Rich Webster has served as Rector of Saint Luke's for ten years. A child of this City, Rich's own passion's include local outreach and economic opportunity for all of Birmingham, as well as linking our "Over the Mountain" congregation with our friends living in the Urban Center of this region.
Rich also loves to read and write and find any excuse to be outdoors. He is married to Ellen, and has two children, Copeland and Betsy.
In addition to serving Saint Luke's Church, Rich is an invited lecturer and consultant to the students of the Episcopal Seminary in Sewanee and also serves as the July Priest of Saint James' Church in Prouts Neck, Me.
Rich has published two books at Saint Luke's, "Snapshots of Hope" and "God's Gifts." His current project is the second installment in an interactive teaching series titled, "Jericho Road: The World of Paul," which begins Fall 2014.Hide
I am the youngest of four children. My father was an Air Force officer and my mother worked as a bookkeeper. I lived in Omaha, Nebraska, South Islip, England, Falls Church, Virginia, San Bernardino, California, and then my father retired in Auburn, Alabama. After two years there, we moved to Montgomery, where I attended Jefferson Davis High School and graduated from Huntingdon College with a degree in English. My sisters stayed in the Washington, D.C. area, and so I went there to be near them and live in a big city. While working as a secretary, I learned to be a paralegal at a continuing education program at Georgetown. I worked in law firms in D.C. and married a lawyer from Tupelo, Mississippi. Mike DeBow introduced me to Walker Percy’s, Love in the Ruins, told me funny stories, and convinced me the south is the only place to live (Washington, D.C. is not the south). We had a clandestine office romance that continues to have a happy ending.
Our son, John, was born in D.C. He’s a senior at Alabama. When he was two Mike got a job at UGA, and our daughter, Claire, was born in Athens. She’s a junior at Sewanee now. While we were living in Athens, my sister, Sheila, had a recurrence of breast cancer. It was in every way, emotionally and spiritually, the worst year and a half of my life. I went back and forth to Washington as often as I could. Sheila died on February 6, 1988. Three months later, we moved from Athens to Birmingham where Mike began teaching at Cumberland Law School and I became Christian Education Director for children at St. Stephen’s.
During my sister’s illness, she told me, “If you have a dream job, you should go for it!” My love for her and my terrible disappointment with God, led me down a long, winding road to Seminary. Doug Carpenter sponsored me in the ordination process, which took forever. I commuted to the Candler School of Theology, Emory University where there is an Anglican Studies program. I graduated in 1995. I was a curate at St. Stephen’s for one year and then St. Francis of Assisi in Indian Springs Village called me as rector. I served there for ten years and loved every minute of it. It was a great privilege to be priest and friend to so many extraordinary human beings.
Rich Webster called me on the phone on May 23, 2006. He said, “I wish you would think about coming to Saint Luke’s.” I had given a talk to the ECW and to a Wednesday night crowd and everyone had been warm and welcoming. I didn’t know Rich well, but I’d read his sermons and was moved by them. I knew working with Rich, Steve, Sara-Scott and Mark would be fun (Chris hadn’t come yet). I knew, too, that St. Francis would be energized by a new priest and I would be energized by a new parish. So I said yes.
My dream for education at Saint Luke’s is that everyone will find comfort and challenge on their journey of discipleship. I hope our offerings will not only provide instruction, but a sense of community and joy. I want Saint Luke’s to employ the gifts and talents and of all our people. All have something good to share. I wish everyone could know the joy of meeting Jesus alongside a little child! I love learning from the Bible and discover in my studies a closeness to Christ that strengthens my worship of God and carries me through good times and bad. I want to share that with anyone and everyone.
If anyone has concerns or desires about Christian formation at Saint Luke’s for all ages and stages, I wish they’d come talk to me!Hide
The Rev. Katie Nakamura Rengers
Mark was ordained to the diaconate in 2001, the first class of Deacons in the Diocese of Alabama in over one hundred years. He is Professor and Chair of the Sociology Department at UAB. The department offers undergraduate degrees in sociology and social psychology, and a doctorate in medical sociology. His research and teaching focuses on the disadvantaged, their health, the nature of their communities, and the role that society’s play in promoting disadvantage. He is especially interested in how the social capital possessed by the poor and by those who participate in churches can be used to help the disadvantaged get by and get ahead. He’s published 5 books and over 60 articles in professional journals dealing with these issues. These days you might just find him writing a sermon almost as often as he is writing an article.
He grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, the oldest of 6 children. Educated by nuns and priests in the parochial schools, he was accepted into Duns Scotus Seminary, (Franciscan order) just a few weeks after his later-to-be wife (Mary Sue), literally skated into his life at a high school dance. In spite of what he thought had been a life-long call to the priesthood, Mary Sue turned his head and so he turned down the Franciscans and attended the University of Cincinnati instead. After graduating they married and Mark went back to UC, earning his PhD in 1975, while Mary Sue taught 3rd grade in an inner city school.
Before coming to UAB in 1980, Mark and Mary Sue lived in Albany, New York, where he taught in the Sociology Department at SUNY, while Mary Sue stayed home with the babies. Tiring of what seemed like endless winters, they gave up their sleds, snow shovels, and tire chains, and moved to the deep south where they raised 3 great kids: Brian, a biologist at Southern research, Jason a clinical psychologist at Children’s Hospital in Little Rock, and Elise, merchandise manager for Urban Outfitters. Mary Sue taught in the Jefferson County Schools for 15 years before retiring.
They have four beautiful grandkids: Harmony, 15; Blaine and Samantha 6, and Ben 2. They love to travel and cook, although they find little time to do it these days.Hide
Let me begin by affirming that my life, while not uniformly easy or pleasant, has been blessed throughout by the love and grace of God.
My early life in Demopolis, Alabama, was a golden time. I was adored as an only child and grandchild, and surrounded by care and love on all sides. I seemed to have responded positively and enthusiastically. The less than positive consequences of my early years were that later I was shocked to discover that, in the larger world, Rusty Goldsmith was not always the center of attention, and that I became a very competitive overachiever. Demopolis has in many ways influenced my world view, and has been a deep mine of images and memories.
I attended the University of Alabama (B.A., 1965), majoring in English and philosophy, with the intention of becoming an attorney. In the fall of our junior year, I met Carolyn Thomas, a transfer from Stephens College. We became engaged the following spring, and were married at the First Presbyterian Church of Gainesville, Florida, on September 2, 1964. Our relationship becomes more and more of a blessing with each passing year.
In the fall of 1966, I withdrew from Duke Law School to attend Air Force Officers’ Training School. To say that the next four years were interesting and formative would be an understatement. While we were stationed at Maxwell AFB in Montgomery, our first two sons, Alex and Michael were born. I was honorably discharged with the rank of captain in the summer of 1971, and, rather than returning to Duke, we decided that I should accept an invitation to join a regional investment banking firm and remain in Montgomery.
The next seven plus years saw us becoming very involved in the life of Montgomery, and successful in my job. A series of “life events” too detailed and complex to go into here, sent me to St. John’s Episcopal Church and a wonderful priest named Charlie Douglass. So far as I can determine, my family had been Jewish (Reform) back to Moses, and so it was quite momentous for me to be baptized on Easter Eve, 1974, with Carolyn as my sponsor, and Charlie, who by then was my mentor, as the celebrant.
Within a few years I began to discern a call to ordination, which both my parish and the Diocese of Alabama affirmed. The only person not convinced was Carolyn, now the mother of three young boys (Thomas was born in 1976) who, after ten years of putting down roots and making a comfortable life for us in Montgomery, could not imagine beginning anew in the unknown wilds of Sewanee. As she now will readily admit, it was clearly what the Lord intended for her no less than for me. It was during my three years at the School of Theology, which I adored, that Carolyn became serious about what until then had been an art hobby. She took every studio art class that the college offered, and found that her vocation, gift and identity is “artist.” It continues to be her passion as well, and a source of great pleasure and fulfillment. (Her website is carolyngoldsmith.com. if you would like to see examples of her work and learn more about her career.)
My first ordained ministry was as Curate of the Church of the Nativity in Huntsville, Alabama, for two wonderful years of kindness and patience as I learned something about being a parish priest. It was a difficult decision after two years to leave Nativity and Huntsville, and to accept the invitation of Larry Gipson, recently called to be Dean of the Cathedral Church of the Advent, to join the staff he was forming there. In the fall of 1986, after a bit more than three years at the Advent, the last two as “Sub-Dean,” we were called across town to St. Mary’s-on-the-Highlands, where I was Rector for fifteen years, until the summer of 2001. I still miss being in that beautiful place Sunday after Sunday, the light streaming in through some of the most beautiful stained glass in America. We continue to treasure our many friends there, and the memories of a large and significant part of our lives.
