Remembering ‘Father Dan’ Brigham

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After reading the beautiful obituary notice for Father Richard “Dan” Brigham, I made the sign of the Cross and whispered a “Hail Mary …” on his behalf. In Latin. Father Brigham would have chuckled, I think.

I know there are former parishioners in the area who recall him fondly. As I sincerely do. I also know the painful and needless events at the time of his retirement (orchestrated to a great extent by himself) have left a dark cloud over his ministry. But I maintain there is much during his years at St. Andrew’s that is commendable. To be sure Father Brigham was a complex man; but to me he was a kind and insightful priest and a dear friend.

Forgive me for feeling maudlin or nostalgic as I look back … but everything seemed so sacred and Holy. Father once commented to me that each service was like a dance; he was more than happy to teach us the proper steps.

It was not that he was a stickler or a fuss-pot. He truly believed that it all mattered. As he would say, reverence is largely attention to details. That was Father Brigham — we learned wonder and awe by his example.

Personally, I knew him to be incredibly generous. The seemingly simple gifts he gave often turned out to be life-changing and priceless. He introduced me to the most beautiful and appropriate prayers. He encouraged me to “cultivate the friendship of Our Lady.” He handed me a key to the church sanctuary so I could pray before the Reserved Sacrament at any time. As I write this, I can feel my fingertips brushing each pew as I felt my way to the altar candle, in the pitch black of the church.

I can still picture Father Brigham on Good Friday — holding a large Crucifix in the midst of the packed congregation. I can also picture him at 6 a.m. on Wednesdays, with a tiny group of early but devout risers. (Somehow the amazing Jane Lindsey always managed to look gorgeous before dawn!).

Sadly, I can also picture Father watching over the heart-breaking meetings that led to division in our parish. I will never understand how or why he lost his way …

But today I will picture Father Dan Brigham at the conclusion of every service, beaming at the congregation he loved so much, all of us in a state of perfect grace. Do you recall the verse he invited us to pray? I hope that you do. I hope you remember the words of the hymn with joy; and Father Dan, too.

“All praise and thanks to Thee ascend, Forever more, blest One in Three; O grant us life that shall not end, In our true native land with Thee”.

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine.

Suzanne Sports

Peachtree City, Ga.

15 COMMENTS

  1. I disagree with your assertion of Fr. Dan as a flawed man who caused pain to many. I was an active and very involved member of St. Andrews at that time and recall Fr. Dan as a kind and encouraging soul, who suffered and struggled with the progressive changes in ECUSA. I realize he was not well liked by the Diocese of Atlanta’s hierarchy, because he stood for the traditional Church and was not compliant in instituting many of the politically and socially progressive changes. Because he stood firm, he was persecuted, ridiculed and dismissed as irrelevant. Yes, there are two sides to every story, and I know he was not perfect, none of us are. But, from my chair, much of the pain caused to St. Andrews parish and to many other Episcopal parishes around the our country resulted from ECUSA’s progressive wing being in such a hurry to achieve its social-political progressive agenda that it didn’t care about long-standing theologic tradition or who they destroyed or ran out of the Episcopal Church in the process. As a result, many people, including me, left the Episcopal Church, as we could not support what ECUSA was doing and how it went about it. It was indeed a most painful time, but to pin the pain experienced by the St. Andrews parish on Fr. Dan with acknowledging that others played as large or even larger part is unkind and unfair.

    • Hi, BJ–
      My sincere apologies.
      I had no intention of showing disrespect to Father Brigham.
      On the contrary, I labored to choose my words to convey how very much he meant to me and how much I appreciated him.

      However I also tried to be honest and candid.
      The priest I knew would approve.
      He instructed me!

      • Hello, Suz – thank you for your apologies – accepted. I understand that your perspective differs from mine. I also appreciate your desire to honor him. I seriously doubt, however, Fr. Dan would have approved (in fact, I think he would have been rather hurt by these words) of being called “undeniably flawed” or that his platform exaggerated these flaws or used his platform as you call it to inflict pain on others – a bit harsh and not an accurate reflection of what happened. Recall, it was not Fr. Dan who wanted to break up the parish, but members of the Vestry and other parishioners. Fr. Dan would have loved to keep the parish together and in the Episcopal Church. Also recall it was the Diocese of Atlanta hierarchy who marginalized him as did progressive liberals within the parish itself. Fr. Dan was a very dear and gentle soul, who was very badly treated. I do not blame him at all for what transpired, but as noted the blame rest squarely on the tug of war between the conservative and progressive liberal wings of ECUSA and the St. Andrews parish. He was caught in the middle.

        • Thank you,BJ-
          I still maintain that Father would approve of my being faithful to the truth as I perceive it. And I’m sure he would feel the same toward you.

          I would even dare to hope that he is proud. That was always the impression he gave me, even when
          he and I disagreed.

          • We’ll have to to agree to disagree. Fr. Dan was never one to engage post modernist views of relative reality or truths. But if that is what you’d like to believe, so be it.

          • Exactly, BJ!
            Father was the epitome of
            graciousness to me, especially considering our differences (my post modernist views). Without recriminations or hurt feelings. I recall us laughing at our personification of “new wine and old wine-skins”.

            Without a doubt, i am a better person because of knowing and learning from Father Brigham. Without having to agree with him
            on all topics.

            Perhaps I should have simply let that paragraph be my tribute!

    • Wow, after I read Suz’ tribute for Fr Brigham, although I didn’t know him, I felt like I did … because she made him seem like a good man caught in a hard place and struggling to stay true to his principles and retain his kindness to people and devotion to Christ and Mary … maybe he ultimately placed too much weight on the principles and not enough on lovingkindness, but he left his mark. And like the best of us, he left even those he disappointed able to say, “to me he was a kind and insightful priest and a dear friend.”

