RIP: The Rev. Canon Kenneth J.G. Semon

By James L. Overton
Posted Aug 5, 2016

The Rev. Canon Kenneth J.G. Semon

[Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande] The Rev. Canon Kenneth J.G. Semon, 70, died July 28, 2016, from injuries sustained two days earlier in an 18-mile road biking accident near his home.

He was a certified skiing instructor, a Ph.D. in English literature who quoted Shakespeare and translated Aramaic and Greek in gripping and erudite 10-minute homilies. He humbly followed without pretense the examples of St. Francis of Assisi, ministering to the needs of the homeless and advocating for those left behind. He mentored those on the pathway to priesthood.

He loved great music and quietly brought one of Santa Fe’s acclaimed music groups to a nurturing home. He liked to curl up in unstructured moments with an old-fashioned mystery. He looked forward to a retirement in England with children, grandchildren, and wife and best friend, Caroline.

He had been the shepherd and spiritual leader of the Church of the Holy Faith since 2007, living, loving and leading by unequivocal example.

“His prayer life was deep and disciplined,” observes the Rev.  Jim Gordon, who had followed Semon from acolyte, to deacon and then to the priesthood.

“Father Ken loved to celebrate the Eucharist. For him, everything started at the altar. His faith, his teaching, his work in the community — all flowed from the remembrance of Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension.”

Semon academic credentials followed his ministry, earning him the accolades of being “an excellent teacher and theologically focused preacher.

“He lived life with passion, devotion and was totally committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ and the broader mission of God’s one holy, catholic and apostolic church,” said Bishop Michael Vono of the Diocese of the Rio Grande. “Ken was a very faithful priest serious about his pastoral work with all people and deeply spiritual. Having these gifts and also being a wonderful administrator is not always common among clergy. He had both.”

Semon credited a parish of learners for being the driving force behind a variety of Bible-study classes, renewed interest in the spiritual classics, along with prayer groups, missionary outreach and being a role model for Episcopal churches in the diocese.

He was one of 40 or so faith and community leaders who met after two particularly brutal Santa Fe winters, which saw about 50 deaths from hypothermia among the homeless. He set about working to find a permanent location for a homeless shelter, one ultimately purchased by the city and renovated. He could be seen frequently supervising admittance or serving hot meals to the hundreds of homeless seeking solace on winter nights.

“The shelter relies on the City of Santa Fe and the generosity of Santa Fe faith and community groups, but Father Semon was one of a handful of individuals without which it would not exist,” said Holy Faith parishioner Guy Gronquist, a former chairman and current member of the board.

“He loved God, the church and people, and he loved celebrating Mass and serving the needs of the poor in Santa Fe,” Vono said.

When Santa Fe’s acclaimed Desert Chorale urgently needed a home for their artful voices, Fr. Ken urged the vestry to open the doors of unused space in Conkey House to the group for a modest fee.

In 2015, Vono chose Semon to be one of his diocesan canons for ecumenical affairs. He was also elected chair of the diocesan Standing Committee and was a reader of the General Ordination Examinations. He was also a mentor to clergy new to the priesthood or to Holy Faith.

Semon came to the Church of the Holy Faith as a temporary “priest in charge” late in 2007. After serving as interim priest in the parish, the church vestry, in an unprecedented display of solidarity, voted unanimously to make him rector.

He was born into a Jewish family in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and was Bar Mitzvah’ed at age 13. He converted to Christianity in his early 30s.

He had earned a Ph.D. in English literature and taught at the University of Kentucky before attending Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Chicago and becoming a priest.

The Semons came to Holy Faith from Christ Church in Paradise Valley, Arizona, where he was the rector for some nine years. He had been rector of other Episcopal parishes in Sturgis, Michigan, El Paso, Texas, and St. Louis, Missouri. He had also served as a curate in Lake Forest, Ilinois, and was an assisting priest in Vail, Colorado.

Before coming to Holy Faith as priest-in-charge during a time of parish upheaval, the Semons had contemplated retirement, built a home in Taos, and he planned to turn his recreational energy into his love of skiing and teaching at Taos Ski Valley (where he could nearly always be found once a week during the season.) In warmer weather, Semon kept in shape and close to nature by road biking, a sport made even more gratifying after knee replacement surgery in 2011.

In addition to his wife, Caroline, Semon is survived by children Jennifer Muller (husband Adrian), Bristol, England; Kathy Johnston (husband Bill), Chicago, Illinois; Jeffrey Semon (wife Anne) San Jose, California; stepson Scott Maynard, Frankfurt, Kentucky; grandchildren Eleanor and Gabriel Muller; C.J., Allie, and Rusty Johnston; and Caitlyn and Kyra Semon.

— James L. Overton, a journalist, parishioner at Church of the Holy Faith.



Comments (1)

  1. William F Bellais says:

    I remember Fr. Semon from my days in New Mexico when I was discerning my call to ordained ministry. We had occasion to meet in St. Louis, Missouri when we were at a conference on the church’s future. I knew him as a man of prayer, insight, and wisdom. This news saddens me beyond measure.

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