In Blessed Memory: Rev. Dr. L. T. Archer Summers

15 05 2011

Rev. L. T. Archer Summers

My friend, Rev. Dr. Landon Tracy Archer Summers, passed away today.

Archer was a pastor at the Burlingame United Methodist Church in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I lived for over two decades before moving to Israel.  More than that, he was a beloved husband to Rev. Dr. Boyung Lee and a loving father to his two teenage children Jack and Clara.  May God grant them comfort at this difficult time.

He was far too young at 51.  He never told me he was a diabetic, and I’m not surprised by that because Archer was never one to complain.  He had a strong athletic body and looked like he would live well into old age.  But, on Saturday May 7, something went terribly wrong.  His brain was deprived of glucose, and he was found at home alone unconscious and unresponsive.  He was brought to the hospital, where his family held vigil.  This report reached us Wednesday last week, along with the grievous news that there was little to no hope for any kind of recovery.

One of Archer’s long time friends, who studied Hebrew with him in Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, wrote in an email of Archer’s amazing accomplishments.  He graduated from Georgetown with a BA in Classical Studies and later returned to complete a law degree, he graduated from Harvard with two masters and a doctorate in divinity and education, traveled to all seven continents by the age of 24, was the greatest dad to two extraordinary children, served as a minister to churches in Maine, Connecticut and California.  He spoke Hebrew, Russian, Greek, Latin and some Korean to impress his in-laws, was Program Manager of the USDA Graduate School (America’s largest continuing education program), received a Congressional award for his inspired work to promote peace in the Middle East, served on the Washington State Board of Mandatory Continuing Legal Education, was given the Unsung Hero award from the San Francisco Jewish Community Relations Council, was extremely proud of his West Virginia heritage and was a lifelong fan of Monty Python and bluegrass music.

Archer with Boyung

I met Archer in July 2007 in my capacity as director of the San Francisco JCRC’s Middle East Project.  At the time he was senior pastor at the First United Methodist Church in Palo Alto and was also on the Executive Committee of Christians for Fair Witness on the Middle East a mainline Christian group that seeks a balanced approach to Christian involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

He had been to Israel four times since his initial visit in 1978 when he studied Hebrew at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.  When I walked into his office on that beautiful Bay Area summer’s day, I took notice of his many books on his bookshelf on Judaism, Hebrew (modern and biblical), Israel and the Kabala.  I also noticed a photo of his son Jack wearing a Red Sox cap.  Already two reasons to like this guy!

At this first meeting Archer described his pain at the direction his denomination was taking regarding Israel.  Archer was clearly disturbed that a small group of activists within the denomination were promoting a clearly anti-Israel agenda that wasn’t merely critical of Israel, but in fact demonized the Jewish state, painting Israelis as being entirely in the wrong, and Palestinians and other Arabs as being entirely in the right.  Archer was a nuanced thinker, he saw the world in many shades of gray, and could not accept a narrative that painted an entire group of people in such black and white terms.

From that time on, our personal relationship grew.  I met his remarkable wife Boyung, a power in her own right, and his son Jack whom Archer brought to a meeting with other Christian clergy under JCRC auspices.  In 2008, JCRC recognized Archer as an unsung hero honoring him for his tireless work to bring a more balanced discussion of the Middle East into his denomination, and for working hard for the betterment of Jewish-Christian relations.  (If you wish to see a video of Archer you may view it here on JCRC’s YouTube page.  We also honored Rev. Doug Huneke, another wonderful friend, who appears first on the video.)

Last year in 2010, Archer and Boyung were our guests of honor at our last Passover Seder in California. It was such a joy to have them over and share our traditions with them.  I will always remember that seder as being something very special.

This past Friday at sundown, just before the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath, I received an email from a family friend who wrote the following:

Archer, in his own unique and irreverent way, has made it clear that he doesn’t want any life sustaining measures taken to support him if a full recovery were not likely. We have reached the stage of being able to honor those wishes and a short time ago permitted the medical staff here to remove respiratory, hydration and insulin support. Thankfully, he is resting comfortably and breathing on his own. Church friends will be pleased to know that he is now wearing his favorite pastoral stole. Sitting here with him, we also feel confident that he is engaged in lively debate with God.

With this heavy news I entered Shabbat.  As the sun went below the Galilean hills, our Shabbat services began.  During Shabbat services it is customary for the 23rd Psalm to be sung toward the end.  I never really understood why, until now.  The Sabbath is described in Jewish tradition as an “oneg” or a joy.  Why, I wondered, would Psalm 23 be included in this service?  I asked one of the rabbis here at Hanaton (we have ten!) and he reminded me that Shabbat is described by our tradition as a “taste of the World to Come,”  an inkling of eternal paradise.  The 23rd Psalm, with its promise of God being our unwavering Shepherd as we walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, opens the curtain just a tiny, tiny bit to the Olam HaBa (the World to Come).

I believe that Archer is entering Paradise, in deep discussion with God on some fine points of theology, and is giving the Holy One, Blessed Be He, a run for his money.

