The Last Walk:
Eulogy at St. Peter Church
I can’t possibly say all I would like to say about Karen, so I will talk about her life as a Catholic.
Karen Suzanne Bates was born February 4, 1952 to Glenn and Betty Bates in The Dalles, Oregon. She grew up attending Conservative Baptist churches in The Dalles, McMinnville, and Newberg. Years later, she told me she and other Newberg High students would debate rather fine points of theology between classes. It seemed important to her at the time to be right, theologically, and she was happy to defend every point of Conservative Baptist doctrine. Karen was very smart; I don’t imagine she lost many debates. In 1970, she was NHS valedictorian.
In the early 1970s, Karen experienced an abusive, violent, and short marriage. The trauma of those years pushed her toward studying psychology and sparked spiritual searching. In 1977, Karen married me and changed her name to Karen Bates-Smith. In marrying me, she became a Quaker. It turned out that though she was content with me for a husband, she wasn’t fully content as a Friend.
Three months after marrying, we entered Fuller Theological Seminary. The psychology Ph.D. program at Fuller takes six years. Students earn a Master’s degree in theology in addition to their work in psychology; during their four years of course work. The last two years are spent in internships and—for most Fuller students—dissertation writing. Karen finished her course work and her dissertation in the four years. And she also had a baby, our son Tim.
Already, in our Pasadena years, Karen started visiting Catholic churches. She did this on her own. As a couple we were active in the Friends Church; for our last two years I was pastor of Pasadena Friends. But Karen was already feeling a stirring in her heart, something drawing her toward contemplative worship that she found sitting in mass.
We moved to Portland in 1982. I pastored Maplewood Friends Church, and Karen supported my work in every way she could. She served on a Yearly Meeting board, she hosted meetings in our house, she played piano for Sunday worship, and—perhaps most important, given the tiny salary the church could afford to pay me—she earned most of the family income.
In the late 80s I left the pastorate to pursue philosophy at the University of Oregon and an increased teaching load at George Fox. Karen shifted the focus of her psychology practice to neuropsychological testing. For many years she worked for Disability Determination Services and later, in private practice, as a consultant for DDS. We adopted our second son, James, in 1989.
Since I was no longer a Friends pastor, Karen felt greater freedom to pursue her spiritual stirrings toward Catholic worship. We moved to Newberg in 89. She drove to St. John Fisher in Portland for RCIA. At Easter, 1991, she was formally confirmed as a member of the Catholic Church. For a year or two, she attended St. Francis church in Sherwood before finally settling in St. Peter church here in Newberg.
Karen worried that by becoming a Catholic she would impede my career at George Fox. She knew about anti-Catholic thinking among some Protestants. When I was finishing my degree at UO we contemplated moving to various parts of the country. (I applied for lots of philosophy jobs in 1991, even flew to New York to interview for one of them.) She thought, perhaps, that in another location her faith would not be a hindrance.
Intellectually I embraced Catholics as fellow Christians. But emotionally I weathered a storm when Karen entered the church. It was Jesus, I believe, who told me not to argue against Karen’s conversion. Her leading was from Christ; I was not to get in the way.
In 1992 it became clear I needed to stay at Fox. We bought a house in Newberg and settled into a two-church routine. Karen attended mass at St. Peter’s on Saturday, and she and I took the boys to Newberg Friends on Sunday. Karen often played cello for Saturday mass. She wrote music for mass. Twice a year (Good Friday and Christmas) I attended mass with Karen. And later, when the boys were grown, whenever we went on vacation, we found it simple to attend mass—it seems there is always a Catholic church nearby.
Rather than causing a problem, the fact that Karen was a Catholic proved to be a boon to my work as a professor. When some student would express some anti-Catholic prejudice, I could gently raise a concrete example of a Protestant led by God to become a Catholic. I myself could not join the church, but I could love and honor a woman who did. Our marriage became a living illustration of theological inclusivity.
Interestingly, not many of my students have become Quakers. Maybe I should be a better evangelist. But some of my best students, such as Abigail Rine (now Favale) and Angela Wood (now Pearson) have become Catholics. Abby is a professor at GFU. Angela has not finished her doctorate, but she is the happy mother of five children, teaching her toddlers how to say “episteMOLogy.”
A couple days after Karen’s death, I received a phone call from another student, Chase Willcuts. After Fox, he had finished a Master’s in philosophy at Gonzaga, and now he is a student at a Catholic seminary, having joined the church. I told him to be a good priest.
Karen Bates-Smith obeyed the leading of the Spirit into the Catholic Church. From that obedience has come much good for our family, for St. Peter parish, and for my students at Fox. She died October 9, 2016.