Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Remembering The Rev. Canon Leonard Shaheen (1935-2010)

He looked like "the old man of the mountain", particularly in his later years. But, literally, several generations of young people knew and adored him as their inspiration, mentor, confessor, father-figure, spiritual wise man, and friend. Leonard always gave me the impression of a quiet, gentle man, but one who took in everything around him. When he had something to say, you knew where he stood. He could be somewhat bristly, but he always spoke the truth. Perhaps the most memorable moment in my, and others', recollection of him was at one of the Diocesan Conventions when he rose to give his report on the youth program of the Diocese. He turned on the overhead projector, leaving all of us gazing at a blank white screen, then announced: "This is my report." He went on to give an impassioned plea for renewed interest in and support of programs for the young people of the Diocese, which had been somewhat lacking at that time: all talk and "wishes", but not much action. He certainly made his point, and with the election of Bishop Jerry Lamb not too many years after that, youth ministry was reorganized, took off and hasn't stopped since then.

Fr. Leonard devoted well over 38 years of his life to young people and the development of Noel Porter Camp and Conference Center in Tahoe City, where he was the Executive Director from 1968-2006. He'd served as Diocesan Youth Director from 1970-1990. In my own parishes I can't recount the number of kids who returned from camp year after year singing the praises of "Father Shaheen". The last great tribute to him several years ago brought former campers from all over the country to pay their respects to a man who touched so many lives.

One personal incident involving Leonard remains etched in my memory. At the Convention of 1984, two years after I'd been received as an Episcopal priest of the Diocese of Northern California, I was nominated for the first time for Deputy to General Convention, along with Leonard and four other clergy. Leonard had previously served as Deputy from 1973-1982. One of four Deputies was elected on the first ballot. On the second ballot, two more Deputies were elected. Of the remaining three nominees, Leonard was first in votes in the lay order (135), I was second (129), and we were tied for first in the clergy order, with 36 each. The third nominee was behind with 72 lay and 31 clergy votes. Leonard was almost certainly a shoo-in for the third and last ballot. But in a gesture, the motivation of which I never figured out, Leonard rose to announce his withdrawal from the election, virtually assuring my election, which resulted on the final ballot. I'd like to think that it was because, in his kindness, Leonard was giving a younger clergy person a chance to have the experience which he himself had enjoyed for 10 years. Whatever the reason, I always appreciated what I interpreted as a very gracious gesture.

When Leonard was still able to get around, before becoming incapacitated in later years from attending clergy/ Diocesan gatherings, I'd always make it a point to greet and chat with him. He had a great smile and would always make you feel welcome. We'll all miss him as one of the priestly "elders" of our Diocesan family. I feel certain that many of our young people are carrying forth and will continue a rich ministry to their peers, the seeds of which Leonard sowed and nurtured so lovingly and faithfully.

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