The Bishop’s E-pistle: Back in the Saddle Again

What joy it was to join the people of St. Paul’s, Tombstone for their Founder’s Day festivities this past Sunday. It was my first visitation since Nathan’s stroke, and I really did get “back in the saddle”: we began the day with a horseback procession down Allen Street in Tombstone.

(Photo: Jesse Villegas, Jr.)

Those of you who have been in the Diocese of Arizona for many years no doubt know the story of Endicott Peabody’s founding of St. Paul’s, and his subsequent vocation as the founder of the Groton School. Briefly, for those who, like me, are new: St. Paul’s was founded in 1882, shortly after the shootout at the OK Corral, by Endicott Peabody who at that point was a seminarian. He spent only six months in Tombstone, and managed to raise the funds for the first Protestant Church in the Arizona Territory through a combination of winning boxing matches, fundraising from the townspeople, miners and (reportedly) Tombstone’s sex workers. Wyatt Earp gave the altar rail. Today, the congregation embraces its identity as part of Tombstone’s history, and many members arrived on Sunday in 1880s era clothing.

Tombstone of the 1880s was — according to legend — a very divided place. Miners, cowboys, lawmen, business owners… everyone had different interests, and we know the history of violence and vendetta that came from those divides.

I wonder which of those first groups ended up at St. Paul’s? Or if it was a place where different groups were welcomed? Our identity is in Christ — we are Christians first, anything else second. As so many of our churches struggle today with how to be open to people who are different from the majority of current congregants, I wonder if the legends of Tombstone might have a few additional lessons to teach us about how to bring people together at the altar rail?

But for now, I am blessed by Sunday’s joyful ride, the consecration of a new altar for St. Paul’s, the eight people who made or renewed vows to follow Christ, and the voices raised in praise to Jesus.

(Photo: Jesse Villegas, Jr.)