A Farewell Tribute to Two Pillars of Episcopal Schools

Over the past two months, the Episcopal school world has lost two exemplary models of compassion, faith, and dedication to the abiding values of Episcopal education. It is difficult to put into words all that they brought to their respective ministries, but surely we are stronger as a community of schools as a result of their years of visionary service.

Karen Strimple, who died in June, was for twenty-eight years Director of St. Columba’s Nursery School in Washington, DC. She also served on the NAES Governing Board for eight years. Karen was a passionate believer in the importance of early childhood education, not only as a valuable educational experience in its own right but as the essential building block for subsequent learning, socialization, and the building of character. For countless numbers of Washington DC families, Karen helped to explain and demonstrate how the context of early learning shaped the minds and souls of young people.

In 2007, Karen served on the search committee for the Executive Director of NAES, when I was being interviewed for the position. In my interview with the committee, Karen wanted to know two key things from me. First, what would be my level of commitment to the place of early childhood education in NAES? Secondly, what was I passionate about in my ministry that would translate into leading this association? Those two questions reflected Karen’s core commitments as an educator and person of deep faith: her passion for early childhood education and its place at the foundation of the mission of Episcopal schools.

The Rt. Rev. Sam Hulsey, retired Bishop of Northwest Texas, died on August 6, the Feast of the Transfiguration (which happened to be his favorite feast day in the Christian year). Bishop Hulsey served that diocese, as its bishop, for seventeen years. He, too, was a member of the NAES Governing Board for four years, and his commitment to the place of Episcopal schools in the ministry of the Church was trailblazing. Long before other bishops embraced school ministry as a viable option for ministry in the Church, Bishop Hulsey could see and articulate the opportunity and depth that this ministry offered. So, too, he saw school worship as a viable and substantive way to “do church” in the modern world.

Above all, Bishop Hulsey was known for his “human touch,” his personable approach as well as his phenomenal ability to remember names. That human touch also turned out to be, for so many, a divine touch, a sign of the living presence of God in the world. In his retirement, Bishop Hulsey (who had returned to Fort Worth in his retirement) was a pastoral and spiritual guide for many Episcopalians in that diocese as the church there experienced its big schism.

Both Karen Strimple and Bishop Hulsey knew the value of knowing what was going on at the ground level, where people were working and devoting themselves to serving others. They both were highly adept at “walking the hallways,” listening and sensing what was taking place where life was being lived out, each day. They blended, in this way, deep humility with a tenacious determination and firm belief that what they were doing was morally and theologically urgent.

The strength of our schools and churches, indeed of our association, rests upon the shoulders of individuals such as these two, who were able to see and articulate the value of education, embody a passion for young people, and support the work of all of those who serve under the big, generous tent of the Episcopal Church.