Tending the Sacred Lamp

The Rev. Father Brendan E. Williams, CMR

When I arrived at The Bishop’s Ranch this past November and walked into The Chapel of St. George again after five-and-a-half years away, a small but powerful symbol was born in my mind: the rekindling and tending of the sanctuary lamp. (The sanctuary lamp is the lamp that’s kept burning in the chancel near the tabernacle, symbolically marking the living Presence of
Christ in the reserve Sacrament).

As I began tending this lamp, making sure it was burning continuously through the days and nights of winter, I was reminded of the monastics among my ancient Gaelic Ancestors who for centuries tended the sanctuary flame of their newly integrated Catholic Christian wisdom—along with their pre-Christian ancestral inheritance—and carried it through the bleakness of Europe’s Dark Ages. In a quiet way, I began to sense an old ember glowing anew in the sanctuary of my own heart: a revitalized sense of mission, not just for myself, but for the Church at large.

After two years of the hard realities of living in a global pandemic, and struggling to find answers to the difficult question of how we as the Church—in an already somewhat fragile and declining season of our collective life, made more acute by the circumstances of the pandemic—might seize this moment of liminality and institutional dissipation as opportunity rather than detriment, and move forward not just sustainably but meaningfully into a future of renewal. It seemed to me in my first months here, in the late fall and winter of 2021, that at least one dimension of such a way forward was being revealed: Keep the sanctuary lamp burning. This became a kind of axiom that I returned to daily—an anchor, a comfort, and a new small window into Presence.

What does it mean, exactly, to keep the sanctuary lamp burning? I think it means many things, but firstly it implies carrying something sacred into the darkness of grief and hardship; it means to shelter a flame of love and faith and commitment while old institutional structures dissolve, to carry a flame of Divine Presence from the spaciousness of contemplative praxis into the broken world of human endeavor. I think this latter point is of particular value to all of us in the Church at this historical moment. D. H. Lawrence once said that the ancient adventure of Christianity has ended, and our job in the Church now is to find a new purposeful venture. I tend to agree with him. And I strongly suspect that for us to have a truly meaningful future as Catholic Christians in the West, in which we provide something of genuine substance and unique value to the world, we will have to tend seriously to the transformative capacity of our Christian contemplative tradition and its attendant mystical theology. This will necessarily involve us in training our individual and collective selves to something genuinely transcendent; it will anchor us in a commitment to wisdom and interior transformation, whatever else might be unfolding or unraveling around us. This is an
approach to Christian spirituality that has traditionally been preserved by monastics, though I sense that now it’s time for that legacy to be transmitted fully to the rest of the Church—for the sanctuary flame to be brought out from the enclosure, where it was quietly preserved, and spread among the people like the passing of the Paschal flame at the Great Vigil of Easter.

At the very core of the Ranch as a place of gathering is, I think, a contemplative impulse: one that is profoundly wedded to the Land, and one that bears distinctly monastic markings. From past hermits who once lived on the Ranch property to the Franciscan Friars who ran the Ranch
through part of the 1970’s and 80’s, there is a spiritual stream in the DNA here that, as a monastic, I’ve felt very at home stepping into; and I can’t escape the feeling that there has been some pregnant possibility of deeply contemplative and monastically informed spirituality incubating below the surface, waiting for the right moment to be revived.

These are possibilities—heard faintly on the wind, but held closely in the heart—which I am committed to tending as chaplain and monastic-in-residence, and which I am eager to invite others to explore and step into, in Spirit’s own time. I pray that we might all, as a community, come to explore and tend to these possibilities together—not for our own sakes, and not even just for the sake of the Ranch itself, but also for the world at large, for all sentient beings, and for all who might cross the threshold of this sacred space we have been entrusted to steward. May the venture be beautiful.

Peace and every blessing,
Fr. Brendan+

Cook III – Lead Cook

StatusFull-Time, Non-Exempt
Start date:Immediately
CompensationCompetitive Hourly Wage, Excellent 100% Employer-Paid Health Benefits, 403b Plan Including Employer Contribution and Matching.
Questions:Interested candidates should send their resume and cover letter to Executive Chef, Kandie Farout, kitchen@bishopsranch.org

The Bishop’s Ranch Kitchen

The Bishop’s Ranch hosts groups of 12 to 150 guests at a time for retreats, conferences, trainings, camps and events. Food is a central component of hospitality at the Bishop’s Ranch. Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner are served at set times and most often buffet-style. Our kitchen team is committed to creating a positive, creative, professional, and low-stress environment. We cook from scratch utilizing fresh ingredients sourced locally as much as possible and some grown right on the Ranch.

