WATERBURY – The Rev. Dr. James Bradley is a good sport.
On Sept. 19 he celebrated his 20th anniversary as rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church by being the butt of jokes as a dozen of his friends and colleagues made a mocking tribute to him.
Bradley, who became the 19th rector of the Waterbury parish in 1989, sat in front of 165 people during his roast and, “got what was coming to him.”
Roast Master Jay Anthony began the night by praising Bradley. He described him as dependable and as an incredible storyteller. But then he pointed out the Courtyard Marriott’s loud, busy carpet.
“The carpet reminds me of one of your sweaters from 1974,” he told Bradley, adding that he caught the rector sporting the dated sweater just last week.
There’s no questioning Bradley’s intelligence. He holds a bachelor’s degree in American Literature from West Virginia University, a Master of Theological Studies degree from Harvard University, a Master of Divinity degree from Virginia Theological Seminary and a Doctor of Ministry from Hartford Seminary. But, his roasters said, Bradley has no fashion sense.
Jo-Anne Plunske, parishioner at St. John’s, described her pastor as a “Bohemian, hippy priest.” Even with his untamed hair and shaggy beard though, Plunske said Bradley has been by her side during the hard times.
“Even with his open-toed sandals, he’s still a man of God and I thank God I’ve been a part of his life,” she said.
The Rev. Mike Carroll, deacon at St. John’s, also couldn’t resist a jab at Bradley’s style.
“He’s dressed up like he’s going to a Russian ball,” he said, pointing to the man of the hour.
But Carroll digressed and shifted the roast in a new direction. It was time to kid Bradley about his home state of West Virginia.
Carroll explained that when he was assigned to St. John’s he was warned about the parish’s language barrier. Confused, he assured the then Suffragan Bishop Wilfrido Ramos-Orench, that he was working on his Spanish. However, that wasn’t the problem.
“Yeah, but Mike, you don’t speak West Virginian,” Ramos-Orench told Carroll.
Carroll gave an example. When most people don’t have a strong opinion about something they say, “it doesn’t make any difference to me.” Bradley would say, “I don’t have a dog in that fight.”
Though teased for his substandard hometown and his passé clothing, no one could deny that it’s Bradley’s backbone that makes him elite. He’s fought for civil rights and for gay rights. And according to Bishop Andrew Smith, it’s no secret that Bradley has, “little concern for the Anglican Communion.”
Whether clergy and laypersons agree with Bradley’s positions or not, the roasters and the roast attendees seemed to agree with Smith. “Life without him would not be the same.”