Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Rev. David Tarbet remembered for seeking 'the Gospel in people' and ways to serve

[Episcopal News Service] Colleagues, family and friends celebrated the Rev. David Tarbet's life by attending a March 6 party already planned for what would have been his 69th birthday.Tarbet, who died March 4 at his Houston home, was remembered by friends and colleagues as a gentle warrior who, despite dogged health problems and other adversities, stood up for what he believed in and never failed to honor the good in others.

"It was a lovely evening albeit more sad because of David's death," said Carol Barnwell, director of communications for the Diocese of Texas. "My kids grew up with David at Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston as their acolyte coach. I have a picture of him holding my daughter, Elli, at our house following her baptism. She's now 24," she added.

Tarbet was also known for his wit, sense of humor, administrative abilities and wisdom, said the Rev. Jeffrey Walker in a March 8 telephone interview. "One of the jokes we've been saying, as I'm getting ready to preach for his funeral on Thursday, is that the planning would have been done a lot better if David could do it," Walker said.

"David was a very quiet person, quiet but steadfast. He just never gave up on anyone, which was one of the things really beautiful about him," said Walker, a former rector of Palmer Church, where Tarbet served as associate rector.

"David was so devoted to what the priesthood meant to him and to our sacramental life. It was an honor to stand at an altar with him for 14 years," Walker recalled.

"There were people in the church … for whom it was hard to see love, but David would find it, he would find the Gospel in that person. I was almost ashamed because he was better at it than I was. If people did not love him that did not stop him from finding what was godly about them."

Walker said he planned to talk about "how much he loved this church of ours. There are people that, when something's disagreeable they simply turn their back and walk away, but David did not do that.

"It was the gospel for everybody or for nobody, according to David … and in the Diocese of Texas that was not always an easy place to stand. I am going to miss him so much."

He said that Tarbet had long been plagued with crippling arthritis and two years ago had developed heart problems. "While his death did not come as a surprise to anyone, it came as a sadness," he said.
He said that Tarbet was a remarkably witty person, but quiet and "would want to be remembered as a steadfast priest of this church who was humble to be a priest but who was grateful to be a priest. That was his identity."

Tarbet had attended the very first convention of Integrity, a national support group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Episcopalians, said Louie Crew of the Diocese of Newark.

"David was never looking for the camera, always looking for quiet ways to serve," Crew said in a telephone interview March 8.

"He was never a rector, except as an interim and that was by his choice. He didn't seek any kind of limelight. He was enormously generous, extremely competent. He suffered a great deal from chronic arthritis," he added.

He remembered Tarbet as having "a marvelous smile and a mischievous sense of humor, but was never bitter when many other people might have been," given his illness and other challenges.

He said Tarbet had served as a regional vice president of Integrity, and had attended the founding convention, held at St. James Cathedral in Chicago in 1975.

He described Tarbet as someone with a great deal of personal dignity who was also "very generous, particularly toward gay and lesbian youth, and for many years he gave a life membership to the youngest person who came to the convention to encourage support for young people.

"It is important to stress that he was an out gay priest in a diocese that doesn't ordain gay priests," Crew added. "He was already ordained before he came out and bore witness there. It takes a great deal of courage to do that in a way that lasts 36 or more years with that kind of openness."

Tarbet was born in Fort Worth on March 6, 1941 to Robert Morgan and Edith Tarbet. He received a bachelor's degree from the University of Texas in 1963 and a master of divinity degree from the General Theological Seminary in 1966. He also earned a master of arts degree from the University of Texas at Houston in 1979.

He was ordained to the diaconate June 15, 1966 and to the priesthood in Dec. 21, 1966.
He had served as a curate (1968-1970) and as an interim rector (2002-2003) at Grace Church in Galveston. He also served as associate rector of Palmer Memorial Church in Houston from 1970-1996 and on the staff of Trinity Church, Houston from 1997 to 1999 and St. John's, Fort Worth, from 1966 to 1968.

Active on a diocesan level, he served as historian from 1998 to 2005; a member of the AIDS Commission, 1982 to 2005; a member of the liturgical commission from 1982 to 2005 diocesan In Galveston, he was interim rector of Grace Church from 2002-2003.

Survivors include a brother and sister-in-law, the Rev. Robert and Beverly Tarbet; a niece, Jennifer Johnson, a nephew, Chris Tarbet and their families.

A requiem Eucharist will be celebrated at Trinity Episcopal Church, Thursday, Mach 11, at 2:00 p.m. with Bishop C. Andrew Doyle officiating.

Donations in lieu of flowers should be made to Trinity Episcopal Church, 1015 Holman St., Houston TX 77004-3810 or to Lord of the Streets, 3401 Fannin St., Houston, TX 77004.

-- The Rev. Pat McCaughan is a national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service.

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