Although I never got to meet her in person, Ann Fontaine has been walking alongside me almost as long as I’ve been an Episcopalian. We first met when I was new to the church, around 2006, via the blogosphere. She later coerced me (in that won’t-take-no-for-an-answer way of hers) to do online EfM in one of the groups where she was a mentor. She continued to walk alongside of me through my convoluted nine year path to the priesthood, encouraging me, telling me it was what I was called to do but to not give up an inch of the “authentic me.” She often sent me videos and memes of donkeys when I was feeling down or out of sorts with my process to ordination, knowing my love of long-eared equines, both donkeys and mules. Her ordination gift to me was a “donkey cross” that I wear every day since I’ve gotten it (photo above).
I loved her despite the fact she was a Cubs fan and she loved me in spite of my Cardinal fandom. She poked at me to begin to preach more from the heart and without notes, drawing on her time with Native American congregations, where people said, “If you can’t tell the story without writing it out, why should we believe it?” Ann spurred me to tell unabashedly “the Gospel that I know without notes.” As her lung disease worsened, she trusted the physician half of my bivocational self to converse frankly and unemotionally about her disease. I cherish the conversations she had with me which, I believe, might have been a little piece of how she went headlong into these last few months of our life, teaching us how to live, even when we are dying. I marveled at the peace she had as she became more housebound, choosing to focus on all the little details right out her own living room window.
It feels so strange to no longer feel her beside me on the road, but I know this Sunday, when I stand behind the altar and celebrate the Eucharist, and say, “Angels and archangels and all the company of Heaven,” I will smile that the company of Heaven got a little larger this week. Ann’s life will always remind me that we live in the hope of a love that is stronger than death…and stronger than dying. Rest in peace and rise in glory, Ann!
~Maria L. Evans~
I can’t remember when I first saw her posts or FB friended her. I wrote a reflection (essay?) on discernment, sent it to Jon White, and, lo and behold, it was published in the Magazine section. I did make a (longwinded, very theological) comment or six on her FB page. And then, out of the blue, she sent me an email asking if I wanted to be the Monday contributor to Speaking to the Soul. Yes, sure, I answered, and mumbled (if you can mumble in an email) something about checking in with my father-in-God, with whom I always check in with for big life changes. And she wrote back, Good, your deadline is tomorrow! So I wrote my first SttS, submitted it, and hi ho away we go, 52 reflections a year, dare I say 52 almost homilies. It was a ministry that was literally a Godsend. I needed that platform to preach, teach, and have a place furthering my call to mission. I had a passion for the assignment, and still do. A purpose in the Church. One that has had a shaky history in my life, but never went away. She opened up a new life in Christ for me, for my soul, one which teaches me as much as I teach others. It was a gift I could never adequately thank her for.
I found out about her medical condition in one of many long emails we exchanged. She supported me in so many ways, my eternal search for vocation, life questions, stuff. At the time she assured me that she had years to go. That was a few months ago. Then suddenly she was going downhill, faster and faster, and now she has gone to God. I never met her face to face, but I know her. We never walked together on those wild Oregon beaches, which we both knew so well. She had a good death. That used to be important. It should still be. It still is. And she witnessed it for us, and I bless her for that. I hold her in prayer still, but I have no doubt she is in good hands, and her prayers for us are probably more to the point. But I do pray for her family and friends, because it is we, those left, who hurt the most. Ann is fine. Goodbye for now, Rev. Ann Fontaine. I miss you.
I am not sure how exactly Ann and I became friends. Maybe it was through blogging. Maybe it was through Facebook and Twitter. Maybe it was through our shared love of the Episcopal Church. But everyone seemed to know Ann, and somehow we connected and began a nearly five-year conversation that has blessed me in innumerable ways. She was an encourager, an advisor, a sister-priest, and friend to me, and to so many.
One of the things that I most loved about Ann was that she took joy in and was mindfully engaged in so many things. Her love of the Episcopal Church, in all its messy glory. Her fierce, steadfast work as an advocate and ally for our LGBTQ kin. Her mastery of the minutia of the governance and worship of the church, as a nine-time General Convention delegate. And simpler things: walking on the beach, especially with her beloved husband, and the beauty of her backyard garden. Her children, of whom she was undeniably and rightfully proud. Her love of the Cubs—her joy in the game and her random Facebook posts encouraging them to keep going always made me smile, as someone who grew up a Cubs fan myself, thanks to the ubiquity of WGN on cable television during my formative years in Tulsa, which lacked a true “home team.”
As I entered into the long process of discernment, Ann was there, encouraging me and offering sage advice. Ironically, our lives paralleled here: we both retired early from our first careers as educators at the same age and went to seminary after being called from lay ministry to ordained ministry with some tugging and pulling from the Holy Spirit. Ann was incredibly generous answering questions and checking in on me as I navigated all the hoops and twists of the process. Her sharing of her experience of ordained ministry helped give me the courage to persevere, and eventually, to have faith in the sense of call that had fastened upon me for so long.
Ann had a pastor’s heart and an incisive mind. Her sense of humor and quickness of wit could always be counted upon in commentary on the day’s events. Her emoji game was especially creative when the days often seemed darkest, and provided a very-necessary dose of the ridiculous, yet never masked her huge heart and deep pastoral sensibility. Ironically, on the morning after one of the most distressing days I have ever experienced in the Church, she reached out to me and recruited me to write for Speaking to the Soul at Episcopal Café, which was an honor I still treasure. In one of my first essays on that platform, I wrote about the 40th anniversary of the ordination of women to the priesthood in our church alongside the parable of the leaven in Matthew 13:33, and spoke of how the “leaven” of women has helped the Episcopal Church to continue to rise, even in the face of challenges. Looking back on that essay, and on the conversation Ann and I had about it, I now see more clearly than ever that Ann was precious leaven for me on my continuing journey with God.
Another treasure I have from Ann is more tangible. A couple of years ago, she gifted me with a copy of her book, Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible. This collection of brief scripture passages and zen-like poetic observation, organized by the daily office readings for Year 2 in the Book of Common Prayer, has have been a treasured spiritual resource for me. Last Tuesday, as I was doing my morning prayer and thinking about Ann, I read her entry on p. 180 for the Tuesday of the Week of 3 Easter. The scripture passage she had chosen for the day was Psalm 31:10a:
For my life is wasted with grief,
and my years with sighing;
Ann’s response was this:
When will the sun
break through the clouds
and thickly clinging fog?
Step by step
Trust the path.
And that, for me, summed up Ann’s love, witness, and influence in my life, and, I suspect, the lives of so many others. Even as she faced this last phase of her illness with her unique combination of grace, resilience, honesty, and humor, she has always reminded me of the assurance we have in Christ, the faith we have in the love of God, which never fails, so that in all things, even at the grave, we make our song “Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!”
Step by step, trust the path. Amen.
“I never did get to meet Ann in person, and we had little private conversation. Most of our interaction was in online group messages, where she was a source of constant connection, with an eagle eye for interesting news and a tenacious pursuit of truth, accountability, and justice.
But the few times I received a private message from Ann, it was always to encourage. After a day of difficult posts, a simple, “Good job today,”was enough to lift my spirits. I would say she didn’t know how much it helped, but I believe that she did, and that’s why she did it. I am grateful to have known her, even a little, and I will continue to hear her incisive questioning and encouragement each time I sit down at the Cafe.
Rise in glory, Ann.”
(This post was originally published at The Episcopal Cafe on 20 April 2018)