It is with a mixture of sadness and relief that I receive the news of Bishop Tom Shaw’s death today: Sadness at the loss of a faithful monk, bishop and friend; Relief that his suffering is ended and he now enjoys the glory of the fullness of God for which he so deeply longed and toward which he helped point so many of us.
It has been my great joy and privilege to serve alongside Tom as a bishop in The Episcopal Church these past 14 years. Tom was a friend, colleague, mentor and a great source of spiritual inspiration for me. As his obituary from SSJE so wonderfully worded it, [he] “was a man of deep prayer, a charismatic figure who connected easily with young and old alike, and a leader whose creativity and entrepreneurial spirit led him to invent what was needed and new. He was known for his sometimes-mischievous sense of humor, his tenacious courage, and his passion to serve Jesus, both among the privileged and the poor.”
He was bishop of a large diocese. I am bishop of a much smaller diocese, and yet he always took an interest in what we were doing in Vermont and how life was for me and Ann in the “fishbowl” world of Episcopal ministry. He introduced me to SSJE and encouraged my connection with that wonderful monastic community, and for that I will be forever grateful. He opened my eyes and heart and mind to the complex realities of Israel and Palestine. Under his wing I made my first two pilgrimages to the Holy Land, the second of which included an unexpected night’s stay in Gaza, when we were not able to exit despite Tom’s most noble (and frustrated) efforts. We served together for eight years as Trustees of the Episcopal Divinity School, and part of the incentive for me to drive four hours each way to meetings and events at EDS was always the opportunity to spend time with Tom.
After his cancer diagnosis, we made a “deal” to try and stay in phone contact at least once a month. That grew increasingly difficult these last few months with my sabbatical travels and his “ups and downs.” Often, we were reduced to leaving messages on each other’s voice mail, including one he left as I was about to board my flight to Tel Aviv and one I left while sitting in Manger Square outside the Church of the Nativity just before entering to “light a candle” for Tom and offer prayers at the Birth Grotto, where he and I had prayed together many years before. I was grateful for the brief (and last) visit we had during the Consecration of Bishop Alan Gates, before I left for Taiwan and Japan.
These last few days of his life have been very special for me, not because I was able to spend any time with him (I did not), but because of the fact that I was on a previously scheduled retreat at the SSJE monastery in Cambridge, and thus privileged to be with Tom’s brothers as they lived and prayed their way through these final days of his life. My retreat was scheduled to end after lunch today and so I was particularly grateful to be at noon prayers when word came to the brothers that Tom was near death and Brother Curtis Almquist invited us to pray the Litany at the Time of Death. In the beautiful SSJE chapel, I joined others in shedding tears and offering prayers of thanksgiving for the life of this wonderful man. News of his death reached me on my drive home. I will miss him dearly and I know I am not alone in that. May he rest in peace and rise in glory!
+Thomas C. Ely, Bishop of Vermont
Feast of Saint Ignatius, 2014