Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Some firsts you anticipate...some surprise you!

Vestry was last night, and the news was pretty good. We welcomed Ann Bamford to the table. This was her first vestry meeting in that she was away in Florida in February and was unable to attend the first seating of the new vestry (sounds like dinner?) and with her addition, we felt more "complete." Sadly, we had a couple of absences. Roger White was away in Bermuda, and Renee Leister is fighting a throat infection. The meeting went well, though, with reports from finance that things seem to be going well, and some lively discussion and debate on issues around the Organ Fund and the conclusion of the work of sanctuary modifications, our "van issue," the questions around the renewal of insurance, and, joyfully, some dreaming about our common vision and mission as a congregation. I think we are heading in to our vestry retreat with some real challenges and blessings to count.My day started off on an odd note-one both "high and low"-as I had a funeral that was for a person I did not know. This happens in the life of a priest from time to time, and it takes me back to my childhood and the family business (my grandfather owned a funeral home back in Michigan). Just an aside: that room on the second floor was the "blue" room and was the one my sister, cousins and I slept in. The balcony was a place we used to play on-to my grandfather's frustration---and when we were good, we were allowed to watch the parades on Main Street from its favorable vantage. It was a fun place to grow up around, really.

Sometimes, when a family was strange to the area, or was not "churched" in the classic sense-part of a local fellowship, then my grandfather would call one of the local clergy to officiate at the service. Some were better than others, and I learned early on that my grandfather had his favorites and his not-so-favorites. There was one clergy person who always dwelt at the bottom of the call list. He was a nice enough guy, really, but in doing those "anonymous" funerals, he had a habit of committing one of the unpardonables in my grandfather's playbook: He never bothered to learn the deceased's name.

Now, before you get upset, think about it this way...tomorrow morning, pick a person out of the obituaries and make a point of going to their funeral with the intent to say something when the officiant offers up the invitation for remarks from family and friends. Be honest...does that sound like something you want to do? I am convinced, having known this clergy person, that he was not so much too busy to do his homework...he was uneasy with the whole idea of burying someone he didn't know.

So, taking a page from that book of lessons, I have developed the practice of doing those "anonymous" funerals with a particular intent--if I am being asked to lead the prayers for someone as we mark the transition from mortal life to immortal glory--well, then I want to know them.

That sometimes can rise up to bite me, though...and that happened yesterday, in a good way.

I got to the funeral home, walked in and found the deceased in the casket and the family and many friends already gathered. I approached the casket of this 77 year old man to find him in a beige suit with a satin blanket covering him from the waist down. Standard stuff, really. There was one anomaly, though-a black plastic box. I didn't look too closely at it, but as the man had been a Korean War veteran, I just presumed it was either his box of commendations-or perhaps the "automatic trumpet" they use at some military funerals nowadays. I was wrong.

Turns out the gentleman was a bit of a lifelong "Dennis the Menace." He was known for his pranks, his sense of humour and his willingness to keep a light air around him.

The plastic box was his favorite toy, and had been for years-particularly in recent months as he was admitted to hospice care and the ministrations of nurses on a consistent basis.

It was his flatulence controlled. That fact was revealed when, as I asked the family and those gathered to tell me a bit about the deceased, they told stories of his attempts to shock his nurses and doctors, neighbors and friends with his beloved toy.

At one point, during a poignant moment of silence-an interlude in the reflections and remarks...well, you can imagine what happened.

The blessed thing went off.

Sometimes humor and joy CAN erupt at a funeral in the midst of sorrow and loss.

I wonder what my grandfather would have said. My guess is that he would have soundly and roundly disapproved of the chicanery on the part of the family...and then would have called ALL his friends and said, "All right, this was a first!"

I stopped the funeral for a moment and thanked the family. This moment was truly one for the books, and reminded me that getting to know someone means being willing to take them as they come to you...truly as a gift from God.

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