Looking back at a life well lived

By Margaret Treadwell

The Rev. Craig Eder, 87, has been a beloved priest in the Diocese of Washington since 1945, when he graduated from Virginia Theological Seminary after studying biology and pre-med at Harvard. He has served at a number of churches as an associate, interim or volunteer, was chaplain at St. Albans School from 1953-1973 and has been an associate at St. Columba’s from 1975 until the present. His only time away was from 1947-53 when he served rural churches around White Sulpher Springs, W.Va.

Recently we enjoyed an afternoon in the garden at The Methodist Home in Northwest Washington, where he talked about his life.

How did you know when the time was right to move from your longtime home to a retirement community?

Our children told us and we listened to them. My wife Edie was having heart trouble and my 85 wonderful healthy years had changed in the last three years with four hospitalizations.

What is your best advice about adjusting to this big change and challenge?

I think of the refrain of a hymn, “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” (*) We were fortunate to find a place in our community where I can stay connected to my church and younger people. Now, I’ve become involved here by loving older people too. Our dog Dilly was the best icebreaker with these new friends. They talked to the dog, and only then to me.

What drew you away from pre-med to the ministry?

Harvard was a time of soul-searching when Darwin and evolution were great issues. I was in the class of 1942 and there was a belief in inevitable progress despite the oncoming war. I greatly admired my father, an Episcopal priest, who wanted me to become a priest. A few short statements summed up the intellectual struggle that ended in a decision to offer myself to the ministry. One found in a Forward Movement publication was the idea that although I can’t do everything, I’m not going to let that get in the way of things I can do. Another was that life has a real meaning if all things that religion claims are true; if not true, life has no real meaning. Another powerful thought came from the scientific method I’d been involved in; it teaches one to postulate a theory and then test it. I thought, “I’ll live by the belief that religion is true. Since there’s no proof, I’ll choose the one I want, given the alternative.” Looking back, I’m sure I made the right choice.

What are the highlights of your life in ministry?

Times when I took some leadership in conflict and reconciliation come to mind, such as the ordination of women, the 1979 prayer book, and interim positions where I loved both sides in disputes and refused to become polarized. In one historic church this led to reconciliation between parish members and also between Anglicans and Roman Catholics. In a magnificent ecumenical service on July 4, 1976 on the lawn in front of Trinity, St. Mary’s City, we celebrated the 200th anniversary of our country.

Recently, I had a powerful religious experience. I knew a woman named Gracie, a fellow patient in the nursing part of the Methodist Home here, who cried out constantly, “Help me! Somebody help me!” Once I rolled my wheelchair over and asked her how I could help. “Take me home,” she said.

I explained that I couldn’t because that was her nurse’s job. But from then on we greeted each other whenever we met, she with the plea, “Help me. Help me.” I was deeply moved when I learned that she had died the very evening of a pleasant visit with her family from California. When I went to her service, I introduced myself and asked her son if I could speak. He said, “Yes! She was a distant Episcopalian.” So I told her story observing that her cry, “Help me,” is an elemental call of all human beings. She had been loved in her home growing up and wanted to return, representing all of us who yearn for God. Just like breathing while repeating the Jesus prayer, “Jesus Christ have mercy on me,” her cry repeated with each breath was a prayer of the heart deeply longing for home where she had known love, the meaning of it all.

It occurred to me that an angel passing by heard her prayer, took her by the hand and brought her to God who would give her the love that all of us need, that she so desperately needed.

“And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

(*) The hymn, “We are one in the Spirit,” by Peter Schotes, can be found in a supplemental hymnal, “Songs for Liturgy and More Hymns and Spiritual Songs” published in 1970 by the Join Commission on Church Music of the Episcopal Church.

Margaret M. (“Peggy”) Treadwell, LCSW -C, has been active in the fields of education and counseling for thirty-five years. Following a long association with Dr. Edwin H. Friedman, during which she served on his faculty, she co-edited and helped posthumously publish his book, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. She creates and leads conferences across the country for bishops, clergy and church lay leaders, helping them to apply family systems concepts to their leadership in diocesan and parish ministry.

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