IN MEMORIAM: THOMAS K. RAY (1934-2018) – Part One

by Edward L. Lee

Tom and Brenda Ray

Little notice has been made in The Episcopal Church of the death of Tom Ray on February 6, preceded just three days earlier by that of his wife Brenda. Tom was the bishop of the Diocese of Northern Michigan from 1982 to 1999. Both died quickly after coping with protracted illnesses for several years. This June they would have been married for 59 years, during which time they raised four children who in turn provided them with many grandchildren. They were a very special couple and family.

Full disclosure: Tom and I were colleagues in ordained  ministry for 62 years, starting as seminary roommates in New York City and ending as bishops in Michigan, he in the Northern diocese (Upper Peninsula) and I in the Western diocese of the Lower Peninsula. We were closest of friends. Yet it was Tom who raised my consciousness regarding the centrality of baptism, not ordination, in the mission and ministry of the church.

The website of the Diocese of Northern Michigan presents that vision in these words:

Our goal is to transform our congregations from being communities gathered around a minister  to being ministering communities.

Stated more succinctly is the diocesan slogan: Stop attending church; start being the church.

It was Tom Ray who pioneered and instituted this pattern of “mutual ministry” (others have also called it “total ministry”) in Northern Michigan. A few other bishops of the church have promoted this vision of Christian community in the years before and after Tom, usually in similar dioceses of small and scattered congregations spread throughout expansive geographic spaces. The challenge: how to be fully sacramental Spirit-blown communities minimally burdened by the usual costs of property and personnel, and unfettered by unrealistic church rules and regulations, in order to live out the Baptismal Covenant, the Gospel’s constitution for all mission and ministry.

In future blog postings I will elaborate on this model of being/doing church. For the moment, however, I want to remember and celebrate the life and person of a dear friend and an adventuresome bishop who made a big difference in my life and in the life of the church even as it seems it might be forgetting him. I won’t let that happen.

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