Fanfare for an Uncommon Woman
Episcopal Diocese of Washington
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Bishop Mariann’s Blog
Thursday, September 06, 2012
Janice Robinson was one of the first people to welcome me to the Diocese of Washington. Serving as Chaplain to the Bishop's Search and Transition Committee, Janice drew upon her extraordinary breadth and depth of relationships and fierce love for Christ and this Church. While trusting the Holy Spirit to guide us, Janice was determined to do all in her considerable power to ensure that all voices were heard and all had a place. After the election, Janice wanted me to know that she was ready to continue serving in whatever way we mutually discerned would be pleasing to God.
I've since learned that Janice was that first welcoming person for many, an incarnation of hospitality and collaborative ministry. She was also one that countless clergy and lay leaders turned to for wisdom and support.
I asked my colleagues to compile a list of Janice's leadership roles in the Diocese, and the scope of her ministry took our breath away: Rector Grace Church, Silver Spring, Director of Education, College of Preachers, Associate Rector, St. John's, Norwood, Chaplain to Search and Transition Committee for 9th Bishop, Co-chair of Committee on Racial Reconciliation, Standing Committee, Angus Dun Committee, Resolutions Committee, Soper Advisory Group, Commission on Ministry, Diocesan Council, Chair, Diocesan Finance Committee, General Convention Deputation Leader, Deputy to Provincial Synod, Board of Presenters, Cape Town Subcommittee of Companion Diocese Committee, Afro-Anglican Clergy Group, Cathedral Foundation Board of Trustees, Vice-President WECA, Founding Board Member of the Bishop Walker School, Field Education Supervisor and Colloquy mentor, Viriginia Theological Seminary.
The list keeps growing. But her leadership also ran deep. As Canon Paul Cooney wrote, "I was always so impressed at Janice's underlying leadership, wisdom and forthrightness that gave her authority that transcended formal authority."
Just as Janice and I were beginning the conversation about the next chapter of her leadership, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. At first, it was little more than a nuisance, a distraction from her true work. As complications and reactions to treatment delayed what was sure to be a full recovery, she kept her outward demeanor calm and confident. Internally she began to wrestle with the deeper spiritual questions that serous illnesses raise. Then came a second cancer diagnosis, requiring more aggressive treatment, and more complications.
Thus the narrative of her illness became primary, her unwelcome yet unavoidable life's work. And she embraced it with characteristic honesty and courage, sharing with us her insights and struggles in prayer. Reading through her CaringBridge entries from the beginning, I am at once in awe and heart-broken. Consider this passage from May 28th:
What does Jesus mean when he says, "Abide in my word. Whatever you ask of me, I will give you." I am convinced I do not understand this. I am sure that thousands of people, who have abided in his word, to the best of their ability, and have asked to be cured of cancer, and they were not. I cannot find an instance of Jesus making a promise that was not kept. I need enlightenment. The other is harder still, and please understand that I am not asking this one because of some news I have received, nor surmised, but it is an important one. How do you prepare to die? I don't mean all of the legal documents, wills, advance directives, Power of Attorney deals, etc. Berit and I have done all of those things, but I mean spiritually, and emotionally. I really would appreciate any feedback any of you would care to share with Berit and me.
In her next post, she thanked all those who responded:
Thank you so much for being willing to engage with me in exploring the questions I am wrestling with. Thank you for the reminder that allowing myself to fall into the arms of our Lord is the best place to be, and that his time is not my time, nor is his way my way. The profound truth of these things are at times too wonderful to comprehend. Thanks also for pushing me in my journey into these questions, and reminding me that perhaps we are never so close to God as when we ask the questions.
The arc of her illness seemed never-ending as we lived through it, but in retrospect it all happened so fast. How could one so full of life have her life taken from her? How is it possible that Janice Robinson will never again, on this side of heaven, greet us with a smile, a word of courage or exhortation, or a reminder of God's grace and mystery?
Go forth, child of God. How we miss you already. But we know that we are ever walking in your sight, and we will take good care of Berit and one another, as you taught us so well how to do.
The memorial service for Janice will be held on September 15, 2012 at the National Cathedral. For more information, visit the website.
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