By LIBBY LAIRD
For The Gazette
The Rev. Canon Gary Waddingham will end his 19 years of ministry at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Billings doing what he loves.
He celebrates his final service before retiring at 10 a.m. May 26 with Bishop C. Franklin Brookhart’s visitation, confirmation and acolyte recognition. The service highlights Waddingham’s passion for youth ministry, education and his work with the Diocese of Montana.
A Billings resident for many years, Waddingham graduated from Senior High, Montana State University in Bozeman and then attended the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the South in Austin, Texas.
He was ordained to the deaconate in June 1975 at St. Luke’s and then to the priesthood a year later. He worked on his Ph.D. in theology at Emory University in Atlanta while working at the Cathedral of St. Philip. After a number of years at St. Andrew’s in Basin and Meeteetse, Wyo., Waddingham returned to his hometown and St. Luke’s.
When he came to St. Luke’s in 1994, the church was involved in a major remodeling project, turning the old gymnasium and dilapidated kitchen into a large multipurpose area with a modern, commercial kitchen. The large room with a stage now serves as a venue for a variety of events.
For the past 14 years, it has been the site of the annual Senior High Madrigal dinner and concert. The space is provided at no cost to the school. This fits into Waddingham’s belief that as a downtown church, St. Luke’s has a responsibility to be good stewards of its facility to reach out to the community. St. Luke’s opened its doors to St. Patrick’s when the downtown co-cathedral was doing extensive remodeling.
Waddingham is passionate about youth ministry. He has been actively involved with Camp Marshall, the diocesan camp. He served on the camp committee and was a supporter of Grace Camp, aimed at children who have an incarcerated parent.
Waddingham opened the church youth group and dinner to neighborhood children. He encourages them to play on the playground equipment in Tuttle Park, an enclosed grassy area behind the church.
Looking over his past 19 years at St. Luke’s, Waddingham said some of the highlights include the opening of St. Luke’s Child Enrichment Center, a preschool; regular outreach to the Montana Rescue Mission by cooking and serving dinners six times a year and making sandwiches every other week; and a series of dinners for the unemployed. He headed the Downtown Clergy Association for several years as the group sought to keep the downtown vital for people of all income levels.
“We have to remember and care for the poor,” Waddingham said. “A number of poor are concentrated in the downtown area and we need to minister to them. As a downtown church, we are very welcoming and inclusive. I am delighted that my final confirmation class has members of the Cheyenne, Sioux and Cree nations.”
One of his most memorable events in his time at St. Luke’s occurred recently when the church hosted retired Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay, partnered bishop of the Episcopal Church. Waddingham called Robinson “one of the iconic figures in the Christian Church in the past century.”
As an Old Testament scholar, Waddingham taught numerous Education for Ministry classes. The four-year curriculum provides theological education for lay people. Despite his retirement, Waddingham will teach the class with the Rev. Linda McCloud at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, starting in September.
Brookhart asked Waddingham to continue as regional canon for Eastern Montana. In the large diocese, Waddingham serves as a representative for the bishop and provides support for the clergy.
Waddingham plans to spend more time with his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren and do more fishing and target practice. Though he never married, Waddingham adopted five sons, who range in age from 21 to 48. He has 16 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
St. Luke’s Sunday services will continue without missing a beat. The Rev. John Toles, of Butte, the interim rector, will begin his duties the first weekend in June.