Yesterday, December 19, 2021, the Church and, most especially, the Diocese of California lost an extraordinary Christian. Ms. Melissa Ridlon died at Kaiser Oakland, with her sister Marcy and brother-in-law Peter, her cousin Barbara Carlyle, and her friend Dr. Travis Stevens with her. A number of friends were able to see Melissa in the past few days. Earlier yesterday morning, Archdeacon Nina Pickerrell had been with Melissa; then, Sheila and I prayed the Ministration at the Time of Death with Melissa and her family. On Saturday, Melissa’s priest, the Rev. Liz Muñoz, had alerted me to Melissa’s rapid decline and told me that, after her own prayers and conversations with Melissa, it was Reverenda Liz’s sense that Melissa was ready to let go and embrace the new phase of life with God.
Personally, Sheila and I are deeply mourning Melissa’s passing. Though we have a strong faith in God’s promise that “not one sparrow falls to the Earth apart from God,” still, we miss this great person and dear friend.
Melissa has contributed to the life of this diocese in beautiful and indelible ways. She has shaped how discernment for ministry, lay and ordained, is both conceived and carried out here. She chaired the Commission on the Ministry of All the Baptized and introduced the Day of Discernment to the diocese. As Vocations Officer, she planned and led ordination retreats before each June and December ordination, a special time for ordinands that capped the years she worked carefully and sensitively with each person in discernment.
Melissa was a faithful member of several congregations in the diocese, most recently Santiago in Oakland. While Santiago was going through a transition, Melissa worked tirelessly to keep their children’s ministry alive and thriving.
Melissa’s work also blessed many other ministries outside the borders of our diocese and nation. When the Diocese of California and the Diocese of Parana Brazil, our Companion Diocese, co-sponsored an Anglican environmental conference in the Dominican Republic in 2010, Melissa assumed a key role in the planning and carrying out of the historic entrance of the Anglican Communion into environmental activism and advocacy. She also held a deep affinity for Haiti, and her on-the-ground work there helped strengthen our diocese’s ministries in that country.
The above, though impressive, only scratch the surface in appreciating a warm, faithful, generous, loving Christian. Melissa’s father was ordained a Deacon by Bishop Pike on Christmas Eve, 1959. Melissa loved her father and reminisced about his ministry many times in the course of our friendship. Today I believe that Melissa’s father is welcoming his daughter into the larger life with God, and saying to her, “Well done.” Melissa showed us what the possibilities of lay ministry can be, and we are all better for it.
Almighty and eternal God, from whose love in Christ we cannot be parted, either by death or life: hear our prayers and thanksgivings for Melissa; fulfill in her the purpose of your love; and bring us all, with her, to your eternal joy; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.