Friday, June 21, 2024

Meehan Family in Ireland, Day 6, June 21,2024 Inishmore, Aran Island


Reflection on Rev. Dr. Sydney Condray, Priest ARCWP by Rev. Dr. Barbara Billey, Priestess (20 June 2024)


My ever-evolving friendship with Sydney began during the Covid pandemic. Our mutual friend and ARCWP bishop Michele Birch-Conery had died in October 2021. She and Sydney shared the same birth date and year of birthAugust 3rd, 1939. I called Sydney to wish her happy birthday in 2022. We had a great conversation about religion, politics, our feelings and faith, our mutual love of nature and, of course, the impact of Covid on our lives.


I first met Sydney in Fall 2015. I was a newly ordained priest and she was thinking about it. She asked me if I'd be her program companion. I felt honored to be asked. 


I came to know Sydney's story of fortitude and faith when I read her biography, which was part of her application to be a candidate with ARCWP. I could see she had a verve for life, a deep contemplative faith, and had overcome major obstacles during her first marriage. 


I wasn't able to continue as Sydney's program companion because my mom began her cancer journey. In fact, Mom attended Sydney's deaconate ordination in Windsor, and after the dinner celebration told me she had breast cancer.  


I attended Sydney's ordination as a priest in Sylvania, Ohio and had the pleasure of singing with her sons, John and Mike, as well as Jeni, another priest friend of Sydney. She and I weren't in contact much until the conversation during covid.  Thereafter, we were spiritual companions, talking ever week, sharing our personal journey - joys and sorrows- and praying for one another. 


Sydney didn't seem to mind the solitude during Covid. She frequently told me she never felt alone because God, whom she usually named Gracious Mystery, was with her. I was inspired by the intimacy of her relationship with Gracious Mystery (now my favorite name for God), and somewhat envious because of a string of losses, caregiving of elders, painful body symptoms, and challenging relationships in our women priest movement that landed me in a protracted dark night of the soul. I had lost my connection with Gracious MysterySydney was like a guardian angel, and I like to believe that I was this for her, too.


Sydney shared with me her inclination that her life was ending within this past year.  She seemed to be making plans without really knowing it. Like her determination to be with her children and grandchildren for the solar eclipse on April 8th of this year. Sydney absolutely loved and was proud of her children yet spoke of them with her usual humility, implying that given the circumstances of their life with her, how did they turn out so great?


I had companioned several persons through their aging, dying, and death, in this process with my dad. She and I weren't afraid to talk about theserealities, even in those last days in Hospice and then in her brief stint in a retirement home. Sydney did not want to be institutionalized. My last conversation with her was two weeks into the retirement home. She wasn't thrilled about the arrangement, but kept her spirit light: "If this was what God wants, I surrender." 


There are many qualities that I appreciated about Sydney. Mostly, that she knew her mind, what some might call being stubborn. Sydney and Gracious Mystery must have been collaborating on an escape plan because she didn't have to endure the retirement home for long. My last conversation with her was a week before she died. I was giving her tips about how to navigate the situation and how to get her needs met, like cable for the TV that hadn't been hooked up for a week. For Sydney to be without politics in the news was a deprivation of sorts. I emphasized the importance of advocating for herself. I knew she could.

Thanks for being my friend, Sydney. I'll never forget your lyrical humour, your stories about baking cranberry pecan cookies, the trees and flowers you spoke of in your back yard that you loved so much, and your wisdom - "One day at a time. One thing at time." I'll always remember your deep love of Gracious Mystery. 


Sydney was both sacred and profane, a divine-human with us. Well done, my faithful friend!



Meehan Family in Ireland- Day 6, June 21, 2024 leaving Lisdoonvarna, Aran Islands