Remembering Jim and Anne McCullum

In the Fall of 2014, VST lost two dear friends and former colleagues, Jim and Anne McCullum, who passed away within 3 weeks of one another. Following are the full texts of the obituaries and comments received by VST, commemorating Jim and Anne.

The Reverend Dr. James Alexander McCullum

June 27, 1935 – November 3, 2014

Jim McCullum was a loving husband, father, grandfather, pastor, mentor, and friend.

Jim was born in 1935 in Vancouver; when his mother travelled to and from Yukon by steamship to access good medical care for his caesarean birth. He was predeceased by his two older brothers, Stewart (1930) and Hugh (2006).

Because of his father’s work as an Anglican priest, Jim’s childhood was spent in Yukon and northern Ontario. It was at Queen’s University (Kingston) that Jim McCullum met Anne Keenleyside. When friends gathered at his parents’ home before a dance, Jim’s father Creighton took him aside and indicating Anne, whispered “she’s the one for you.” Jim’s death was just three weeks after Anne’s and confirms how right Creighton was. It is a comfort to know that they are together again, free of everything that made their recent years challenging.

Jim and Anne were married in 1960 in Victoria. Their wedding followed a year of daily letters written to each other while Anne lived and travelled in Europe with her family, and Jim completed his studies. Jim studied theology at Wycliffe College (Toronto), was ordained priest on October 18, 1961 at Grace Church on the Hill (Toronto) and received his Doctor of Ministry in 1988 from Pacific School of Religion (Berkeley).

In his doctoral thesis, Jim described the first chapter of his ministry in this way: I was a parish priest for 20 years (Toronto, Dawson City, Whitehorse, Trail, Kelowna, and Vancouver).

During that time I worked as a pastor in remote areas, small towns, and a large city. In every place I preached Sunday by Sunday about the love of God, the call to justice, the stories of redemption found in the Bible and daily life, and the power of the spirit who brings us together in mission and enables us to strive for shalom.

I stood by the bedsides of dying people and was honoured by what they taught me about faith, life, and meaning. I taught and was taught by confirmation classes, as young people struggled with their faith and life questions, and what all that had to do with God and Church. I met with artists to talk about the meaning of Advent, or Pentecost, so that they could portray the meaning without words.

I prayed with people who had forgotten how to pray, or what that word even means. I listened to angry people tell stories, about the way they had been hurt by church, by institutions, by themselves. I gathered with people of the community concerned about abused women and children, and we opened a transition house. I studied the Bible with 12 women, every Thursday morning, for 4 years. I planned worship with other people, lay and ordained, and learned about integrating the word, and the sacraments, and our lives. But I wasn’t a theologian.

The second chapter of Jim’s ministry was at the Vancouver School of Theology (VST) where he served as Director of Field Education and Professor of Pastoral Theology. During a life-changing sabbatic leave in 1985 Jim realized that in addition to his roles as educator, pastor, priest, administrator, and sometime prophet, he was also a theologian. His ministry had been a series of stories with deep meaning, and action came from reflection on those stories, a model he then shared with his students.

Jim didn’t stop working when he retired from VST. He continued to use his skills and energy in communities where he could make a difference. This included adult literacy coaching at the Carnegie Centre, reading support with school children, advocacy for homecare workers in Soweto, and chairing the Board of Aunt Leah’s Independent Lifeskills Society.

The onset of Alzheimer’s disease in final year of his life brought many challenges for Jim and his family. It was remarkable to witness the grace with which he accepted his limitations and increasing dependency on others, and the new relationships he made.  It is wonderful that so many people were able to visit with Jim around the time of Anne’s memorial service, surrounding him with loving support. He spent his final day in his bed at Little Mountain Place, visited by family and dear friends, and receiving comfort care and support from the staff who had taken such care of him over the past eight months.

At the time of his retirement from VST, Mary and David borrowed from his observations about roles of elders in Aboriginal cultures to describe Jim’s life and work. As we celebrate his life, we again remember Jim as storyteller, tradition- bearer, intergenerational bridge, conflict mediator, time-keeper, counsel for the community, memory-keeper, lamenter, and humourist.

