Bob was the head of the search committee who brought me to CT in 1980. He was a dear, kind man who was committed to the church and social justice in profound ways. His funeral was today at St. Paul's and St. James. The beautiful sanctuary was pretty much packed. The music was incredible (a jazz quartet led "Lift Every Voice and Sing" and ended the celebration with "When the Saints...") They were fantastic. So was the organ--which was put in while I was Rector...I seem to have fallen into being around for new organs....
There were all these familiar faces--familiar except that they had all grown old! It was a joy to see people I hadn't seen for years--Bob still has the knack of bringing people together....
There were a gaggle of clergy--five us, including a former bishop--all of whom served at St. Paul's plus several others who knew Bob through his kindness and his works.
I had forgotten, over the years, what a beautiful sanctuary St. Paul's has (I still can't think of it as St. Paul's and St. James, much less--horrors!--what they call it: St. PJ's.) There is a carved wooden reredos with Jesus and St. Paul in the middle and little wooden statues of church luminaries around and beside them. The altar is an exact replica of the altar at St. John's in Waterbury!! Here's why: when I arrived, the altar was a piece of wood on top of two saw horses covered by frontals and such. Some memorial money was available and I started looking at altars. I saw the one in St. John's at a diocesan convention held there and we hired a craftsman to reproduce it. Little did I know I would spend 5 years in New Haven and 21 years in Waterbury standing behind twin altars....
The windows are not nearly so impressive as St. John's Tiffany's, but they are striking in a certain starkness. The lighting is wondrous and the sound system--though the Priest in Charge has the same difficult I have about utilizing it though he is 30+ years younger--is very good.
I really loved being at St. Paul's back when we had babies. People thought of it in those days as 'the liberal parish'. It wasn't--St. John's social outreach is remarkably more widespread than anything St. Paul's has ever done...and no one in their right mind would call St. John's "the Liberal parish". But it was "a parish of liberals"--people who spent their lives trying to accommodate a world 'dying to get better' and simply needed to be nourished and cared for and sent out full of the sacraments into the work they did. The head usher at Bob's memorial service was a guy who taught Labor History at Yale back when I knew him., We started having the laying on of hands and prayers for healing once a month on Sunday and he always came up--most everyone did, but what made him coming forward special was that he hardly had a religious bone in his body. I once asked him why he came for prayers for healing since I knew he didn't think 'healing' or 'prayer' were efficacious . He came to church for 'community', not for the religious mumbo jumbo.
"Here's what I realize," he told me, all those years ago, "there is almost nowhere in my life that I can be touched intimately without complications. I come up to be touched...."
How much truer that is today. Episcopal churches should probably have anointing and laying on of hands at every event. Being touched is so vital and so rare in our day, alas....
So, it was like a homecoming for me. I was so humbled by the people I met and so honored to be among them.
Bob did all that, from beyond the door to whatever come after death.
Marge and her daughter Liz--Marge the most left-wing person I've ever known personally and her daughter who used to babysit our children in St. Paul's Rectory--were discussing the possibility of "Everlasting life" after the liturgy. Marge said to Liz, and then to me, "do you believe in this everlasting life stuff?"
I told her I didn't critique funerals.
She persisted and Liz (bless her) said, "You're a 'man of the cloth', you must believe this stuff...."
I had to admit I have no freaking idea what is on the other side of that door. I actually don't wonder much about it. It is a mystery to me, not having passed through the door yet. And I have found, over all these years, that my admitting that I don't have the foggiest idea about 'what comes next' is, ironically, comforting to people rather than off putting.
But I do tell a story in many funeral homilies (one odd thing was 'being at a funeral' rather than 'doing the funeral'--odd to me to be in a pew....) that goes like this: St. Francis of Assisi, everyone's favorite saint, once said--"Death is not a door that closes, but a door that opens...and we enter in all new."
Bob, my friend, has gone through the door. He now knows if Francis was right or not. Or not.
Death seems like a closed door to me, at any rate. But, then, I don't know, do I?
Something to ponder and then, one day a long, long, long time from now, I pray, find out....
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