This past week has been one of the more memorable in all my years here in the Cross Plains community—not to mention the “1000 year” flood that hit the middle Tennessee area, namely all parts affected by the Harpeth and Cumberland Rivers. While I was away attending a “coaching” workshop, hosted by the Pastoral Institute in Columbus, Georgia, I learned of the deaths of two of my parishioners. Both memorial services would be on Monday, May 3rd at the church.
Mrs. Helen was a longtime member of Mt. Carmel who had been bravely enduring adversity. In the last 10 years, through hardship after hardship, the death of her husband, sister, and her own troubles, she found reason to laugh in spite of her affliction. Have you ever heard someone described as “well within herself” even when other things weren’t? That was Helen.
It was probably predictable that even her funeral would have to negotiate some opposing circumstances. The excessive rains would make it nearly impossible to bury the remains on Monday. So the decision was to wait until later in the week. No doubt, Mrs. Helen would have gotten a chuckle out of it. She had a great sense of humor. We all loved that about her.
So on Sunday evening at the funeral home, Cindy and I stood with her family remembering the good times. Lyn, her son, greeted everyone with love and care. Without blinking an eye, he began to tell me what I already knew about his mother’s commitment to our church and her love for me—her pastor and friend.
“Bro. Bill, you know over the last ten years my mother hasn’t been able to be at church the way she wanted. She’s missed being in the new sanctuary and taking part in all that’s been going on. You know too how much she loved you.” I nodded with appropriate pastoral sensitivity and humility. Lyn continued, “We have decided that instead of transporting her body back to the funeral home, we will just wheel her into your office and leave her there until later in the week. We believe that’s what she would want.”
I stood there, in pastoral pose, calm and collected. After all, I am a seminary graduate and beyond that, I have been sharpening certain pastoral skills for quite a few years now. I even have the grey hair to prove it! All the while my mind was racing, “Are you kidding me?… I guess I can do that… Sure I can…I think I can manage that for a few days… Is that even legal?”
“Sure,” I responded. “That will be perfectly alright. I know how much Mrs. Helen loved Mt. Carmel. And I loved her.” No sooner than I had choked up these words, Lyn began to laugh. He got me! And Mrs. Helen, I’m sure, loved every bit of it! Such was the tone of the first service that day. It was, as they say, a celebration of life.
The second funeral would stand in bold relief to the first. Here we would remember Jim—a father and husband whose life ended before it should have. There I stood before a sanctuary full of mourners, all friends and neighbors, waiting to hear a word of comfort, if not explanation. In times like these, the pastoral role is a difficult one. I love being a pastor; but sometimes, not so much.
The service was powerful. God’s presence was communicated through music and scripture, testimony and tears. And there was laughter, even in the midst of our grief. I love that about community, the strength that we receive from one another, the care that we give to one another. Jim loved this community and we loved him.
God bless both these families!