When I first arrived at Nardin Park in July 2006, I was simply the newest pastor in a long line of clergy who has faithfully served this amazing congregation. During that first month I officiated at three funerals: Ken Wotowicz (40), Doug Black (72) and Eliabeth Weber (49). Not knowing these people, I listened intently to the families tell their stories and hopefully ministered in a way that honored the deceased and a brought a word of comfort and hope to the people who were left with a void in their lives. My heart was with these families, but there was no personal history with them. Over the last four years I have offered words of remembrance and words of hope for 58 people from our Nardin Park family.
Over the last three weeks or so I once again officiated at three funerals: Kay Blakeney (95), Lew Fitchett (95) and Trudy McDonald (92). The words of remembrance and the words of hope were once again shared, but funeral services are becoming different for me. These are no longer people who just need my ministry as a pastor; these are people whom I have come to know and appreciate. I minister, but I also need to experience our mutual faith since I also feel the void of these people not being in my life. Whether it is Kay’s generous passion for her church, or Lew’s slow walk to his pew on Sunday morning and his love for mission, or Trudy’s mad flurry of activity and her boundless enthusiasm, they will be missed.
The best words that a pastor can hear after a funeral service are, “You made it so personal.” Death is personal. Our relationship with the deceased is personal. Our faith is personal. God’s relationship with us is personal. Yes, the goal is to celebrate the person’s life and their entrance into life eternal as personally as possible.
After the memorial service for Lew, a man approached me, told me that he was in his mid-seventies and then commented that he appreciated the words said about his friend. He then stared into the air and asked a question that he really directed to himself, “I wonder what people would say about me?” Then he refocused his attention toward me and said, “I guess it’s not too late to make sure something good is said!” And with that statement he rushed off to join with the others who were devouring the luncheon in Mercer Hall.
When we look at a head stone at a person’s grave we often see their name followed by their birth date and their death date. In between the dates is a dash (January 14, 1918 – June 6, 2010). It is that dash that represents our lives and the manner in which we have lived them. The dash for Kay, Lew and Trudy represented 282 years of living. Wow! Their dashes were filled with family, friends and faith. I pray that my dash will be the same.