The Celebration of the life of Jim Campbell
The Rt. Rev. Gregory H. Rickel
St. Mark’s and Church of God, Montesano
September 18, 2021
There is a tradition found in Hasidic Judaism, that says there are, at any given time, 36 righteous people holding the world together. They never know each other, and most of them don’t even know they are in this number.
The 36 change all the time. In almost every case, these are ordinary people, doing ordinary jobs. It is also made clear that anyone that claims to be one of these 36 people, by that very declaration, has given the world assurance they are not one of these people. And so, we can never be quite sure who they are. The idea, of course being, you should heed everyone you meet as possibly being one of these righteous souls, and be open to perhaps being one yourself.
We come together today to celebrate a life, and what an extraordinary one it was. my preaching professors and mentors along the way have readily opined about such days, days when we gather to celebrate an earthly life just ended, as a day where the preacher should preach the Gospel and avoid eulogizing the person.
This, what we do today, they would say is about the Gospel, about giving hope, about what comes next, is for the living, and is not about telling the story of the person who died, after all, who could really do that? There is a truth to much of that, and I get where it comes from and I have to say as much as I understand that advice and the reason for it, I have also always struggled with it. As so many of my teachers and professors would most likely say of me, he just doesn’t listen. It wouldn’t be the first time. And it probably won’t be the last. And they are probably right.
I have always thought of what Lady Bird Johnson once said, she said, I really don’t care who preaches at my funeral, but whoever it is, they better damn well know who is in that box.
Many of us feel that way and so I have always wondered about that preaching wisdom. It is true, sometimes the connections, between the person we celebrate on such days, and the Gospel are pretty far apart.
That’s why, today, all bets are off. I am not at all worried. Because today, in this person, in Jim Campbell, we have a man, a servant, a Christian, who, in ways not seen nearly as often as we might hope, but in a way our faith envisions and so rarely witnesses, in Jim Campbell, those realities, his life, and the Gospel were absolutely and so fully infused, combined, that when you speak of one, you speak of the other. Jim’s life, his work, and the Gospel were so absolutely one. No one fulfilled that old evangelical saying, “your life may be the only Bible a person ever reads” better than Jim Campbell.
If you don’t understand what I am saying, this is what I am saying, to speak of, to celebrate, to tell of the life of Jim Campbell is to speak of, celebrate, and tell of the Gospel. So I feel safe today.
I want to say to the family what you already know. He loved you all so much. You were the most important thing to him. IN all he did for so many, in my experience, never once were you not the center of his life. I want to thank all of you for allowing so much of him to come to us. IF you don’t know, let me be clear, the gift of him, in this church, will never be forgotten. Like so many names that linger in our history still to this day, his will as well. His name will cross our lips for generations. His name will drip from our walls.
You will note in the obituary that he was awarded by Chaplains on the Harbor, with the first ever, “You saved our Ass Award”. The Diocese does not have such an award, but we do have such problems, and so many of those were solved for us by Jim Campbell. If the diocese did have such an award, Jim would have been a multi year recipient. He saved our asses many days, and he saved mine more often than I can count.
In my role, it is fairly rare that I can stand where I am and say, I lost a friend. It’s not only that I often am standing here due to role or office, more than out of sentiment or desire, it’s all of that but it also is the reality that I am most often not totally sure I can claim that title, friend, that is, necessarily from that other person’s perspective. Like a lot of such things, I actually believe that you being someone’s friend is a title and declaration most authentically made by the person who needs you to be one. Today, I think, between Jim and me, all of that was secure, taken care of, and had been for a long time. The most moving line in his obituary and one I am so thankful was placed there by whomever wrote it, is the line that says, “Jim considered Greg Rickel his friend and pastor.” I feel exactly the same and I have always believed out of that friendship, I got by far, the best deal.
In the beginning of my time in this diocese, and from the very beginning, Jim Campbell, was so many good, good things to me, a mentor, an advisor, a cheerleader, a servant, a truth teller, an innovator. And he never stopped being those things to me. And I am so very grateful. But, somewhere along the way, and moving to the front of that long list, another, more important, most important title came to be true for he and I, … Friend. And I am so grateful for it.
I have spent the last few weeks looking back at old emails from Jim, and I have so many. We all know He loved the numbers, and the stats he would put together, it was no different with us in the Church, he did this all for us, all in the effort to move this diocese ever closer to the mission we envision. His work for us was absolutely priceless, and I think so many would agree, we have no idea who, or even if, anyone could pick it up and do it as well as he could. We will now get to find out.
There are so many good things going on in this church whose origin can be directly traced back to Jim’s persistence, his creativity, his plain old hard work.
He loved this Church we share. He loved the people who make it up. He gave his life to it.
Mary Lyons said it best, when she said, with Jim Campbell, there was always heart in his strategy. That is exactly right.
Our mourning, our loss, but indeed even more our hope in the future, our hope for the future, that we as the Episcopal Church in Western Washington have a future, is strong, and compelling, and so much of that has to do with the steady, devoted, spirit-filled stewardship, discipleship, effort, and care of Jim Campbell.
Mary Oliver, the fabulous poet and author, has a poem entitled, When Death Comes. I commend the entire poem to you but for today I want to concentrate on her final lines in that poem, They read:
When it’s over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement, and a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms. When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder if I have made of my life something particular, and real. I dont’ want to find myself sighing and frightened, or full of argument. I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited the world.
Visiting is not engaging. Visiting is not working for change. Visiting is temporary. I think Oliver was looking for a life that was as she put it, particular and real, she didn’t want to just pass through, she wanted to make a difference.
If you don’t think you know what she means, I would suggest we have a perfect example in Jim Campbell. Jim lived a life that was particular and real. And if you were blessed enough to be even the slightest part of that, then you were indeed blessed.
Though he may not have been ready to die the day he did, and certainly we were not ready, one thing is for sure, He does not have to wonder if his life made a difference. Because he lived every day, worked every day, prayed every day, making sure whenever that day came, this would be true.
He does not have to wonder, nor do we, if he had made of his life something particular and real. He did. We don’t just intellectually know that. We were blessed, honored, awed to know it first hand, because we knew him.
We are living proof, and for generations to come his legacy of work and care and stewardship and love will be there, reminding us.
He, we all know, would have never claimed to be one of the 36 righteous people holding this world together, but we witnessed it, we saw it, we lived it.
We know, and we are all blessed then, now, and into the future because we did. HIs life was blessing. His life was Gospel. His legacy is as well.
For a life honorably discharged, for the gift of your love, for the life you lived, and the way you shared it and by so doing, the way you made us better as individuals and as a church, and as a people. we love you, we give thanks for you, we give thanks for the relief, now, for you, from the burdens of the flesh.
My friend, may you Rest In Peace, and rise in glory.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.