RC, a pioneering female priest who founded the Rivendell Community, died August 12, aged 72.

Brown was born in Savannah, Georgia, and grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She studied psychology at Michigan State University, where she was known to take class notes in J.R.R. Tolkein’s invented language, Elvish. She joined the Peace Corps in 1969, and taught math and science in a girl’s school in Uganda. Returning to the U.S., she attended Seabury-Western Seminary, and was ordained as a deacon in 1974.

She returned to her native Albuquerque, where she founded St. Chad’s Church. She was ordained to the priesthood in 1977, the first woman to be ordained in the Diocese of the Rio Grande. Hers was reportedly the first priestly ordination of a woman in the Episcopal Church during which no public objection was raised. After serving at St. Chad’s for three years, she became chaplain to New Mexico State University. She also joined her husband, the Rev. Bruce Brown, in establishing the Preacher Lewis School for Ministry, a training center for lay ministry and local ordinands.

She later served St. Mark’s Church in Albuquerque, as well as congregations in Roswell, New Mexico, Memphis, Tennessee, and Springfield, Kimberling City, and Branson, Missouri. In 1998, she founded the Rivendell Community, which took its name from the “homely house” in Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings novels, of which “merely to be there was a cure for weariness, fear, and sadness.” The community, which became a canonically recognized order of the Episcopal Church in 2002, includes members who live in common and others who are dispersed. It focuses on providing ministerial support to small and struggling parishes and offering space and hospitality for retreats. The Rivendell Community has houses in Missouri and Tennessee, and dispersed members living in several additional states.

Brown was preceded in death by her husband, and is survived by her three children, Benjamin Brown, Rebecca Brown, and the Rev. Elizabeth Dabney, as well as four grandchildren and the members of the Rivendell Community.

Sister Barbara Louise Drell, OSA, a nun who served as a teacher in Chicago’s schools for decades, died on August 12, aged 88, in the 44th year of her profession.

A native of Chicago, Sister Barbara Louise was raised as a Jew. She was baptized on July 27, 1955, in the city’s St. James Cathedral, and later reflected that “this was, is, and always will be the greatest event of my life.” She earned degrees in education from Roosevelt University and DePaul University, specializing in teaching the deaf and those with special needs. She taught in schools on Chicago’s West Side and at Malcolm X College.

In retirement, Sister Barbara Louise spent much of her time writing plays and stories for children, volunteering at the DePaul Settlement Preschool, teaching English to immigrants, and participating in the life of the Church of the Ascension, which shares its grounds with the Convent of St. Anne. Remaining confined to the convent during the pandemic she especially enjoyed sitting in the garden beneath an apple tree that her father had planted when she entered the order.

Father Patrick Raymond, rector of the Church of the Ascension said of her, “Though so often quiet, attentive and intently listening — to one or more of us, or to a student, and always, seemingly, to God — she was also capable of feisty, prophetic moments. Her presence, prayers and witness permeated the Church of the Ascension as much as the next-door Convent of St. Anne.”

She is survived by Sister Judith Marie, OSA, the last remaining member of the order.

The Rev. Dr. Billy Wilson Rodgers, a New Testament scholar and university administrator, died August 22, aged 87.

A native of Okahoma, he graduated from California State University, and then the Episcopal Divinity School. He served as fellow and tutor in Greek at General Seminary while studying for a Th.D, writing about the Christology of the Book of Revelation.

Rodgers developed his understanding of Latino culture and the Spanish language while serving as assistant for Spanish ministry at St. Augustine’s Church in New York City, and moved to Puerto Rico in 1961 to be part of the founding faculty of the Episcopal Seminary of the Caribbean in San Juan.

He later served as professor of philosophy and religion at the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico, and then moved back to the U.S. to become professor of humanities at Frederick Community College, remaining there until his retirement in 1995 as vice president for academic affairs and dean of the college.

Rodgers was the author of a study of the Christology of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and of numerous academic articles, and was working at the time of his death on a translation of a commentary by Theodore of Cyrus, a fifth-century Syrian church father. He also served on the Episcopal Church’s Commission for Theological Education for Latin America and Caribbean, and on the Maryland Governor’s Commission for Hispanic Affairs.

In retirement, he was active in ministry at St. Paul’s Church in Point of Rocks, Maryland, and St. Mary’s in Belleview, Florida, leading Bible studies. He also became a competitive swimmer in retirement, making the national Top Ten list in his age group 15 times, and competing in several national and world championships for senior swimmers.

He was preceded in death by his wife of 67 years, Helen, and is survived by three children, six grandchildren, and six great grandchildren.


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