Thursday, May 5, 2011

Douglas Brown, OHC: In Memoriam

Douglas Brown, OHC, died five years ago today, on May 5, 2006, at the age of 61, in the 22nd year of his life profession.

Douglas was a complex man, as most interesting people are. He was a true monk, in many ways a contemplative. He was a widely known spiritual director, preacher and conference leader. He was influential in the Episcopal Church, particularly in his work with the early stages of the clergy wellness movement, which led to CREDO. On Sept. 11, 2001 he was participating in the taping of a program in company with Rowan Williams and others at Trinity Church, Wall Street and was caught up in the escape through the wreckage of downtown Manhattan that day.

He was also a challenge to the community. Deeply devoted to his work as Prior of West Park, he was also deeply protective of himself in that work.

He was also a good friend. Douglas and I did not know each other well for many years. He joined the community in 1977, after I had moved out to California, and our relations in the next 24 years were formal to cool. I think he regarded me as somewhat alien to his concerns. I probably felt the same. But that had more to do with the positions we held and their unavoidable dynamics than with any personal relationship. That all changed in 2001 when I moved to New York City to become Rector of the Church of St. Edward the Martyr. I came to Douglas with some fear and trembling to ask if I might have a room in the monastery at West Park, since I wanted to become more closely involved with the community there. He was very welcoming, actually quite happy to be asked, and said Yes, Of course. That welcome probably did more than any other single thing to reintegrate me into the West Park community. Many good things followed from it, and one of the best was a growing friendship with Douglas.

When he was at home, Douglas was quite reserved. But when he was "on the road", as he was often, especially in his various ministries in New York City, Douglas was gregarious, outgoing, a lot of fun. His friendship was a new chapter in my monastic life.

Late in life Douglas began to write icons. I don't think he finished many. But I have ended up with two: one of John of Damascus, resplendent in a white turban, and one of the αχειροποίητα, the Not Made By Hands, or Veronica's Veil. They remind me of Douglas's deep and growing love for the Faith, which he shared so skillfully with so many people, myself included.

I was privileged to preach the sermon at his funeral at West Park. The place was packed with people whose lives had been changed by Douglas, and I am glad to say I was one of them. Here's a link to it.


Jeff Lowry said...

Br. Adam,

Thank you for this blog! You and Br. Bede describe the people you write about so well. Your eulogy of Br. Douglas was wonderful. I have gone back to it now and again.

Br. Douglas was my first Associate Director. I joined the
Associates at age 24. When I was going through my postulancy I remember wanting to do everything just right. I wrote to Br. Douglas
asking some questions. He wrote back coming off with what I might term a very casual attitude. It bothered me then but now I see it as a gift. On a more personal note he always reminded me of Walter Matthau. For those who did not
have the good fortune to know Bro. Douglas his recounting of 9/11 is wonderful. It may still be found in the Community Meditations section.

Jeff Lowry, a/OHC

Tay Moss said...

Intersting, I was thinking of Douglas a few times recently--no doubt my subconscious had noticed the date.

I, too, experienced Douglas as formal or remote for the first few years I knew him, and then that shifted one day and after that I felt great affection for him. Clearly there was a sort of horizon one had to cross with him. But once you crossed it you got to know his mischievous and playful side.

I miss him.