Under the direction of our Executive Chef and Sous Chef, our Lead Cooks are responsible for leading a team through a shift in the preparation, serving, and clean-up of meals.  We are looking for team players with a positive attitude and a passion for hospitality and food. Weekends Required. 

Primary Duties

  • Lead a team in preparing meals for 12 to 140 people, more for special events
  • Plan and direct meal preparation so food is ample and ready on time and prepared to Ranch Standards
  • Ensure dining area is ready for food service and food is presented properly
  • Respond to requests from guests and monitor food serving areas during mealtimes 
  • Operate food preparation equipment such as slicer, commercial mixer, gas stove, grille, and ovens, dishwasher, food processors, barbecue, and other commercial kitchen equipment
  • Support Kitchen Manager and Assistant Kitchen Manager by double checking menus and prep lists
  • Make sure food is provided for special diets
  • Plan and direct end of meal clean up.
  • Enter shift information into kitchen log
  • Monitor refrigeration temperatures 
  • Train team members on general cooking skills and safe kitchen practices
  • Other projects as assigned by supervisor


  • Communication skills necessary to lead a meal preparation team and communicate with Kitchen Manager, other Ranch staff, and guests
  • Culinary knowledge and cooking skills, including following complex recipes, adequate to serve nutritious and attractive meals on time for large groups 
  • Able to scale recipes to different group sizes.
  • Time management skills being able to plan ahead
  • Flexibility and confidence to make changes to menus as necessary depending on supplies available, changes in numbers of guests or special dietary needs. 
  • Knowledge of operation of food preparation equipment such as slicer, commercial mixer,  gas stove, grille, and ovens, dishwasher, food processors, barbecue, and other commercial kitchen equipment
  • Knowledge of kitchen sanitation and safe working practices
  • Able to work at least one weekend day or weekend evening per week
  • Capable of lifting 40 pounds unassisted

Overall Description

The Bishop’s Ranch is a self-supporting institution of the Episcopal Diocese of California.

The mission of the Ranch is to serve God by providing for people of all walks of life a place where lives are changed; a place of hospitality amidst the beauty of God’s creation where renewal of spirit, mind and body is nourished, leading to spiritual growth and closer relationships with God and one another.

We fulfill the mission of the Ranch by providing hospitality for retreats, conferences and other gatherings to groups and individuals from the Diocese of California, other churches, and non-profit groups.  Our goal is to provide these services in a personal and relaxed but efficient way that enables guests to reach their goals for spiritual, personal, and organizational growth.

Working at The Bishop’s Ranch is service oriented, and doing our jobs successfully is based on teamwork.  Because of the wide-ranging nature of the tasks involved in caring for our guests and facilities, it may be necessary to perform tasks outside our usual line of work.  For example: when on duty in the kitchen a guest may come in and ask where sports equipment is found; an office worker may be called to help when a guest finds a broken water valve; a maintenance worker may need to help in the kitchen when a group suddenly has increased in numbers, or a cook must leave due to illness.  The flexibility to help in such a situation in order to support our guests and the overall goals of the Ranch is a requirement of working at The Bishop’s Ranch.

Drought Response

Sonoma County and much of California are currently experiencing exceptional drought. Our rainfall last year was 25 inches below normal. In June, though the Ranch had no mandates, we opted to take several big steps to reduce our water use including:

  • Pausing irrigation to almost all of our landscapes and lawns and only watering select areas enough to keep them alive until the rainy season
  • Reducing our vegetable garden and stopping irrigation of our gardens
  • Asking residential staff to reduce usage
  • Asking guests to reduce usage through shorter showers, fewer flushes and smart use.

Through these measures, we are saving 1000’s of gallons of water each day. Don’t be surprised when you visit the Ranch and our landscapes look a little less vibrant than usual.

We are also currently planning a project to move most of our landscaping irrigation to recycled water. We will have more information on this project soon and will need your help to make it a reality.

