The Rev’d Dr. Cameron Partridge
The recorded livestream of the entire service is on St. Peter's Facebook page, here. The homily begins at 30:57.
I invite you to join me in singing this refrain:
My heart shall sing of the day you bring. Let the fires of your justice burn. Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn! – Canticle of the Turning by Rory Cooney
I’m certainly neither ready nor able to wipe away all tears. Yet may this Canticle be our prayer today. Amen.
Dear friends: St. Peters parish community; family and longtime friends of Iain; colleagues and friends of the Diocese of California and the wider Episcopal Church; the TransEpiscopal community; ecumenical and interfaith colleagues; kindred connecting online; Bishop Marc; all you who loved Iain Michael Stanford: I greet you today in celebration of a beautiful human being who lived a life that proclaimed the Good News of God, who discerned and answered God’s call again and again, who urgently joined in God’s mission to “turn the world around,” and invited us to join him in that work.
I was beyond honored when Iain asked me to preach today. It was June 22, not even three months ago, and the request came amid a wider series of conversations we had been having about his health and ultimately the approaching conclusion of his earthly life. “You know you don’t have to say yes,” he said. “It might be too much.” It might be. But sometimes life is too much, and with the help and support of loved ones, friends and family alike – including friends who are family, friends like Iain – we find a way forward. We show one another the way with God’s help, as the Holy Spirit flows among us, upholding us, connecting and abiding with us, opening up new possibility, purpose, life and love in the very thresholds of death. Jesus said, “I have called you friends” (John 15:15). And indeed, we are. And so I said, “there is no way I’m saying no. I want to do this, no matter how hard.” He nodded.
Then I went on to ask him about this service. What would he like to include in it? “I don’t have a strong opinion,” he said. Seriously? Iain not have a strong opinion? “You’ll know what to do,” he said. “Okay,” I said, “but what about favorite hymns? I know you love music…” We’d had many conversations about music, sacred and secular, especially in recent years. I waited. Then he said, “well I do have to say, I love ‘Canticle of the Turning.’” As he went on to talk about why, he turned to its source, the proclamation of Mary, the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:46-55): “My soul magnifies God, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Iain loved the joy of Mary’s declaration, and the deep bond of her relationship with the God for whom nothing is impossible. As the conversation continued, Iain shared that Mary had been highly important to his dad’s spirituality, and that in Iain’s young adulthood, when he was working in Europe for Arthur Andersen, he had traveled with his dad to several Marian shrines. Over time, as Iain’s faith journey continued, the prophetic qualities of Mary’s proclamation became ever more significant: God’s lifting up of those who have been brought low, God’s feeding of the hungry, humbling of the proud, emptying of the rich. The Canticle of the Turning emphasizes the systemic transformation – the turning – of oppression that God is ever stoking, a movement that God is constantly calling us to join along with those who have gone before us. As we sang, “This saving word that our forbears heard is the promise which holds us bound, ‘til the spear and rod can be crushed by God who is turning the world around.” God is turning the world around. God urges us to join in that just transformation. And when we become weak and overwhelmed along the way – which we will – to be sustained by divine mercy and grace, by love. Iain loved this gospel word. He lived by it. He died convinced of it. He wanted us to join him in knowing and proclaiming it with our very beings. And so, despite thinking he didn’t have an opinion, he chose a gospel passage (Luke 1:39-55) that flowed from the depths of his soul, inviting us to hear “I am resurrection and I am life” through Mary’s proclamation, with Advent-tinged anticipation.
