Rest in Peace and Rise in Glory, Dear One.
This dear saint –The Rt. Rev. Charles Lovett Keyser — served as the fourth Bishop Suffragan for the Armed Forces and, upon retirement, served generously in the Episcopal Diocese of Florida. Many are in a position to say much more about his work and life. However, as one who has been shaped and formed through my experience of Bishop Keyser, I feel compelled to share briefly.
Just a few of the ways he has blessed me:
Presence. Bishop Keyser shared the love of Christ wherever he went and with whomever he met. He was so full of the Holy Spirit, it was as if it oozed from his pores. I first encountered him when he came to meet with and advise the vestry on which I served. The dean and rector announced his departure and we formed a search committee. You could feel the anxiety and prickliness in the air as many had clear ideas about what type of leader was desirable. When Bishop Keyser joined us, when he sat with us, the presence of the Holy was palpable. All the tension and petty energy in the air dissipated. As if we understood God was present and patiently waiting our surrender. I felt that same sense of the Holy, as I sat in a church office asking him for any advise he might give a prospective seminarian. “Don’t do it, unless you really have to,” he told me. “If you go, keep in mind one of the most important things you’ll do is to teach folks to use this (he held up the Book of Common Prayer).”
Unflinching compassion. Bishop Keyser was taken with the power of sharing Christ with those on the edge or treated unjustly. Seven years ago, at General Convention, he asked me to find a Black Lives Matter pin for him; true to our baptismal covenant, he was excited by this new and renewed focus on racism and equity. He was Franciscan in his approach of preaching often but using words only when necessary. He understood that the most transformative evangelism comes not when we hit folks over the head with Jesus or the Bible but when we help create and hold a sacred space in which the Spirit can move. His leadership in bringing Wounded Warriors to Camp Weed and his deep affection for Church Without Walls speaks to this. Clearly, he was deeply formed by his service in the Armed Forces – a place where a nice tame Christianity is worthless, where permission to abandon ourselves to a God in whom we may not believe or who we imagine has abandoned us to utter darkness is most meaningful, most raw, and most hopeful.
Servant leadership. Bishop Keyser’s commitment to pastor and love all people made him a quiet yet powerful leader. It was never about him or what he needed. Rather it was about the person or people in his midst. When I was in seminary, it was often a lonely time, and the work was very demanding. I had dutifully written another Ember Day letter to the bishop, checking off another box. Much to my surprise Bishop Keyser, who has covering during an episcopal sabbatical, wrote to me. He said nothing about my coursework, ministry internship or academic plans. He simply shared a deep love and caring for me as a child of God. His words buoyed me, reminding me I was there for a reason and that Christ was at the center, holding me, recreating me. To the end, his concern was always for the other. This gentle giant was a true pastor not just for the Church but for all people.