In Memoriam: The Rev. Canon Dr. Edward W. Rodman, 1942-2024

May 1, 2024
In Memoriam: The Rev. Canon Dr. Edward W. Rodman, 1942-2024

Many thanks to the Rev. Dr. Sheryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook for writing this tribute.

The Rev. Canon Dr. Edward W. Rodman, 1942-2024

John Seeley Stone Professor of Pastoral Theology and Urban Ministry

“Let there be peace among us and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression.”

Ed Rodman was, in many ways, the embodiment of the Episcopal Divinity School's mission of justice, compassion, and reconciliation. Ed would say, “We are what is left of the Left in the Episcopal Church.”

When asked to reflect on Ed Rodman’s life and ministry from the perspective of EDS, I readily agreed, as I can never thank him enough for his support of my formation and vocation. Ed was the priest who brought me into the Episcopal Church and sponsored me for ordination. He was my most influential mentor, teacher, and colleague. He also hated “sappy sentimentality.” As an old friend of his recently noted, “Ed was a very public and a very private person.” When confronted with too much sappy sentimentality, he would literally wander away. Thus, I offer these reflections in a dignified spirit.

Ed’s relationship with EDS began sixty years ago, during his student years. As one of his classmates recently reflected:

We were in seminary together—acted together in the class play, Auden's "For the Time Being"— Ed was a brilliant Herod— and had so many conversations. I loved his humour (the spelling tells you I'm writing from the other side of the pond!), his forthrightness and his perceptiveness, his courage and his costly witness….Ed declaimed the brilliant Auden monologue as to the manner born: the strength and the cynicism of the character in the play somehow made the most of the life experience of authority and power of which Ed had been on the receiving end of on his journey to seminary, and that was the education he gave me as an arriving Brit with no prior contact with African Americans. He said the uncomfortable things I needed to hear (and not just I). Of all the characters I treasure from those years, Ed is the ‘larger than life’ example of what I needed to experience and learn…. I was editor of the ETS Journal that dealt with the death of Jonathan Daniels in 1965, and it was so important to live through that with those African Americans, like Ed, who could see it differently.

Ed Rodman graduated from Episcopal Divinity School in 1967; the school later granted him a Doctor of Divinity (D.D.) degree. After serving in five consecutive administrations in the Diocese of Massachusetts, he returned to the school as the John Seeley Stone Professor of Pastoral Theology and Urban Ministry. Ed Rodman was a committed activist, strategist, community organizer, and dedicated theological educator. His motivation for coming to EDS was to equip future generations of religious leaders to work for justice, confront racism and other forms of oppression, and advocate for the marginalized. Ed’s teaching and advising style was the epitome of the both/and approach: He was gentle and confrontative, tolerant and impatient, hopeful and realistic, humorous and grave. Let’s also remember that during the years Ed taught at EDS, we were both Episcopal and an ecumenical community. Although we never embraced our ecumenical spirit to the extent we hoped, Ed was a primary mentor for our MCC, UU, and UCC students, as much as for the Episcopalians.

Ed Rodman was a brilliant communicator, capable of distilling a great deal of information with blistering clarity. Hence the many “Rodmanisms” now shared throughout the EDS diaspora:

“Never make the mistake of assuming that the church is a benevolent institution.”

“Don’t believe your own propaganda.”

“Have your hands in everything, but don’t leave your fingerprints.”

“Don't try and convince people with the facts.”

“Do not try to leap a chasm in two jumps.”

“There is nothing worse than ignorance fraught with technicalities.”

"If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there."

“Follow the Money.”

“If you are at the back of the church on the day of your ordination, and if you have any doubt whether this is your calling, or that you are getting into ministry for the wrong reasons, then please do us a favor and run in the opposite direction!”

“Be Brief, be Blunt, Be Gone.” (This last phrase encapsulated Ed’s theology of preaching!)

Presence sums up Ed Rodman’s ministry at EDS. Like the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, former EDS students report life-changing encounters with Ed while walking through campus, on the ramp outside the library, outside of the chapel, and even in the parking lot. I had one such experience in the middle of afternoon classes. A gust of wind blew down one of the enormous trees next to the chapel. Along with the insurance adjuster, I came upon Ed and his entire class inspecting the site. He knew it was futile to think students would concentrate on Foundations in the event of a natural disaster —to go with the group's energy and see where it takes you is helpful advice for facilitators everywhere.

