“Ye have heard, Brethren, as well in your private examination, as in the exhortation which was now made to you, and in the holy Lessons taken out of the Gospel, and the writings of the Apostles, of what dignity, and of how great importance this Office is, whereunto ye are called. And now again we exhort you, in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye have in remembrance, into how high a Dignity, and to how weighty an Office and Charge ye are called: that is to say, to be Messengers, Watchmen, and Stewards of the Lord; to teach, and to premonish, to feed and provide for the Lord’s family; to seek for Christ’s sheep that are dispersed abroad, and for his children who are in the midst of this naughty world, that they may be saved through Christ for ever.”
The opening paragraph of the Ordinal for making a priest in the 1928 Prayer Book serves as a quality definition of the life and ministry of The Reverend Canon William Maurice Branscomb, Jr. Affectionately known by many as Father B, Maurice Branscomb was a priest par excellence. He carried the office with dignity. Even into his 90s, Father B would make every effort to show up at diocesan events, always in a black suit, with a roman tab collared shirt, and the liturgy of the church he loved on his lips. He served faithfully as a Messenger, Watchman, and Steward of the Lord, always willing to preach the Gospel and to teach his people about the meaning of Christ’s love for the whole world.
What defined Father B, at least for me, however, was his willingness to risk everything in order to feed and provide for the Lord’s family. While he was ordained under the 1928 Ordinal, I actually think the 1979 Examination captures his ministry perfectly. “You are to love and serve the people among whom you work, caring alike for young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor.” During his active ministry, Father B served in Birmingham, Alabama. As a devout Anglo-Catholic, he modeled his ministry after the slum priests of mid-19th century England and the Oxford Movement. He steered clear of serving the big steeple churches, opting instead to care for those on the margins: the young and old, the weak, and the poor. So true to this calling was Father B, that there was a time in Birmingham when the poor would show up at his door having been sent there from the much more affluent congregations across town.
Well into his 80s, Father B continued to serve the church. Standing behind the altar at Immanuel Church, Bay Minette, he faithfully administered the sacraments, proclaimed the word of God, and declared God’s absolution for us sinners. As his health caught up with his age, he was less able to serve the Church physically, though he continued to model for many of us what it meant to be a priest even in retirement. He was always ready to serve up tea and welcome a guest into his home. He was beloved in his retirement community. He stood faithfully by his wife, even in the depths of her dementia. He was a man of deep prayer.
Father B entered the nearer presence of his Savior on Saturday. While I am sad for the loss of such a powerful witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ, I give thanks for everything he taught me. You were an inspiration, Father B. A priest of dignity and devotion. If I can someday be half the priest you were, I will be blessed beyond all measure.
On Thursday morning, the college of Presbyters in the Central Gulf Coast will gather to give their brother priest back to God. On Thursday evening, Bishop Scott Mayer of Northwest Texas will make a priest at Christ Church in Bowling Green. I cannot attend both, but I will bring these events together in my prayers all week, asking God to pour out the Spirit that thrived within Father B upon Mother Becca, a willing and faithful servant. Would that we all had a little bit of Father B’s spirit within us. The world would be a far better place and the church would be served by far better priests.
Rest in peace, dear one, and may I never forget your witness to the Truth.