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Exclusive: Tribute to Bishop Tony Palmer, A Life Dedicated to Unity

By Deacon Darrell Wentworth
7/22/2014 (3 years ago)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

My fervent prayer is that Tony's life will inspire thousands, even millions, to catch the vision for the visible full communion of the whole Christian Church.

Monday, July 21, 2014, was supposed to be like most Mondays - the start of a work week. But Deacon Keith Fournier sent me a text informing me that my friend, Bishop Tony Palmer, had died.
Shock went through my body as I processed that news; then disbelief as I shared the tragedy with my wife who too was stunned; then prayer for Tony's wife and two children who are suffering the loss of their beloved husband, father and spiritual mentor. Most of us know the story being played out on the international scene over the last 7 months. A story developing when two friends, one a CEEC bishop (Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches) and the other, the Pope, decided to allow their personal friendship to spill over into Church and society. All of us who live our lives in Christ now benefit from their relationship in the Body of Christ. I am lucky enough to share a small part in that friendship.

(Pictured: Left to Right - Dirk West, Matteo Callisi, Bishop Tony Palmer, and Deacon Darrell Wentworth) - Faith to Bishop Tony Palmer was a dynamic, lived experience and, as a result, his life built up the whole Body of Christ and tore down the walls some have built to separate us from each other! What a legacy! A true example of living Jesus' prayer in John 17! (Deacon Darrell Wentworth)

(Pictured: Left to Right - Dirk West, Matteo Callisi, Bishop Tony Palmer, and Deacon Darrell Wentworth) - Faith to Bishop Tony Palmer was a dynamic, lived experience and, as a result, his life built up the whole Body of Christ and tore down the walls some have built to separate us from each other! What a legacy! A true example of living Jesus' prayer in John 17! (Deacon Darrell Wentworth)

CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - Monday, July 21, 2014, was supposed to be like most Mondays - the start of a work week. But Deacon Keith Fournier sent me a text informing me that my friend, Bishop Tony Palmer, had died.

Shock went through my body as I processed that news; then disbelief as I shared the tragedy with my wife who too was stunned; then prayer for Tony's wife and two children who are suffering the loss of their beloved husband, father and spiritual mentor.

Most of us know the story being played out on the international scene over the last 7 months. A story developing when two friends, one a CEEC bishop (Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches) and the other, the Pope, decided to allow their personal friendship to spill over into Church and society. All of us who live our lives in Christ now benefit from their relationship in the Body of Christ. I am lucky enough to share a small part in that friendship.

I first met Bishop Palmer in 2008 at a Catholic Fraternity conference in Assisi, Italy. It was the first Fraternity conference that I was invited to attend representing New Creation Community, a Catholic Lay community seeking membership in the Catholic Fraternity network of communities who are in association with the Vatican. Bishop Palmer was very approachable.

We shared a desire for full communion among the Christian traditions and recognized that some Roman Catholics misunderstand the teaching of their own Church, as well as her goal for for Christian Unity. Some think the only avenue to Christian unity would be what they think is a kind of  "conversion" to Roman Catholicism. That often entails a misunderstanding, that other Christians would have to reject what they hold as their own patrimony and gift.

I next met Bishop Palmer in February 2010 when he traveled to the United States to serve Matteo Callisi, a member of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, as his English translator during meetings with the Charismatic Leaders Fellowship, a multi-tradition charismatic think tank fostering unity among Christians who have experienced what is called the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Bishop Palmer served as the translator during a meeting between my Bishop and Matteo Callisi as they discussed my own community, New Creation Community in Virginia, and its entrance into the Catholic Fraternity.

At lunch at my home that afternoon, he showed the true nature of his character. Not in the profound ideas he expounded, but in the simple way he engaged my wife in conversation as Matteo and I discussed the meeting with my own bishop. Tony showed that his heart was for people and he developed relationships - friendships - as true brothers and sisters in Christ.

Faith to Bishop Tony Palmer was a dynamic, lived experience and, as a result, his life built up the whole Body of Christ and tore down the walls some have built to separate us from each other! What a legacy! A true example of living Jesus' prayer in John 17!

My most profound experience with Tony occurred during the opening Mass for a Catholic Fraternity Conference in 2012. I was diaconating Mass with Cardinal Ouelette, the Prefect for the Congregation of Bishops. At communion I accompanied the Cardinal to distribute communion to the congregation. The visiting ecumenical delegation was sitting on the side where I would be distributing The Host! As I approached, Bishop Palmer stood up and led the way for his fellow friends.

As he approached me in the communion line he crossed his arms over his chest; looked me square in the eye and smiled as a tear came down his cheek! As I prayed a prayer of spiritual communion over my brother a tear formed in my eye as well as the reality of the sin of division became profoundly personal to me at that moment!

After the video with Pope Francis went viral, we emailed each other sharing our hopes of the potential of full communion in our life time! Man's sin caused the division that has led to partial communion. Our heartfelt repentance and radical conversion to the mind of Christ regarding Christian unity is the only answer that will restore Jesus' vision for His church!

I will not even pretend to understand the Will of God in this situation! I cannot understand His ways nor His WHYs!

My wife commented this morning that her fear was that those who oppose Christian unity will use Tony's death as a "proof" that the path we dream of is misguided. I have found out already that some spiritually immature Christians have already begun to show their ignorance.

How sad!!

My hope has never been in humanity to solve these complex problems. Neither was Tony's! We continue to place our hope and trust in the Lord who made heaven and earth and Who Tony now joins to intercede for the rest of us! I am confident, even though I do not understand, that Our Father will bring great good out of this visibly horrific event and use Tony's death for the common good of us all.

My fervent prayer is that Tony's life will inspire thousands, even millions, to catch the vision for the visible full communion of the whole Christian Church. That all of us will develop authentic friendships with Christians of other traditions that will build up the Church and show the world that Jesus is worth following as their Savior!!

The Catholic Church already has 22 plus churches in full communion with the Church of Rome, recognizing the Bishop of Rome as their "spiritual father" - their Papa - their Pope. We can, and should, work hard to add a few more to the mix! The Holy Spirit is the only Person who can bring this about, may we all partner with Him for the building up of Christ's Church and work for Jesus' vision for full communion in HIM!!

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Deacon Darrell Wentworth serves the Catholic Bishop of Richmond as his Liaison for Charismatic Renewal. He also serves the Catholic Fraternity North America (CFNA) as their Ecumenical Liaison. He has been involved in the Charismatic Renewal in the Catholic Church since 1982 and is actively involved in collaborative ecumenical relationships with other Christians.

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