Countless students felt seen, heard, accepted, and valued in Ed Rodman's presence. That is not always the case with people as brilliant as Ed. His belief in the dignity of every human person was a fundamental ingredient of his ministry and teaching. An EDS colleague of ours noted that Ed was “transgenerational”—that is, he related to people across generations, including youth and young adults. He consistently advocated for women in ministry and actively supported LGBTQIA+ students.

Because EDS supports the values of cultural hybridity and polyvocal narratives, I invited former students to reflect on Ed Rodman’s impact on their lives and ministries. Though the stories are as varied as EDS graduates, they bespeak Ed’s powerful influence on individuals and the communities they serve:

My class at EDS began with orientation day on September 11, 2001. It was a dramatic way to begin our seminary days. A few weeks later, Ed Rodman was preaching in the chapel and said something prescient that I continue to remember and reflect on: “It may be that the postmodern era came to an end on September 11.” How was he able to imagine the backlash against diversity and the resurgence of all kinds of fundamentalism that we are seeing these days?... I loved and admired Ed and am grateful for all the ways he was part of my formation.

Canon Rodman's emphasis on social justice and compassion has fueled my passion for advocacy and service within the Episcopal Church and beyond. His mentorship gave me the courage to find my voice and to stand up for those who have been marginalized and oppressed.

As I reflect on the impact of Canon Rodman's mentorship, I am reminded of the profound question he once asked me during my first year in seminary: "(Name), what kind of person do you want to be?" Through his guidance and support, I have discovered the answer to that question, and I strive daily to live up to the vision I shared with him all those years ago.

Canon Rodman's stories were not just anecdotes but pivotal moments that shaped my understanding of ministry and my role as a servant leader. His wisdom, generosity, and unwavering belief in me have been a gift beyond measure, and I am forever grateful for the privilege of knowing him.

I was pretty wide eyed when I arrived at EDS in the early 2000's. I had a lot to learn. And quickly realized it was a place where I was going to learn more than book theology and liturgical training.

I learned many things from Professor Ed Rodman. He was my history, organizing and preaching professor during my studies. But most of all, he was a purveyor of being wholly yourself as you embodied ministry. Bring all of your personality and wholeness of that perspective into the world of church leadership. Speak the truth, the hard truth. Tell the story. And pass along the wisdom you have gained to the next generation of leaders.

I am grateful for all that Ed embodied in his presence in my seminary season and in the ways his witness and word resonated with the generations of priests and preachers he impacted.

When my turn came to discuss my course of study, I talked excitedly about the classes I had chosen, and I remember my curriculum-conference professor looking at me quizzically when I was finished, and saying, “Well, that sounds very good; it's not what we discussed a half an hour ago, but it sounds good.” And I said, “Well, I ran into Ed on the ramp on my way in here,” everyone laughed, and my professor smiled knowingly and said, “Well, yes, those courses sound like they make more sense for you.

Ed Rodman’s wisdom impacted not only students but also faculty and staff colleagues. One faculty colleague recently noted, “Ed was a big part of our lives. When I think of the giant figures in my life who constantly affected me, Ed rises to the top.” He collaborated with other faculty across the curriculum and the conference system and worked with staff to secure grants and design special programs. Ed also knitted us together through his resistance to the burgeoning of email communications—he would “reply all” on all his messages, often with single-word replies.

I stand on Ed Rodman’s shoulders, as do hundreds of others who were part of EDS during his sixty-year association with the school. In the weeks since his death, after reading the testimonies of the EDS diaspora — students, colleagues, and friends— the adjective most used for Ed Rodman’s legacy is “transformative.” Ed Rodman’s legacy lives on in us; we honor him as we embody justice, compassion, and reconciliation and carry it forward to the next generations. As a friend of Ed’s from seminary days at EDS reflected: “But the fact is, he was unique as we are all, and his special gift was knowing that he didn’t have to prove it. But we know.”

“Let there be peace among us and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression.”

Photo credits: The Rev. Edward W. Rodman, at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Boston, 2014. Photo: Diocese of Massachusetts via Episcopal News Service

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