Yvonne McBean, a familiar face at 815 Second Avenue in New York for more than 40 years, plans to retire at the end of December.
During 43 years of working at the Episcopal Church Center, McBean has held several positions, attended six General Conventions, visited Guatemala and Honduras, traveled to 45 states in the continental U.S., and returned to her birth place of Panama.
She is also one of only two people at the Church Center who holds the distinction of having worked for five Presiding Bishops: Arthur Lichtenberger, John E. Hines, John M. Allin, Edmond L. Browning and Frank T. Griswold.
“The Episcopal Church has been blessed for more than 40 years by the service of Yvonne McBean, who has been an important part of our Church Center during the terms of five Presiding Bishops,” said Bishop Griswold. “Our church’s greatest resource is its people, so I very much appreciate Yvonne’s tremendous expression of commitment to our common life. Our prayers and blessings and thanksgivings go with her as she retires.”
McBean started her career at the Church Center when it was located at 281 Park Avenue South and was known as the National Council of the Episcopal Church.
“I came from Panama with a letter of recommendation from my bishop who told me to go to the national church to see if they would give me a job,” she said.
She was hired as “vacation relief help” and went on to work in the Home Department, General Convention Special Program, National Mission in Church Society office, General Convention Office, Administration, and briefly in Episcopal Migration Ministries. She spoke fondly of her work as an administrative assistant with the National Mission in Church and Society program under the leadership of Alice Phelps Emery, who died recently in Minnesota. McBean said Emery would send her cards to keep in touch through the years.
“For 43 years, Yvonne McBean has been a presence in the life of the Episcopal Church Center, and she has come to know decades of staff members and welcome innumerable visitors from throughout the Church,” said Pat Mordecai, chief operating officer of the Church Center. “She is the only present member of the staff who first worked at 281 Park Avenue South and then made the move to 815 Second Avenue. Through her work in the National Mission Office, the General Convention Office, and as Receptionist and Meetings Coordinator, she has exhibited great strength, commitment, and a subtle sense of humor, all of which will be greatly missed by her many colleagues, both present and past. We wish her well in this next chapter of her life.”
A cradle Episcopalian, McBean said that each administration “had things that at times will get you down, and I guess that’s in every faith” but “I would feel uplifted and moved when I’d go to the installation of a presiding bishop, and make new friends within my travels.”
She said she was “impressed with the work that ERD was doing in Honduras” and “it was good to be a part of that to see how other people appreciate what other people are doing for them.” She also spoke of seeing “monumental things like the churches that burned in Alabama, and the devastation of the Oklahoma City bombings.”
“She has always had a special relationship with the mission of the Episcopal Church because she always saw the Center as something for others, reaching out for the church to touch the broken and the wounded,” said Browning. “I think she has always had a sense of honesty about how she saw things; she was never afraid to tell the truth and I found that refreshing. You have to say that she really has become an icon, part of the folklore of the Episcopal Church Center, in a very positive way. She has earned her stripes in very faithful ways. She was always tremendously kind and helpful to me and Patty. I wish her all the very best and hopes she enjoys her retirement as much as I do mine.”
Leaving in the midst of a major renovation, McBean said it would be a “moving experience to come back and see the new Church Center as compared to the first new Church Center” she worked in shortly after being hired.
“I’m sorry I have to go, but there comes a time when you have to move on and don’t look back,” she said. “Be grateful that you were able to do the years that you did, to make the friends that you made, and try to stay connected from time to time.”
“Yvonne was sort of the lasting presence [at the Church Center],” said Patty Browning.” I wish her well, and I don’t know of anybody who’s earned such a well deserved retirement as she has. Yvonne, have a wonderful time in your retirement.”
McBean sets spending time with her grandchildren high on the list of things to do post-retirement.
"I'll do some traveling and help out with my four grandchildren," said McBean. "They're looking forward to having me home too."
Summarizing her career, McBean said there is nothing she would have done different and that “it has been a good experience.”
"I'm going to miss all the friends I have made over the years and even the new ones,” said McBean."It's nice to know that people appreciate what you do, and what you stand for."