The Washington Post this weekend published coverage of the Falls Church Anglican moving earlier this autumn into their new worship space following seven itinerant years. It’s a welcome development in an ongoing story about divisions within the Episcopal Church and worldwide Anglican Communion that made national news from 2006-2012.
It likely won’t make the same national news, but readers of this blog should be made aware that a renewal lay leader and prolific communicator amidst the Anglican realignment passed away on Monday following treatment for cancer. Mary Ailes was a longtime member of Truro Anglican Church in Fairfax and an informed layperson breaking developing news in the diocese and within the wider Episcopal Church. She was quick to identify that the messages being given by diocesan officials to liberal activists were very different than what those same officials relayed to theological conservatives. Mary understood that it was our job as lay people to speak up for the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Mary’s blog, Baby Blue Online, was the go-to news source for Virginia Episcopalians during the lead up to, and eventual separation within, the Diocese of Virginia. We first worked together as credentialed media at the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) Assembly in 2009 and Episcopal General Convention the same year (Mary served across five General Conventions, in addition to the decennial Lambeth Conference in 2008).
I was impressed with the graciousness and care Mary demonstrated towards those who believed differently than she did. She was interested, engaged and comfortable chatting with orthodox Anglicans and liberal Episcopalians, including those from progressive groups like Integrity USA, the unofficial LGBT caucus within the Episcopal Church.
“Thank you for the model you provided of loving those with whom you strongly disagreed,” wrote fellow Truro member and former IRD Episcopal Program Director Chip Webb in a remembrance. “In today’s fractured American society, you were one who built bridges between opposing sides without wavering in your own convictions and positions.”
Mary was a protégé of former IRD President Diane Knippers, who herself passed away from cancer in 2005. Diane, a laywoman, drafted Mary to testify on pro-life issues before Episcopal General Convention and ushered her into denominational renewal work. Mary would go on to become a board member of Anglicans for Life.
Later, Mary as an experienced blog scribe would mentor me as we traded in Episcopal gossip over lunches and strategized. She shared of her teenage years in Honolulu attending school alongside a young Barry Soetoro (later Barack Obama) who scooped ice cream at Baskin Robbins.
I was struck by the special care Mary took to understand the viewpoints of and pray for fellow Episcopalians. There was also gallows humor during the worst Episcopal excesses. Mary memorably recorded a dramatic reading of a pastoral letter by then-Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, in which she lampooned the words of the litigious prelate with a syrupy tone borrowed from Harry Potter inquisitor Dolores Umbridge. But Mary also saw herself as an Episcopalian in exile, fondly recalling those who had chosen to remain with the denomination.
Mary once wrote that, as her own mother came close to the end of her life, they would study the Bible together, and she particularly remembered being introduced to Psalm 139:
“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast” (Psalm 139:7-10).
“In our study it became clear to us both that God knows us intimately, even before we were born,” Mary wrote. “We would read that psalm to one another and it opened my eyes and prepared my heart for my future in ways I never could have imagined.”
Much like the workers who physically constructed the new Falls Church Anglican, Mary labored too, building the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic with humor and love, serving as Communications Director beginning in 2012. I grieve her departure and long to meet again. Until then, I am grateful for her witness and the structure she helped to build, recalling Ephesians chapter 2:19-22:
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”
Update: Mary’s family shares that a memorial service will be held on Saturday, October 26, at 1 p.m. at Truro Anglican Church, 10520 Main Street, Fairfax, VA 22030.
In lieu of flowers, donations to Truro Anglican Church would be greatly appreciated.