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Aug 07, 2014 | Luke Blount

60 Years in Black & White: Canon Logan Celebrates Rare Milestone

The Rev. Canon John A. Logan Jr. isn’t the kind of guy who seeks the spotlight. He doesn’t pose for photos or even smile for them, and usually, he is the guy who slips out the back door at office parties. But after more than 60 years as a priest in the Diocese of Texas, it is long past due to recognize his ministry not only for its longevity, but for the many lives he has touched.

 

Logan grew up as a Presbyterian in La Grange, Texas, and graduated high school at age 16, immediately enrolling at the University of Texas in the summer of 1945. He originally aspired to become an attorney and completed law school by the age of 21, but a conversion to the Episcopal Church during his sophomore year led him down a different path.

 

“As a young kid in a big city, I had dropped out of the church business. I wasn’t mad at anybody; I just wasn’t terribly interested,” Logan said. “I had outgrown what I knew at that time, which wasn’t very much.” 

 

However, during his sophomore year, Logan began attending All Saints’ Episcopal Church with his roommate, Clifford Lawrence. 

 

“I worked my way gradually into the Episcopal Church,” he said. “The liturgy was really appealing to me. That was the thing that attracted me more than anything else, the prayer book liturgy.”

 

After a very brief discernment process and consultation with Bishop Clinton Quin, Logan entered Virginia Theological Seminary in 1950. He was ordained a deacon in July 1953 at St. James, La Grange, and he became an ordained priest in July 1954 at Good Shepherd, Austin. Since that time, Logan has served churches in Austin, Waco and Houston, and earned an MA from the University of Virginia, studying religion in literature. 

 

Logan says the high point of his ministry came in the 1980s as he worked alongside the Very Rev. Pittman McGehee at Christ Church Cathedral. Logan played an integral role in revitalizing the downtown Houston church. 

 

“Pittman McGehee used to say that Pittman preached and taught, and John ran the church,” said long-time Cathedral member Flo Ray. “As successful as the church was when Pittman was there, it would not have made it without John.”

 

For the better part of the past 35 years Logan has served the Cathedral in various roles, including as Sub Dean and Acting Dean. But when asked about his contributions, he will often downplay his influence.

 

“I think that he is very embarrassed that he is so beloved at the Cathedral,” Ray said. “There are people (and I am one of them) that will come to the 9 a.m. service and stay for the 11 a.m. service if they see he is preaching because they love his preaching so much.” 

 

In addition to his Cathedral work, Logan has served as Secretary for the Diocese of Texas since 1986. From 1996 to 2000, Logan also served Bishop Claude Payne as Canon to the Ordinary until he reached mandatory clergy retirement age at 72. Today, Logan is Canon Emeritus for the Cathedral and the Diocese. A man of remarkable work ethic, Logan offices at the Diocesan Center and works Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in addition to fulfilling Sunday duties at the Cathedral. 

 

Religious, But Not Spiritual

As he has served seven of the nine bishops of the Diocese of Texas, Logan has long been a consistent and steady influence. Although he readily adapts to the changing world (like using an iPhone or driving a Prius), the 86-year-old’s core beliefs have remained largely unchanged. In a society where it is popular to be “spiritual, but not religious,” Logan describes himself as “religious, but not spiritual.” 

 

“I am always paying attention to what the church does,” Logan said. “I always go to church, and the church’s liturgy is very important to me.”

 

He is an early convert to the idea of the social gospel, feeling a call to take the Gospel into the streets to help the underserved.

 

“I’m less interested in being told again what I can read about Jesus in the Bible than I am about wondering what difference it can make,” Logan explained. “If it doesn’t make a difference, then it is not worth paying attention to as far as I’m concerned. I want to see what religion leads us to do or to be.”

 

With those values central to his ministry, Logan, McGehee and Kay White launched COMPASS in 1981 to aid the growing homeless population in Houston. Logan saw a need to provide homeless people something more than just a meal. Over the past 30 years, caseworkers from COMPASS have offered guidance, food, treatment, health assistance, bus fares and countless other services through more than 100,000 client visits.

 

More recently, Logan began a group called “Johnny’s Walkers” to raise money for AIDS research through the Houston AIDS walk. In just six years, the group has given more than $85,000 to the cause.

 

Brush with Death

In 2003, Logan began coughing up blood during a trip to Turkey. When he finally made it home, he was diagnosed with a lung infection and emphysema, but even more troubling was an arrhythmia with his heartbeat. After consulting with doctors, he elected to undergo heart surgery to replace a valve. Due to complications, Logan stayed in an induced coma for a month. 

 

“Everything that could go wrong went wrong,” he said. “It looked like I wasn’t going to make it. I got 52 units of blood, but it was coming out as fast as it was going in.”

 

Doctors quickly discovered a vein beneath his heart was leaking blood, and the surgery to repair it left Logan on the brink of death. The Cathedral clergy began to plan for his funeral, but he slowly recovered. When he finally awoke, Logan had trouble understanding his surroundings. It wasn’t until the Rev. Beth Holden mentioned his beloved dog Rhymney that Logan began to return to his old self. A lifelong dog owner, Logan credits the Welsh corgi (along with Holden, Flo Ray and Donna Boyd) with sparking his recovery. 

 

After nearly eight weeks in the hospital relearning how to speak, swallow and walk, Logan returned home. But in the classic stoicism that Logan exudes, he claims the experience had little effect on his outlook on life. 

 

“I’ve always known how transitory life is; I didn’t need to be shown,” he said.

 

I Am Smiling

Logan sometimes jokes that he thinks he scares people when they first meet him. He sits quietly in a dark office with a sign posted to his desk depicting a stern-looking bald eagle and a note that reads, “I am smiling.” He has strong opinions born out of the wisdom that only an octogenarian would understand, and he isn’t afraid to share them if you ask. 

 

When he admitted himself into the hospital for his heart surgery, he did so anonymously, and he charged his caregivers with turning visitors away most of the time. Logan is a private person, and he isn’t interested in insulating himself among his Episcopal brethren. “Most of the friends I have are non-church friends, by choice,” he said. “It is a separation between church life and personal life.”

 

One of the only personal things that he can’t help but share with coworkers is his love for his two dogs, Pepper (a miniature dachshund) and Ramsey (a Welsh corgi). Pictures of the dogs are displayed prominently in his office along with a painted image of the now deceased Rhymney complete with a halo in the form of a Christian icon.

 

The friends that Logan does have within the church are very loyal to his requests for privacy, even hesitating to be interviewed for an article that celebrates his life. Although he may be content if people think he is scary, anyone who has sat down with him for a few minutes knows the kindness with which he treats everyone. 

 

“He certainly has a reserved, kind of crusty exterior, but with a great heart of gold. He is just a wonderful person,” Holden said. Logan is the godfather to her son, Sam, and every Thursday morning Logan meets Holden and her two children for breakfast. An Eagle Scout, Logan recently showed Sam his old uniform to encourage Sam to complete his own Boy Scout journey. 

 

Logan’s concern is always for the other, the downtrodden or forgotten, which is probably why he refuses any attention directed his way. He insists that he is not a very interesting person, but after 60 years of baptisms and weddings, blessings and sermons, Logan has touched countless lives, and he shows no signs of slowing down. 

 

Perhaps that is something even John Logan can smile about. 

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