      But then I read BJ’s defense of how unfair that indictment was … and suddenly everything I thought I knew about Fr Brigham was called into question because somehow that tribute to his talents and his struggles was seen as unfair — in fact his struggles weren’t HIS fault, they must be squarely laid at SOMEONE ELSE’S door! And honestly … whenever that happens, you know that something is rotten in the state of Denmark. If you can’t even stand to have an honest tribute made to you that includes your flaws and your strengths … you probably didn’t deserve that tribute in the first place.

      If, as BJ says, the only tribute Fr Brigham would have approved was one that stated any harm that was done to the faithful of St. Andrew’s was 100% someone else’s fault, and 0% his fault, this makes me think he was probably just an old crank who wanted to keep LGBTQ people out of the church after all. What a shame! I thought Suz’ tribute made him seem human, and good. BJ’s “defense” now makes him seem to me like just another old stuffed shirt who valued the letter of the law over the universal love of Christ. What a shame! I doubt he would prefer that tribute over the original one.

      • Wow, is right! Nothing like going from one end to another without considering that there might be a middle way or two sides to the story.

        My comments about the unfairness of Suz’s tribute was not directed at the entire tribute, most of which was very nice, respectful and loving. I truly loved Suz’s August 15 comment and felt we had arrived at a good resting spot for our discussion. Thank you for that, Suz.

        My comments focused on this paragraph: “Sadly, I can also picture Father watching over the heart-breaking meetings that led to division in our parish. I will never understand how or why he lost his way …” and in her response to you: “As I alluded, Father Brigham was undeniably a flawed man. And because he had a platform, those flaws were perhaps amplified, causing pain to many.” The issues are very complicated, more so than can be discussed here. I am happy to talk with you one-on-one, if you would like to gain a better understanding of the dynamics that led to the break up of the Episcopal Church in general and St. Andrews in particular, as it seems you are not well-versed on these issues. Not a criticism, just an observation.

        As to your point about Fr. Dan having zero responsibility for the troubles at St. Andrews, you will recall in my responding posts that I agreed he was not perfect – none of us are. My point is he was not the cause of these issues, nor did he fan the flames of change. He would have loved nothing better than to stay out of the troubles and keep St. Andrews going as it had for many years, but that was not to be. The progressive wing of the Episcopal Church was not to be denied and pushed and pushed until the cracks broke open. The conservative wing pushed back with equal force, and Fr. Dan, like so many of us, was caught in the middle. In the end, we all had to choose up sides.

        The problem these days is the notion that others have to believe / agree as I do or they are somehow flawed or have lost their way is how many think. Worse yet – some try to cancel or make the opposite camp out to be villains unworthy of respect or life. We see it all the time in our political discourse and on various local social media groups. Civility is a lost art, sadly. Why is there not room for many different points of view? Why can’t we seek a middle way, rather than going from one extreme to the other. Life is not black and white, but lived most fully in the gray areas.

        I sincerely hope you soften your views of Fr. Dan. No, he did not support women priests or the LBTQ agenda, and yes, he preferred the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, although he used the more recent ones. No, he did not like the proposed changes to the liturgies that brought in many new age elements, but that does not make him “an old stuffed shirt who valued the letter of the law over the universal love of Christ” as you put it. It makes him the defender of the traditional Christian Church and a hero to many of us.

        I hope this response puts all this to rest. I invite you to agree to disagree and leave it at that on this platform. Again, I am happy to talk with you one-on-one or all three of us to give you a better understanding.

        • PS – I need to clarify something so as not to create a possible misunderstanding. That Fr. Dan did not agree with the LBTQ agenda only refers to the social-political agenda not to individual people themselves. He welcomed everyone. There’s a big difference.

          • Can you handle another “WOW”?!

            The funny thing is, I think the three of us have a very similar aim–we all are championing a wonderful man.

            For me, the key to our differences might be summed up by your clarification, BJ–where you assert there is a big difference in welcoming LGBTQ+ individuals into the church and in supporting social and political rights for them.
            I see very little difference.

            My gay friends refer to this as “church bait and switch”. They are assured that all are welcome…until they discover some limit to
            their full participation or face some insult.

            For instance, the pain I wrote about occurred at the discussions at the parish meetings, overseen by Father. I know he loved everyone; but welcoming to gays? They knew better–if you didn’t want an openly gay Bishop, you don’t want them.

            And that is my point– we all agree that Father
            Brigham was an amazing priest and a lovely man.
            The difference is, you consider him a hero for
            resisting change in the church. Whereas I–and I suspect VJax–view that as
            “flawed.”

            Your truth, my truth, Vjax’s impression…still a
            loving remembrance of a complex man, I hope.

          • Thank you, Suz, for your reply. I think you’ve summed up our discussion well and have landed us all in a good spot. Let’s leave it there. I hope Vjax will as well. May Fr. Dan’s memory be eternal.

  2. Beautiful! I feel like I knew him, too. Thank you for this moving tribute.

    Before politics and money took over religion in the USA, church was a sanctuary, and caring shepherds like Fr Brigham once was were instrumental in helping us all connect to the Divine Mystery.

    • Visionaryjax–Thank you for this.

      As I alluded, Father Brigham was undeniably a flawed man.
      And because he had a platform, those flaws were perhaps amplified, causing pain to many.

      Yet I find myself holding firm to the mercy and forgiveness extended to one and all, without exception. Including Father
      Brigham. Including me.

      And I appreciate you and the few who “like” the way of grace
      I attempted to depict. Who among us does not need that?