The Ranch’s water comes from wells near the Russian River. Over 600,000 residents of Sonoma and Marin counties also draw their drinking water from this area. We believe it is important to be good neighbors, good stewards and make sure we all have enough water for necessities. We invite you to be water-wise too. We can all do our part to conserve this most precious resource. Join us!

A Message from The Bishop’s Ranch Board

It is a transition time for The Bishop’s Ranch. We said a loving farewell to Sean Swift and his family this autumn after 31+ years of leadership. It’s also a time of great uncertainty for all of us as well as for the Ranch as we endeavor to calibrate risks in the time of a pandemic and our ongoing need to be with one another. The Bishop’s Ranch Board is taking steps, in consultation with Bishop Marc and Diocese of California staff, to assure ongoing leadership for the Ranch.

At this time, Aaron Wright continues as the Acting Executive Director and thanks to him and all the hardworking staff, the Ranch is open for visits in careful compliance with a big host of extra care measures for the safety and wellbeing of visitors. Many of us have made weekend and midweek visits and though it is different, yes, the food is still fabulous, the staff warm-hearted and welcoming, and the surroundings lovely and deeply calming.

Here is a summary of what’s going on about leadership at the Ranch:

In consultation with the Bishop and Episcopal Camp and Conference Center (“ECCC”), we have rewritten and recently finalized the position description for the Executive Director. Our plan going forward is to fill the Executive Director position with someone who can continue effective Ranch operations while engaging with us in an intensive period of visioning and strategic planning for the Ranch’s future, over the next few years. This work is essential for the ongoing financial sustainability of the Ranch which despite our generous donors and the hardworking staff, will almost certainly operate at a considerable loss this year.

We’re working through the holidays with the hope we can make a Board decision about the method for recruitment and appointment in December 2020 or January 2021. We will keep you informed. In the meantime, warmest wishes for good holidays and may we all navigate them with love given and received in whatever form is best.

Black Lives Matter

Last week we paused all social media and email communication in solidarity with #blackouttuesday and #amplifyblackvoices and in acknowledgement that our primarily white voices were not the voices that needed to be heard. 

The Bishop’s Ranch staff has been listening, learning, planning and actively engaging in local protests of the unjust deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and too many others. We stand with the #blacklivesmatters movement and commit ourselves and our organization to the work of anti-racism. 

The Ranch’s mission is to serve God by providing for people of all walks of life a place where lives are changed; a place of hospitality amidst the beauty of God’s creation where renewal of spirit, mind, and body is nourished, leading to spiritual growth and closer relationships with God and one another. Our board of directors reads this mission statement at the beginning of each meeting, and it guides and informs our decision making. 

As part of the Episcopal Church we take seriously our baptismal covenant “to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being with God’s help.” 

We recognize that we have much work to do. We have taken steps and will take many more. 

We acknowledge that the Ranch itself exists on land once home to Southern Pomo people.

We acknowledge that the Ranch has too often been a predominantly “white space.”

We have committed to equality and justice in our hiring, staffing and compensation practices and have a diverse staff reflective of the racial demographics of Sonoma County where more often racism shows itself between white and Latinx communities. 

We acknowledge there is much more work to be done, and we commit to doing the work. 

Update: Summer Camp 2020

Dear Friends of the Ranch,

Over the past few months we have been hard at work planning and preparing for a full Summer Camp season at the Ranch. As dynamics surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic progressed, we continued to plan and hold hope while closely monitoring guidelines and safety protocols. Based on the current information available from the CDC, the Diocese of California, and the Sonoma County Health Officer, the staff and our Board of Directors have come to the very difficult decision to cancel all of our overnight Summer Camp programs through July 2020.

We reached out to our camp families this morning to let them know they have options including:

Receiving a full refund of their deposit and any fees paid.

Donating a portion or all of their paid fees to the Annual Fund. Summer camp takes year-round planning and year-round care of the Ranch in order to make it successful. We are committed to beginning preparations for a vibrant 2021 Camp experience.

Rolling their deposit toward any 2021 Summer Camp.

The traditional camp experience at the Ranch is vital for our young people and families. Our Camp Director and Chaplain, Megan Anderson together with Ivan Thorpe and other volunteer young adult camp leaders, are already working on free-of-charge alternative offerings to keep campers and families connected this summer.