Anne Katherine Margaret McCullum

1938 – 2014

Anne lived for her family, friends, church community, and for people in need. She was a dedicated list-writer, organizer, and correspondent and was an incredibly intentional friend and citizen.

Anne was born in 1938 in Ottawa, Ontario and was the younger sister of Mary and Miles and older sister to Lynn. As the daughter of a diplomat, she also lived in Mexico City, New York, London, and Victoria.

It was at Queen’s University (Kingston) that Anne Keenleyside met Jim McCullum. There was a gathering of friends at his parents’ home before a dance and Jim’s father Creighton took him aside and while indicating Anne, whispered “she’s the one for you” in his ear. Was he ever right!

Anne and Jim were married in 1960 in Victoria. She was a loving wife, mother and grandmother, caring deeply about the interests and well-being of each member of the family. Through Jim’s work as an Anglican priest, the family lived in Toronto, Yukon, Rugby, Trail, Kelowna, and Vancouver. They have worked diligently to maintain relationships and correspondence with people from each of those chapters.

It was very important to Anne to be a good citizen and mother. Her parents spent their lives in the service of others, and she and Jim taught their children tostand up for what they feel is important and modelled support for those less able to make their voices heard. Gender, race, orientation, food, shelter, and justice were all frequent dinner table conversations.

Some highlights of Anne’s intentions in action:

  • Social housing: Anne was a founding member of the 127 Society for Housing which provides affordable homes to 265 people in downtown Vancouver;
  • Political pressure: Anne was a vigorous correspondent. She frequently wrote to politicians and unless a reasonable response was received, would follow up and require that the concern be addressed;
  • Social justice: Anne and Jim worked tirelessly in their local communities, and across regional and national boundaries. One example was travelling to Central America in the 1980s to witness the struggle for peace and freedom;
  • Education and self-improvement: Anne was constantly learning. She kept lists of what she read, and was always suggesting and providing books, articles, and TV shows to friends and family. Her children could always expect an envelope of clippings and copies with each visit;
  • Inclusion: family dinners often included those who were otherwise alone, travelers with interesting stories, and people with few or no options. There was no question that her friends were made and her support offered with no regard for what a person looked or sounded like, or with whom they were in love; and
  • Rigor: she lived her values and required leaders and organizations she supported to do the same. Her thoughtful attention to end of life planning was a clear example of how seriously she took that responsibility.

Beyond her home, Anne was employed as a social worker in Toronto and Vancouver, a high school and theological college librarian, and a chaplain at BC Children’s Hospital. In every role she made strong friendships, helped to improve the way that services were delivered, and always placed the needs of those being served before her own.

The many messages from people whose lives intersected with hers have included common themes: compassion, kindness, service, justice, warmth, love, determination, friendship, and gentle strength. There can be no better measure of a life well lived, and Anne McCullum left this world a better place.

In Anne’s memory, we invite you to send a birthday card, listen to CBC radio, watch public television, help someone you don’t know, spend time with a child, and support an organization doing work you believe in.

Homily at the Memorial Service for Anne McCullum

Christ Church Cathedral: October 23, 2014.

“But Jesus, when he saw this, was indignant.” 

Anne McCullum loved children and when we were reviewing the detailed instructions that she left for her memorial service, this reading from Mark’s gospel was one of her choices. Considerately, she left options for us in her lists of readings. Ellen and I thought that this reading about Jesus receiving the children was very apt for Anne and not what you usually hear at a memorial service. So in consultation with the family we settled on it.

But the more I turned it over in my mind, the more appropriate it seemed. Of course because of the children—she loved her grandchildren in particular but that love extended to all children in whom she absolutely delighted. More than that though, what we have, in this short pericope, is a moment of Jesus indignation, perhaps even exasperation at his friends for not getting it. What makes it appropriate for Anne’s service, in my view, is that she shied not away from the difficult conversation, from naming when her deep values were at odds with practice or thinking. Anne was no stranger to holy indignation.

