During one of the intense walk-about sessions in the process leading to the election of a bishop for the Diocese of California in April 2006, Sheila and I were in a packed room, getting ready to respond to a new round of questions, when a person moved up to me and said, “You are not the only bishop in the room, Bishop Millard is here.” This man took me over to a slender, elderly man, and introduced me. Bishop Millard was 92 at the time. I immediately liked his hospitable aspect, his good humor, and his quick intellect.
Yesterday, October 2, 2011 was his 97th birthday. As our Presiding Bishop announced at the House of Bishops meeting in Ecuador, Richard Millard is the most senior bishop in The Episcopal Church. As serendipity would have it, Sheila and I were already planning to be at the parish where he worships, Christ Church, Portola Valley, on the afternoon of his birthday to welcome people to one of the concerts by Les Petites Chanteurs, the boys choir from the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti.
Bishop Millard attended the concert, the children and all of us attending sang “Happy Birthday” to him, and then Sheila and I were honored to take him to dinner in celebration of this amazing life thus far. Here are a few of the things I’d like to share with you about Bishop Richard Millard.
He was born in 1914, the year World War 1 began, in Shasta, California, far in the north of the state. His parents were working class people, and religiously his mother was a Presbyterian. His parents were not at all church-going people, but his mother dropped him off at the Presbyterian Sunday School, the only of the three siblings interested in religion.
He went to UC Berkeley, and it was there he became an Episcopalian through the work of a student chaplain. Dick majored in education, because he loved the positive contributions that teaching had made to his life, but he found the curriculum deadening. He came to believe that the ministry of teaching might be pursued under a larger heading, in ordained ministry, and went to EDS (then ETS) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Evaluating his education, he said he wasn’t really prepared for serious graduate work; he had had a good elementary education, but mediocre educations in high school and college. ETS was a challenge, but one that called the best out in him intellectually. He was one of the only students of his small class (9 men) to take courses at Harvard while at ETS.
After ordination, Dick served as a curate at St. James’, Madison Avenue. At the parish of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Richard came to realize that the ministry open to him was to provide support and pastoral care to the wealthy parishoners’ servants, a role he valued greatly. Indeed, I have come to see that Bishop Millard has framed his life in terms of being a middle child – not the leader but one who works faithfully for the support of the whole, including supporting the vision of the leader.
Sheila and I have visited Bishop Millard’s apartment and when I commented on the stunning icons on the walls there, I learned that he was the artist who made them. Sunday evening we learned that he spent four month-long vacations in the Balkans as a student of writing icons.
After he retired as a bishop, having served with Bishop Pike and as the Suffragan Bishop for the American Convocation of Churches in Europe, and at the Episcopal Church Center in New York, Bishop Millard went to St. Mary’s College in Moraga, CA and completed a graduate degree in psychology. He was over 80 when he finished his degree, and then went on to work as a Veterans Hospital Chaplain until he was 90. He retired from the chaplain’s job, telling the hospital administration who were urging him to stay on, “I think it is time for you to find some younger people to do this job.”
(photo by James Kaspar)