Now, more than ever, the Bishop’s Ranch needs your support. In these uncertain times, the whole staff is prioritizing the stewardship and sustainability of the Ranch during our extended closure. We deeply appreciate your prayers and support. Please consider donating to the Annual fund as you are able.

Lastly, please do not hesitate to be in touch if you have any questions or concerns.


The Bishop’s Ranch Team

A healthy hand washing chorus.

As you are pining for summer camp at the Ranch, you can help yourself stay healthy with this hand washing song.

Get yourself registered for camp here.

The Ceanothus Silk Moth

This Ceanothus Silk Moth was found by staff member Julie Miller on the veranda of the Pavilion. Julie believes it had just emerged from its cocoon and was pumping blood into its newly unfolded wings. As its name suggests, this moth in its larval form only feeds on the Wild Lilac (Family Ceanothus), a shrub found all over the grounds of the Ranch. As an adult, the moth’s sole purpose is to find a mate and reproduce. It doesn’t even have developed mouth parts to feed once out of the larval stage! What a beauty with a 5″ wingspan!!

Advent Message

Dear Friends,

The stones that cobble the creek bed are dry and gray on this autumn day. It is so quiet along the empty creek that as my steps crunch brown leaves, the sound echoes within the crumbling banks. I give up on walking and sit on a tipped-over tree trunk, surprised that there is no sound from insect, bird or mammal. The creek is usually a refuge of life but today it feels wound down. It lays bare, spare, waiting.

Later in the day I tiptoe to a back seat in the chapel, unnoticed by a choir at rehearsal. The director stands at the piano, teaching an inspired piece of music, playing chords with his left hand while his whole right arm makes expansive shapes of the music in the air. The singers respond and the uplifting music magnifies, fills the once empty chapel to the ceiling until it spills from the windows and doors.

Grace Cathedral Boys Choir
The rain began that night. By morning the stones of the creek were shiny. Before nightfall, tiny puddles formed. The thinnest threads of water connected the once dry stones and one puddle to another as the empty creek shifted toward a hoped-for fullness.

Emptiness and fullness. Both states holy and connected. Within its history, the Ranch itself has lived both states many times. Yet the purpose is ever to share, to lead with welcome so that children, families, teens, adults find their lives renewed, made stronger and in turn share themselves. At the close of your eventful year, please reach out and be part of the Ranch mission of renewal and connection. Through a gift to the Annual Fund, someone, many, will benefit. Even you, I hope. Especially you.


Sean Swift, Executive Director

P.S All aspects of life at the Ranch, including meeting its budget, are centered on community. Every gift at every level is important in supporting the continued success of the Ranch. The Annual Fund supports a host of activities that allow us to have a lasting impact on the lives of many people in our community, while maintaining a strong tradition of hospitality and environmental stewardship. I hope you will consider a donation to the Annual Fund in your end of year giving plan.

Keepo Creek Falls

Benefit Concert Celebrates Beethoven’s Birthday

A Light in the Darkness

A Benefit Concert Celebrating the Birthday of Ludwig Van Beethoven
Sunday, December 16 at 4 pm
The Chapel of St. George at The Bishop’s Ranch

$40 ticket includes the concert and refreshments.
Purchase ticket or make a donation here: thebishopsranch.wufoo.com/forms/a-light-in-the-darkness/.

cropOn Beethoven’s birthday, join Santa Rosa Symphony Music Historian Kayleen Asbo, pianist Emma Asbo and baritone Jason Byer for a candlelight concert in celebration of the life and music of a hero for our time, in a musical journey that carries us from darkness to joy. All proceeds from the concert go to the Scholarship Fund at The Bishop’s Ranch to provide summer camp experiences to children in need.

Ludwig Van Beethoven’s life is one of the most astonishing stories of all time. Through the sheer power of his determination and will, he rose from his grief-stricken childhood to become Vienna’s most famous and sought-after pianist, conductor and composer. At the pinnacle of his fame, tragedy struck again as he discovered his growing deafness. Despite excruciating pain, constant personal rejection and the terror and fear of the Napoleonic wars exploding around him, Beethoven found a way to pour his broken heart into his music, creating a pathway of hope and healing for all of us that led to a vision of universal peace and love in his Ninth Symphony.