We recently had an Anglican Watch team conference call. In addition to the usual planning and joking, we had a serious conversation: Who was instrumental in helping you grow? Responses varied, but one name came up consistently — the late Ann Fontaine. So this is about the power of one person, like Ann, to make a difference.
Several of us met Ann during the halcyon days of Episcopal Cafe.
In her role as one of the editors of Episcopal Cafe, we learned what everyone already knew: Ann was a fierce and loyal friend who modeled inclusion and unconditional love.
And we mean genuine love. Not the Milquetoast variety in many churches and dioceses, where “nice” is the same as love. Indeed, Ann was an outspoken advocate for social justice and inclusion and did not hesitate to weigh in.
Nor was her love conditional. Many parishes and dioceses are all about love until you say or do something people don’t like. Then you get blocked, unfriended, shunned, or told to find a new parish.
Indeed, some had the experience of finding that they ardently disagreed with Ann, but it didn’t matter to her. She was the same constant friend.
Nor did she have any problem with criticizing the church. In fact, she was fond of recounting her challenges with several bishops and encouraged our editor, Eric Bonetti, to turn to social media when the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia flatly refused to address abusive behavior by Bonetti’s former rector. Her comment: “Well, you can’t ignore the situation.”
That willingness to challenge unjust systems was a hallmark of Ann’s ministry. And in one form or another, we all experienced her unconditional love, combined with her willingness to call a spade a spade.
Ann knew everyone. And her willingness to engage and share contacts was transformative.
Indeed, a single word from Ann would engender discussion on Episcopal Cafe. “Discuss” would result in endless back and forth as commenters jumped into the debate.
And while Ann was not above nuking comments that she felt crossed the line, she was eminently fair. Her commitment to inclusion even extended to several GAFCON trolls.
The result was a vibrant, engaging blog with an edge. Yes, there might be an internal discussion about covering specific issues of clergy misconduct, but you always knew you were welcome.
Indeed, Ann’s willingness to challenge the larger church led us to start this publication.
And while Ann’s publishing activity extended to several blogs and an excellent book, one of her most significant achievements went far beyond publishing. That accomplishment was the church’s sexual misconduct prevention training programs — the same programs we use today.
Summing up Ann
There is much more we could say about Ann. For example, we could touch on her parish ministry, her service as a delegate to General Convention, or her role on the church’s executive committee.
But Ann’s most incredible legacy was mediating Christ through selfless service.
The Diocese of Wyoming described it best:
“Outspoken and open about her thoughts, her feelings, and her tireless social justice focus, Ann [was] a person who never let unjust rules, leaders, or policies stand in her way. She [was] a fierce and loyal friend, an excellent leader, a mentor, a justice maker, a prophet and wise encourager.”
And we are reminded that one person can and does make a difference. That’s especially the case when they are willing to do the heavy lifting required for genuine love and inclusion.
We fondly remember Ann and her enduring legacy as we fast approach the 5th anniversary of Ann’s passing. May she rest in peace and rise in glory.