But we were far from finished putting this service together. What about other readings? Again, he paused. Then he said, “I love the passage from Romans 8 with the message that nothing can separate us from the love of God.” I love that passage too, and lines that precede it. The Apostle Paul’s language of the Spirit interceding for us with sighs or groans too deep for words (Rom 8:26). Of creation itself groaning in longing for, in anticipation of, its redemption, its healing, its liberation (Rom 8:19-23). But the line that Iain was especially drawn to speaks particularly to contexts of challenge, distance, and separation: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38-39). The pastor in Iain chose these words knowing that when a loved one dies, so often the ground of our grief is separation, our longing for our loved one to be returned to us, perhaps our feeling of helplessness in the face of loss. It can feel like we stand on the other side of a chasm, “a dark and dreary land” as our translation of Psalm 23 put it, unable to see the one who has died, unable to fathom where God might be in the midst and in the wake of such loss. Iain knew this. He had experienced it himself many times over in his life. What had comforted him along the way, what he invited us to hear together today, and in the days to come, is that nothing can separate us from love. From God’s love for us. From the love of God that we share. From the love that abides in and among us, through which God constantly dwells with us. Nothing, nothing can in fact separate us from that love. Or as our Psalm intoned, “There is nothing that can shake me. She has said, she won’t forsake me, I’m in her hand.” God never stops abiding with us as we face chasms of loss.
And in fact, Iain too abides with us. In an oral history / spiritual autobiography we recorded on July 5th, we dwelt upon the Communion of Saints, that “blessed company” of those who have gone before us, whose lives reveal the Good News to us, who shine like stars guiding us to action in the world and to home with God. Iain was deeply inspired by that Communion, from his growing up in the Roman Catholic tradition to his journey into The Episcopal Church. He had come to love the concept of queer saints – ancient and contemporary – whose lives affirm the beauty and goodness of LGBTQIA people, who sing glory before the divine presence, joining us in harmony across the mortal veil, expanding our imagination of God’s dream, what God’s world, turned around, might look like. I think he heard that angle on the Communion of Saints in the language of the poem “When Death Comes” that he chose for this service in our June conversation. “I want a Mary Oliver poem,” he had declared, searching the internet for the right one. Suddenly he said, “This is it. This is it.” I read it and cried, thinking of how Oliver’s line “each body a lion of courage, and something precious to the earth,” spoke profoundly to Iain’s journey. I think of how Iain had come out as trans in his mid 40s, and Oliver’s observation of “each name a comfortable music in the mouth, tending, as all music does, toward silence” makes me think of the deep and ongoing work of discernment that had long guided Iain’s path. So too Oliver’s emphasis on amazement, binary language notwithstanding. At the end of Iain’s life, especially, even as he struggled mightily with bodily discomfort and pain, Iain’s spiritual posture was oriented to awe. He received so many notes of appreciation and connection, including the beautiful tribute we just heard from the St. Peter’s community, as he neared the end of his life. Truly, he was amazed by that. We talked about it as the end approached. He felt so uplifted by you. “I truly had no idea,” he kept saying, “that I had an impact” in the ways you shared with him. But now he did. Now he did know. He knew he was deeply loved. He knew it in his bones.
And he loved you. He loved you. Several of us were privileged, along with Iain’s sister Cheryl, to support him in his last weeks, including his last day. On that evening we held a small prayer service to create a container of love in which he could let go, allowing himself to be enfolded into that blessed company of the saints in light, into God’s loving arms. And the heartbeat of that last prayerful gathering, of the messages from you, of the myriad conversations and interactions he had over a beautiful, deeply impactful lifetime, was love. Love is what matters in the end, Iain said to us. Love is what joins us to God’s turning of the world. Love is so much deeper, prophetic, and transformative than we know, as our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry so often proclaims. Iain rests in that love now. And so, dear friends, from that rest his invitation calls to us, unable to be separated from us or contained by the limits of our imaginations: be emblems of Good News. Turn the world around. Do it together, sustained, released into, powered by God’s resurrecting love.
My heart shall sing of the day you bring. Let the fires of your justice burn. May we cry true tears as the dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn! Amen.
 #527 in Gather Comprehensive, Second edition. For an account by Rory Cooney of his 1988 setting of the Magnificat to the Irish tune Star of the County Down, see http://rorycooney.blogspot.com/2014/08/songstories-36-canticle-of-turning-gia.html. A recording of this hymn can be heard online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F9QeTmRCpW4
 Bobby McFerrin, “The 23rd Psalm” from his album Medicine Music (EMI, 1990). It can be heard online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJixdpZ5m1o
 Mary Oliver, “When Death Comes” in New and Selected Poems (Boston: Beacon Press, 1992). The poem can be found online at http://www.phys.unm.edu/~tw/fas/yits/archive/oliver_whendeathcomes.htm