A Sermon Preached by The Ven. Richard I. Cluett at
The Celebration on the Fiftieth Anniversary of
The Ordination to the Priesthood of The Rev. Eric Snyder
June 21, 2008 at Church of the Holy Apostles, St. Clair, PA.
Bishop Paul, dear friends in Christ and colleagues, we have come together in the presence of God to give thanks for the ministry of the Rev. Eric Snyder, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. 50 years! As it is written in Psalm 104 and in Hebrews chapters 5 & 7, he is, as was Jesus so designated, “a priest forever after the order of Methuselah.”
Oh, I am sorry, the correct quotation is “a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek”, Melchizedek, not Methuselah. Sorry, Eric. I don’t know why the name of Methuselah would intrude here.
I first met Eric in the food bank in the undercroft of St. Paul’s, Montrose where he was working for Treehab, a Susquehanna County community action agency. He was in between a national church staff gig in New York City and finding a priestly post in the diocese of Bethlehem. This urbane, urbanite was living with his beloved Jean on their goat farm in Hopbottom, Pa, so I knew he was going to be an interesting person.
I have since come to know him as an amazing person who incarnates the church’s life of spirituality and mission and he is a priest whom it is a privilege to know and to call dear friend, valued colleague, and wise mentor.
You would think that he is or should be a living dichotomy, a person of separates and contradictions. With a beginning in the laid-back, flaky state of California and being born into an up right (I did not say up-tight) Presbyterian family, you would not expect much else.
Someone who marched and protested and demonstrated against war and injustice in the roaring 1960’s & 70’s, in the person of a devout, and spiritual Benedictine associate, for whom “ the smells and bells” of the Eucharist are the right and preferred modes of worship.
An ordered priest, whose ministry was to, at times, break order to lead the church in ministering to the needs of God’s people, especially the poor, the oppressed, the voiceless, the hungry, the imprisoned, the lost and the disempowered when the church would rather have been complacently comfortable.
A gentle man who would vigorously, but humanely, contend in the corridors and offices of power.
Such contention, such belief in action, inevitably call for an institutional response, and a new presiding bishop felt that the church needed to be more, not less, comfortable. Eric was let go.
A man of constant contradictions or a man of divinely inspired integrity called to a unique and wonderful life of ministering? It is only when you watch him closely, listen to him carefully, work with him daily that you come to learn the riches of God’s graces incarnate in this man and how they work together to accomplish God’s good purposes.
Psychologist Erik Erikson would have designated our Eric as having attained to the Eighth Stage of human Development, the stage of full integrity – and so would I.
Eric has spent most of his time in the small parishes and towns of this diocese. He has been priest and pastor to many, many people in his time here. He has taught, baptized, married, anointed, buried, preached, ministered the sacrament, and counseled with many people in many places. He was sent to be that shepherd to God’s people in those villages and towns (like the ones Jesus spoke about in last weeks Gospel lesson). Working with local lay leaders, he made sure that the church’s presence and ministry was sure and constant in all seasons.
And he has been a quiet, but very persistent force for change in this time. Two changes, out of many possible, come most easily to my mind.
There is in the town of Tamaqua in Calvary Church an elder day care program, the only one of its kind in Carbon County, because Father Eric and the very few remaining members of that tiny church saw the need for such a program, and the need for the church, even a run-down church, even a tiny church to be of use in caring for God’s people. And they cobbled together an ecumenical coalition of churches and community leaders. They built their case. They sought grants from public and private sources, including significant funds from the Diocese of Bethlehem. And they brought that program into being in that town, in that tiny church. And God must have been amazed, and must continue to be very pleased.
The second begins, in my memory in a conversation Eric and I began maybe 20 years ago. That conversation bore fruit the day that Jim Smith was ordained to the priesthood in a localized ministry to the churches of Schuylkill County, and it will be borne again when Dolores Evans is ordained as priest next month. The conversation was about how the church can provide a priestly, sacramental and pastoral presence in the most rural and rugged country that has few people and fewer resources.
The very idea that people in a place can see God’s hand at work in a particular person and then they call that person to a new role in their midst as priest, and the bishop and diocese confirm that choice and prepare that person. The very idea, indeed! Who would have thunk it? Who would have trusted it? Who would have taught and prayed and pleaded and trained for it? All those years?
Why that would be the Rev. Eric Snyder, who even without the title, served as rural dean of all Schuylkill County.
The feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist calls to mind the Good News that was coming into the world and also the role of the Messenger in bringing the message.
“…And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace."
No camel’s hair clothes or mouthfuls of wild locusts for Eric, but he has indeed the visage of the prophet of old, and in his person he has brought this message of salvation and God’s tender mercies. Rough places have been made smooth, mountains have been made into mere hills, God’s message has been proclaimed, and the church and God’s people are better, richer, more faithful, and more secure because of the ministry of Eric Snyder.
I want to name one more dimension of this priesthood we celebrate today. Namely, that it has been aided and abetted, it has been enabled and guided, it has been encouraged and nourished and challenged to be more and better, it has been totally and truly, in the most intimate and loving way, shared with one Jean Snyder, wife, life-partner, mother of their children, nudge, conscience, goad, co-conspirator, author of joy and twinkle in her eye – partner in ministerial mayhem for the gospel’s sake.
Indeed, together, they bet their life on this gospel, built their life together, and that of their family, on this gospel, helped shape the church with this gospel, changed people’s lives with this gospel and left the rest of us an incomparable, wonderful legacy of a life’s commitment and a life’s work for the gospel’s sake.
In her letter to the Church dated June 4th, the Presiding Bishop wrote, “As we move toward a great gathering of bishops from across the Anglican Communion, I call this whole Church to a Day of Prayer on 22 June (for the Lambeth Conference).” And we all will do that, I hope, knowing that among them will be our own bishop.
She continues in her letter, “I would bid your prayers for openness of spirit, vulnerability of heart, and eagerness of mind, that we might all learn to see the Spirit at work in the other. I bid your prayers for a peaceful spirit, a lessening of tension, and a real willingness to work together for the good of God’s whole creation.”
As well as being a worthy prayer, it is also a worthy description of one fine priest’s service to his God, Christ’s Church, and to all the people.
A learning here is that it is, indeed, possible to meld the roles of priest, prophet and pastor. As the psalmist sings it,
Mercy and truth have met together;
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
This integrated life of mission and spirituality shows that any of us, each us, can also “come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”
Each of us is called to claim and to live out, as Eric has, this blessing that is ours.