I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.”
While he was in prison, where he spent many hours ministering to inmates with AIDS, he had heard that Trinity was having its own crisis. It had lost dozens of members to the disease. Its surviving congregation was struggling.
A few days after his release in 2006, Tramel said, he visited the church and immediately knew it was his destiny.
Now the Rev. James Tramel’s name is on the sign in front of the historic building. By a unanimous vote of the church’s vestry and the approval of the bishop of the diocese, he became the church’s rector late last year.
“James is a living witness to the fact that there really is hope,” said the Rev. Jim Richardson, an Episcopal priest in Sacramento, Calif., who is chaplain of the California Senate. Richardson and many others served as a powerful support system for Tramel while he was incarcerated.
“He is proof that there can be redemption,” Richardson said. “That a person really can turn his life around.”
Now Tramel is working to change the lives of others, and not only from the pulpit.
Tramel, 39, who lives in Berkeley and commutes to his parish in San Francisco in a blue 1967 Volkswagen Beetle, said he remains in awe of his new life.
“It’s so hard to describe it,” he said. “Just waking up in the middle of the night and seeing my son sleeping so peacefully is amazing. I know I have never done anything to deserve that kind of feeling.”
Yet Tramel and his loved ones are realistic about the challenges of his dramatically new life.
“This isn’t Cinderella,” said Green. “One doesn’t so easily begin to live happily ever after after so long in prison. There will be beautiful views, and there will be steep climbs.”
There is, for one, the ghost of Michael Stephenson.
“The grief about what I did to Michael is something I have to live with every day.”
It’s all here.