Archer, I miss you.  May your name be remembered for a blessing.

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12 responses

31 05 2011
R Poulos

Reverend Dr. Archer Summers, never to be forgotten…he fought to remove my name from YELP without success, but that he tried is an indication of who he was. He came to our church in July 2009 and by September he was saving our family in the midst of a small crisis within and then when my Dad got sick; he was there, always asking how he was. What an example he set of living and being a Christian…there are no words of how our congregation is going to miss him for a LONG time! I take great comfort in the thought he is in Heaven with our Heavenly Father.

31 05 2011
Gary D. Bartholomew

My wife and I met Archer on several occasions while visiting our daughter in Ca. We Are in Indiana where I am involved with the Methodist Layspeaking ministries. I was deeply impressed with his outgoing and friendly spirit and was very saddened to learn of his passing.

19 05 2011
Jean & Adam Jenkins

Landon was a minister at the Hampden Methodist Church in Maine when we met him. He was a brillant man with always a smile on his face and God in his heart! He married us at Schoodic Lake, the morning after he was married. He had two children within two weeks of our first two children. We were blessed to have him baptize those two children and myself. We exchanged Christmas cards until a couple of years ago when it was returned. Evidently when he relocated. He was a wonderful man and we are deeply saddened by his passing. Thank you Landon for being a part of our lives! You were a blessing!

18 05 2011
Betty Wyren

knew he was very special when he started at the Burlingame Methodist Church. I used to tell him I’d have to bring a dictionary to church just to keep up with the one REALLY BIG word that he used in each sermon. I was on the journey to God with him and Green Eggs and Ham (in every language that he would bring to church).

I don’t think I have ever seen anyone LIVE his life. I don’t think he ever wasted a second even in his sleep. I have been so blessed to meet him and his beautiful children who “popped” into my mom’s home when she was dying to pray for her.

Archer your example will never be forgotten

17 05 2011
Christopher Henry

Archer was a long-time friend, and the events of the past nine days are truly heartbreaking. His generous friendship was a gift to me and greatly enriched my life.

16 05 2011
Carlos Cervantes

Thank you for this loving tribute to Pastor Archer. He was an amazing, kind and thoughtful leader to our congregation and to the wider community of Burlingame in general. I will personally miss him so much.

16 05 2011
Hui-Jen Shiau

My condolences to Archer’s family. I always enjoyed Archer’s sermons. He brough humor, humility and intelligence to his sermons and they have stuck with me. He was a man of many accomplishments. I remember him teaching me Fedora Unix. I will miss him, but I also feel blessed that I got to know him. RIP Archer.

16 05 2011
Mike Meyerheim

As Anat,Yitzhak and Tamar joined us for this Shabbat dinner, it was clear that a great feeling of sadness and loss was in their spirits. As Yitzhak shared the news, it was clear that there was great respect, honor and love for Archer and his kindness.
Though I had never met him, it took little time to feel that Archers soul and spirit will live in many forever. Perhaps by entering heaven he has gone from being a light amongst communities, to being a shinning star amongst nations from above.
May his human spirit be remembered in all that strive for a better world and may the Summers family continue with the same love as they embrace his memory forever.

16 05 2011
Sheralee Hill Iglehart

To Boyung and two sons, you have my deepest sympathy over the tragic loss of Rev. Dr. Archer Summers today, May 15, 2011.
I remember Rev Dr. Summers, especially when he invited me to give the Children’s Sermon at worship service on Christmas December 25th a few years back.
He said to bring my camel puppet and my latest children’s book, ” A Very, Very Special Birthday” and read it to the children then. I did. Upon leaving the pulpit on his way down the aisle, he stopped by my pew and said “come with your camel puppet and walk down the aisle with us!” I did. And while greeting the parishioners leaving the service, he said “we’d like to have you give your children’s sermon every year at Christmas time. It would be a good one.” Yes, I could. He was a warm, energetic, intelligent and friendly pastor. We will miss him. It was an unexpected, tragic, untimely death at such a young age. From a FUMC member of more than 20 years,
Sheralee Hill Iglehart

16 05 2011
Shelly Lewis

Dear Yitzhak,
So very shocked and saddened to hear this news. I am gratified that his life was long enough to know how much he was treasured by the Jewish community. I do grieve with you. He was a very special person.
B’y’didut,
Shelly

15 05 2011
Doron Nesher

Archer was a friend. Always welcoming,always smiling.A true ,passionate peace builder between people and denominations .It is a horrible lost for me personally but for anyone who seeks for reason and meaning in life. One can’t prevent asking: why ? why him? why so young? We spent great times together, i learned a lot from him. I miss him .

16 05 2011
Rebecca Kuiken

Archer was willing to step out for justice. He came to talk with the GM of the Hyatt with other clergy, and was a gracious yet pointed spokesperson.

He was an independent thinker who both engaged in action and drew on a thoughtful Gospel foundation. I’m grateful for his witness.

I was grateful for his creativity. I am at a loss that I will not have another coffee with him.

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