Neither was Jesus. As much as church and society try to domesticate him, he keeps rising from our efforts to reduce him to a benign sage: in his parables and teaching he keeps turning the world upside down, subverting our view of the proper ordering of things, and seeing God’s grace manifest not in the powerful and mighty but in the weak and vulnerable. The disciples rebuked those who wanted to bring children to him and this really made Jesus angry. He was indignant. Despite the language of the old children’s hymn When mothers of Salem their children brought to Jesus I don’t think he sweetly smiled and kindly said his words of welcome. I think he was angry at the disciples, who, characteristically in Mark’s gospel, just didn’t get it. The kingdom of God, that ironic phrase he used to subvert the claims of empire, belongs to the children in their willingness to receive the welcome of the Incarnate one.

Stories like this one inspired Anne McCullum. Over the years of knowing her I have had many, many conversations with her that were about difficult, sensitive situations. She was like a barometer for me; if she was feeling like something around here was going sideways, I paid attention because her perceptions were so grounded in her values and her faith. She would speak the truth as she saw it, and struggle with how to find the kindest and most just way to proceed in the midst of the complex and sometimes confusing situations. And when it was resolved, Anne would take the timeto write to me or call and express appreciation and thanks.

I continue to be astounded with how Jesus Christ is alive in the church and in the world. I know we say we believe in the resurrection, believe in the church being the Body of Christ, believe in the presence of Christ in the sacrament of holy communion: but when you actually see someone whose life has been shaped and formed by the living Christ, well it’s breathtaking.

Of course Anne was not perfect—none of us are; and we know that the last few years have been challenging for her. Through all of it however Anne has remained faithful to her family, to Jim, and most importantly to her values of justice and care and kindness and honesty. All those values were grounded in her Christian faith. And now as we grieve her death and celebrate her life we can say and sing the words of our faith tradition with a deep confidence in the God in whom she trusted. And just as Jesus welcomed the little children with graciousness and love we know that God will welcome Anne into that place where there is no more sorrow or sadness, neither sighing but life everlasting. May her well earned rest be in peace and her rising be in Glory with Christ. Amen.

Letter to Dr. Rev. Robert Smith from Rev. Brenda Fawkes (VST Director of Field Education)

Hi Bob,

I am so very grateful that you are charged me with this task—how fortunate for all of us gathered to have your words and presence at a time like this. I still get caught off guard with the reality check that Jim is not there to stop in and visit when I want or need to. How can this be? I have always been aware of the strength he offered me and yet these last five days have brought a hurtful clarity to that.

As a teacher and advisor at VST Jim was a gentle soul—attentive to students and the potential he saw in them. He particularly wanted to use his stature as a white male to lift up the voice of women and minorities. He had an authenticity detector and always wanted students to be the best you, you could be. He hated abuse or manipulation and would challenge it in a strong and yet non confrontational manner.  As students in the 90’s we still communicated by way of a notice board in the rotunda of the Iona building. Jim could work miracles by his handwritten note to acknowledge a milestone, encourage a moment or offer a prayer. He would arrive faithfully at community worship every Thursday and sit in his same location in the chapel. HIs presence bled out encouragement and support. You knew you had “done good” if by the time you ate lunch and returned to the Iona building there was a note of support waiting under your name from Jim full of affirmation.

Jim was artful in his ability to place students in field ed sites. This was because he took the time to KNOW us and imagine a best learning environment where we could grow and thrive.

I remember the conversation when Jim retired. People kept asking him what he was going to do when retired. First he would say: “I am going to get old and grumpy!” Then he said that he tried to pull from his working life what gave him most satisfaction and then try to echo that in his volunteer work. One of the two (I only remember one but there were two) he said was that he gained great satisfaction in helping people find their voice. So one of the jobs he took on was helping others learn to read at the Carnegie Centre. Personally whenever I faced something in my ministry that was on the edge of my abilities or on the edge of my confidence and I asked Jim for advice he would take a very long pause. His answer was usually: What do you think you should do? Or, he would tell a story of his own frailty or a time when he had messed up or not quite got it right.  Such humility. And when those moments came when I would have to rise to a challenge I would look out in the congregation and there Jim and Anne would be.

Jim also had just enough cynicism in him—of the church, of the institution, of life to make him real and funny. He took his ministry and obligations seriously and himself lightly enough to be a life long learner.

I think that is probably enough from my slice of the pie.  Again thanks for asking and blessings on your preparing.

Brenda Fawkes