Much of my ministry, outside of the parishes I have served, centered on the University of the South, Sewanee. When I made it know that I intended to retire, its president invited me to come to Sewanee as Senior Fellow and to minister at the School of Theology as an adjunct faculty member for two years. I commuted during that time, living in a small apartment on campus from Monday to Thursday each week, and returning to our home in Birmingham for the three day weekends. In many ways it was a dream come true, but after the two years had passed, it was time to come home and retire.
Two of our many Sewanee friends were Don and Wendy Wimberly. I had served with Don on several of the boards at Sewanee while he was Bishop of Lexington. When he was elected Bishop of Texas in 2003, he asked if we would come to Houston and assist him during his period of transition. By now it was clear that retirement was not what the Lord had in mind for me, and so we moved once again. My two years as Canon for Congregations were an exciting adventure, as we got to know one of our nation’s major cities, and as I traveled over much of east Texas, meeting new people virtually every day, and worshiping in a rich diversity of places and styles.
Always a slow learner, I tried to retire once more, but our old friend Larry Gipson, then Rector of St. Martin’s in Houston, asked me to join him as Vice Rector until his planned retirement in 2007. That is what we intended, but after a fantastic year in that magnificent parish, I finally got the message that I should retire at last. The news came in the form of a second heart “event,” after which my cardiologist made my options very clear.
We returned to Birmingham in the summer of 2006, to be back with old friends, and of course our children and grandchildren. Alex, our eldest, is an attorney at the firm of Christian and Small, married for almost a year to Erin, an RN at Children’s Hospital. (Her father, Bill Winters, is Rector of Church of the Epiphany in Guntersville, Alabama.) Michael and Kana live at Camp McDowell, where he is Program Director. Most importantly, they are the parents of Thomas, Gus and Sara Margaret, our three wonderful, brilliant and beautiful grandchildren. Our youngest son, Thomas, who is on the faculty at the Altamont School, and Beverly, just celebrated their second anniversary.
Carolyn and I live on Montgomery Drive, just up the hill from Euclid, about a mile from Saint Luke’s. After we had worshiped with you for several months, Rich asked if I would be interested in “helping out from time to time.” We had found the parish to be a faithful, Christ-centered and vibrant community, and so I was delighted to accept his gracious offer. My title is “Priest Affiliate,” and, in addition to serving in worship services, I currently am working with the Stewardship Program. We are greatly enjoying our time at Saint Luke’s and look forward to many years of increasing involvement. Thank so many of you for your warm welcomes, and for allowing us to join you in the incredible adventure of Christian ministry and discipleship.
SOME THINGS ABOUT ME THAT YOU MIGHT FIND INTERESTING
I am an Eagle Scout.
Carolyn and I love the beach, and spend as much time there as possible.
At the University of Alabama I was president of Jasons, the Senior Men’s Honorary Society, and editor of the campus humor magazine, the Mahout, banned soon thereafter.
I have been a “health nut” for most of my adult life, currently doing a regimen of daily exercises, and walking at least an hour every day, now that I have been restricted from running. Yes, I ran one marathon, and did it in less than four hours.
My mother’s protracted illness and untimely death at 58 from breast cancer is one of the greatest sorrows of my life.
I did not accept an appointment to one of the US Military Academies because there were no girls there.
Carolyn and I are great appreciators of Netflix. I also read constantly, now mainly fiction, and have had several of my own writings published in literary journals.
I was a Trustee at Sewanee for nearly 20 years, and served a six year term as Regent. In 1998 I was the recipient of their Doctor of Divinity degree, at the same graduation exercise at which our son Thomas received his B.A.
I am on the Development Board of Bread for the World, a Christian advocacy organization headquartered in Washington, D.C.
Carolyn and I love to travel. We have been to the Holy Land several times, just returned from a Baltic cruise, and are looking forward to an Atlantic crossing in the spring.
I finished a frighteningly respectable second in the one bishop’s process in which I participated.
When in high school, I dated in Birmingham on occasion, and fondly remember Auto Movie #1 on the Bessemer Superhighway.
I have always loved sports cars, a subject I am happy to discuss anytime.
I practice daily Centering Prayer and Bible reading.Hide
John Mark Ford