Tribute to C. Leslie Strand

The Beloved Bishop

by Phil Johnson

"It’s time for coffee," said Gulli Rydberg, Secretary of Salem Square Covenant Church of Worcester, Massachusetts. It was August, 1962, one of my first workdays as Intern Pastor at Salem Square. A moment later Gulli introduced me to Chet Thayer, Secretary of the East Coast Conference (ECC), and to a tall, handsome gentleman with a pleasant, relaxed, playful smile. "This is Superintendent Leslie Strand," said Gulli. "We call him the Bishop."

Soon we were enjoying friendly conversation over coffee, which I had recently learned to drink, and eating delicious Danish pastry. I shared in this pleasant event several times a week, most weeks, for two years. The Bishop liked coffee and good pastry with real butter. It took little time to train my taste.

A few days later, the Bishop invited me to ride along with him to a church in Connecticut where he was scheduled to meet with the pulpit committee. I was delighted when Russell Cervin, my supervising Pastor, said: "Sure, go ahead."

Thus it happened that during the two years I spent at Salem Square, Les Strand, the Bishop, fathered me. It was a privilege to watch him pastor pastors and churches first hand. It soon became clear that he was the main reason many Covenant Pastors wanted to be in the East Coast Conference and why they used the term "Bishop" to refer to him both in and out of his presence. I am sure that this pleased him.

Les and Eleanor made me welcome in their home at 33 Gage Lane in Shrewsbury and I became friends with their daughters, Kristine and Ingrid, who were already distinguishing themselves. While I was at Salem, the Bishop arranged for me to become the Bible Director at Camp Squanto for the summer. When I left Salem Square, he used his connections to get me a job as Assistant Chaplain and Religion teacher at Cheshire Academy in Cheshire, Connecticut. Ten years later, he was instrumental in a call to the Haddam Neck, Connecticut, Covenant Church as pastor. Les was very significant to me, and a big help. I was but one among many who were blessed by him.

Why was it that Les Strand was widely and deeply loved? Why was he so valued by many? Memories of his kindness, gentleness, good humor, gracious manners, and personable presence come immediately to mind. He seemed tireless as he traversed the East Coast visiting, meeting, and responding personally to the pastoral and administrative needs of the Conference. The Bishop met people genuinely. He connected personally. Though humble, he was personal and direct with both the powerful and the meek.

I wonder if Les consciously chose Nathaniel as a model. He certainly was a person "in whom there was no guile."

The Bishop loved Cape Cod, and he and Eleanor purchased a place in Harwichport which they enjoyed very much, especially in retirement. For many years, Les tenderly cared for Eleanor during her prolonged illness. Never did he complain nor express bitterness, though surely he had hoped for a different scenario for retirement. He spent the last chapter of his life at Pilgrim Manor—a project initiated while he was Conference Superintendent.

Les did not ask for himself. He was always gracious and seemed up to whatever life brought. But, I wonder, as I write this, what these transitions were like for him. How did he adjust internally to no longer being the Bishop? How did he adjust to Eleanor’s illness and death? What was his own waning health like for him? I wish I had reached out to him more during these times.

The answer that comes with these questions is that the Bishop lived by love. He loved people, he loved his family, he loved the ECC, he loved the Cape, and he loved his friends. He lived by the love of others for him. Love sustained him and gave him a thankful heart.

He will be missed deeply but his love will linger with us. So it is that we salute C. Leslie Strand, the Beloved Bishop.