A Q&A with Bishop Richards
March 23, 2022
The Bishops of The Episcopal Church gathered for the House of Bishops spring retreat on March 15 - 21 at Camp Allen in Navasota, Texas. This was the first in-person assembly of the House of Bishops since September 2019; it focused on themes of hunger, honesty, humility, hopefulness, and hospitality in these days of the evolving pandemic. Meetings have been held virtually since March 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns.
The bishops spent time in fellowship, study, prayer, and sabbath, given the retreat format. Additionally, the bishops prepared for The Episcopal Church's 80th General Convention and Lambeth Conference--both taking place this summer. We pray for our bishop and all those who attended. In place of a meditation, please take the time to get to know our bishop better with a quick Q&A in collaboration with the Presiding Bishop's Office.
Q&A with Bishop Richards
Which author or spiritual figure has most shaped your vocation?
The two that I think about first are Thomas Merton and Rowan Williams. Thomas Merton, the monk from the 1960s. His connection to the vocation of holiness and a life with God -- a religious life with God--with this profound sense of love for the world that calls us into action for the sake of the world. And the way he went about that through his writing and reaching out to others is ultimately a powerful influence on the direction of the Church.
Rowan Williams, his depth of theological engagement, he's often almost hard to read at times. But, for me, his deep focus and, ultimately, the theology of the life of the Church that even the most profound issues of our time are not about having the right answers. They're about staying in the conversation with people. That was a huge influence on me as a religious leader and Church leader because I often think we just come to the table and want people to get out the answer rather than stay in conversation where we learn and grow together.
We always have to say Martin Luther King Jr., but for me, it was learning about the preparation for nonviolence. I love how eloquent he is. I love the way he uses scripture. I love listening to him preach. All of his stuff is great.
What aspect of Jesus' life and ministry inspires you most?
The teaching about the reign of God is that God sees human beings as children who need to come home and are loved. For me, that's been the profound center of my understanding of Jesus. And for years, I prayed that prayer. So let me see what you saw that made you teach what you taught. It was like a nut I couldn't crack or looking at a monkey's fist knot and saying, "how do you tie that knot?" I couldn't figure out why did Jesus said those things.
"Why did he teach that? It doesn't make any sense to me."
And so, for seven years, that's what I prayed. It was like a prayer to untie, to understand this complex thing. And then, when I saw it, it was not like a theological machine. It was not like an articulation of some principle. It was just seeing these people gathered together in a Church on a Sunday morning with all their sins and concerns and gifts and Holinesses and just gaps and stupid ideas and bad politics and everything else that we come to the table with. They are the beloved children of God, lit up like gold.
And then once you see it, you're like, "Oh! That's what it is. That's how Jesus could go to the cross." So it all fit for the first time in a way that seemed to sweep up all creation and the whole story.
What are your hobbies and other interests?
I run. I trail run. I use a generous definition of the word run these days after this year of transition. But I love spending time out in nature, and I fly fish very badly. But the kids are getting old enough now that I could take them out into the wilderness and not the car camp, but I love to go backpack somewhere and set up camp. So it's been fun to get back to that.
Anything you'd like to share about your family?
My wife Amy and I have been married for 15 years. We have three children. Amy and I begin each day with Morning Prayer and coffee. And then we always pray with our kids at night, mostly not begrudgingly. It's just a part of our routine of life with them being at the table together with meals.
Our two oldest girls are in college. One's about to graduate from Sewanee. And she's our genius, the smart kid, the reader, reading Victorian literature, at too young of an age. And the second child, she's completely different. She's a genius, but she's social, and we always joke that she was like a rubber ball. I could throw her into a room, and she bounced back out with friends. And it's true. She's joyful and funny. And our youngest son goes to Heathwood; he is in 8th grade. And he's a little athlete. He swims and plays tennis and does baseball, but he doesn't see himself as an athlete. He's doing computer coding, which I only vaguely understand. Smart kids! We also have two dogs, and they're both smaller than I would like, but they are great little dogs.
Favorite liturgical season?
I love Advent. The preparation for the coming of Christ and the ways that all these old traditions come into play. We talked about the "redding" of the Church, the "greening," in one parish. We'd put out the greens and we'd have hot chocolate and put all the greens up in church. And then, the last Sunday of Advent, we would do the "redding," which I thought was the word I made up. But then I looked it up to see if I'd made it up. It is actually a very old English word for "getting ready." It was an accident of history! I discovered a term that was already in use for a few thousand years. But we had made it up because we put all the red ribbon right before Christmas.
Any facts about you that tend to surprise people?
I was a writer for a long time. I think people are surprised that I grew up Baptist. Although if you hear me preach, I still go too long for an Episcopalian. And I have obscure knowledge of coffee. I was a "cupper" for coffee. I wrote reviews, for like 20 years. And I can usually name coffees by region, country, and where they're grown by the smell and taste of the coffee.
I think I've tried some 20,000 different coffees over the years. But I say that, and it sounds really impressive until you think about how cuppers now taste 10,000 cups in a year. And so, I was not involved in the coffee industry at its full hype. I missed that revolution. I could have gone to become an emergent Church pastor. I have the goatee and the tattoos. I could have been a cool Church guy, and instead, I became an Episcopal priest. And I could have been cool with coffee. I'd known all the stuff that was online before everybody else. It became this massive cool industry, and they're doing amazing things now. I enjoy its benefits, but I didn't join a revolution ahead of time.
Tags: Stories from EDUSC