Saturday, August 22, 2015

A Witch in Church Part Two - the People, the Pastor and the Church Ladies

As I mentioned early I was recently in a church for a friend’s funeral and while I was there I had the chance for the first time in almost a decade to walk around and take in my surroundings. Last post I spent some time talking about the physical attributes to the space, today I want to talk about the people I saw.

First thing I want to note is that the place was packed... I mean we literally had people lining the walls and staying in the front entrance because the place was so busy. Bill is a member of a branch of Emergency Services in the big city by my little town and all of his colleagues came to the funeral, their vehicles parked outside and a radio at the ready in case a call came in. They all made a point of going to see him and his sons, either before or after the funeral, to convey sympathy. The family was most certainly not alone. We were certainly over the building capacity and were lucky that the Fire Marshall was amongst the mourners.

The pastor for the funeral was the pastor for the emergency services so he know many of the people who had gathered. The church had been chosen as he was one of the pastors of that church so the family had been able to go in with some helpers a day in advance to get everything just the way Bill wanted it. Everyone was complimenting the beautiful arrangements, and admiring all the beautiful pictures of Danielle. The pastor ensured he was in the front of the church with Bill, greeting everyone who was there and introducing himself to everybody he did not know.

The funeral itself was beautiful. Danielle`s best friend provided a wonderful eulogy that had a mix of funny and heart filled stories of Danielle`s life and the love she had. Following that there was a touching picture tribute to Danielle and then the pastor gave a short sermon. The sermon was my least favorite part simply because I do not connect to the Christian message, but  I could appreciate that for those who believe in the message it would be a comforting thing to hear. Bill and his sons then came forward to thank everyone for being there for them. Once they had finished the had two Pipers play ``Amazing Grace`` (that was the one that got me, I cannot hear Amazing Grace on the Pipes without loosing it). The family then departed and went into the room with all the tables and chairs where refreshments were waiting.

We all piled into the room and soon it was overflowing with people, so much so that many people had to stand outside in the parking lot. There were sandwiches, trays of dainties, coffee, tea and juice all being served by a team of little old Church Ladies. I noticed them when we first arrived. We got to the funeral an hour early and when we got there the Church Ladies were already there, 6 or 7 of them, bustling about the kitchen making up the sandwiches and juices, and plating the dainties. WHen the funeral was over they had everything laid out in a very attractive spread and were at the ready, serving the coffee, tea and jucies, taking away people`s garbage, washing cups as they were used and making sure everything was well stocked.

As the crowd mingled these ladies seemed to have a special eye for those who were not eating and would stop by with trays of sandwiches. One of them would approach groups of people and say Ì can`t go back in there with all this food, I will get in trouble, you can`t let me get in trouble, have another sandwich. They were extra attentive to Danielle`s family, running extra food and drinks to them or placing a gentle hand on their shoulders. These women radiated warmth and compassion and were eager to do anything they could to lend a hand. As the gathering wrapped up and people began to head home the Church Ladies wrapped up the extra food for the family to take home and continued to wash a mountain of dishes left over from the mourners. They were bright, cheerful and happy, and I estimate that the youngest of them was in her sixties.

Friday, August 14, 2015

A Witch in Church Part One - General Observations

As I mentioned last week we had a very sad blow and lost a beautiful lady, whom I called Danielle. She had passed very suddenly and thankfully peacefully in her sleep of cardiac problems. Loosing anybody is hard, and it seems that the best of people seem to leave us way too soon. We are left with a hole in our worlds, a void that cannot be filled. We learn to move forwards, we continue to live our lives and continue to love and be loved, but nothing will ever take that person's place. After her passing there was a funeral held for her at one of the churches in the big city near my little town.

I don't go to church much (obviously). I attended a wedding recently at an Orthodox Ukrainian Church, which was a beautiful ceremony that I will have to tell you about sometime. Other than the odd wedding held inside a church (where we go in, watch the wedding and leave immediately afterwards) I haven't spent much time inside churches. We came to the funeral early to ensure that we were on hand in case the family needed help with anything and for the first time in almost a decade I actually took the time to look around.

One of the first things that I noticed was the Main foyer of the church. There were multiple bulletin boards lining most of the walls. On one board there were the big picture boards that you normally see lining the hallways of a high school, proclaiming "Class of....” These were pictures of every person in the congregation, as I looked I realized that the church had actually hired a photographer to come and take pictures of the congregation. This was on the board that stated "Our Congregation Welcomes You", just under the names of the pastors. Next to it is a list of the new members under a welcoming message. There were signup sheets for potlucks, for charity drives and for bible studies and the sheets were almost full.

As I stepped further into the main foyer I saw that they had a table with copies of the church newsletter with messages from the pastors, recipes and gardening tips, along with updates on the church and a quarterly financial report. A few paces behind that was a magazine type rack packed with brochures covering a wide variety of topics including (but not limited to) Divorce, Marriage, Suicide, Terminal Illness, Stress, Anxiety, Job Loss, Children. I peeked at a few of them, they had some advice, some bible passages as well as a list of websites for support groups that were Christian as well as secular.

The next room was their Worship Hall that held the main Altar of the Church along with the rows of pews, but just outside of the hall was another room; this room had in it a crib and a rocking chair. It was a reasonably spacious room, the size of a small office. When I went to the bathroom I noticed a change table with some extra wipes under it and there was a bottle of hand lotion on the sink.

The bathrooms were right off a large gathering room where they had set up folding tables and chairs, each of the tables had a nice runner and centerpiece on it. Just next to the big gathering room there was a large kitchen which was full of people… to be continued.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Goodbye Too Soon

This week we lost a beautiful woman, she was a friend of mine who had children in our youth group. Her husband is the chair of our Parents Committee and she was a huge supporter of ours behind the scenes. For the sake of privacy I will call this woman Danielle. It's really cliche to say this but Danielle really had a heart of Gold. In the four years that I have known her I lost count of how many times I thought to myself "what a wonderful woman".

She had a kind and gentle spirit. Over the time I got to know her she shared a small bit of her past and parts of it were not always pleasant. She had many familial problems and yet you would never know this talking to her. She radiated love and acceptance wherever she went. Whenever she spoke of her darker past she spoke from a place of acceptance, love and forgiveness. There was never a bitter word said and she worked hard to understand what trauma's had shaped the people who hurt her. I often would listen to her speak of how she came to a place of understanding why they acted the way they did and how understanding their trauma's helped her to forgive them.

Instead to focusing on the past hurts she instead strove to build a brighter future for herself, her husband (who we will call Bill) and her children. She adored her husband and was devoted to her children. Her eyes would light up whenever she saw any of them and she often spoke of the pride she had in them. She was the kind of woman that you could forget her birthday and she wouldn't even be bothered by it.

Everyone who knew her was blessed by her presence. Our work with the youth group is often stressful and sometimes can even be isolating. She would often go out of her way to seek one of us out to talk with us for a while, let us vent a frustration or ensure that we had supper that night. You were never alone with Danielle around. I cherished those talks we used to have and found myself striving to emulate her easy grace, love and compassion.

She raised her children well. In the time I have gotten to know her two teenage sons through the youth group and had to marvel at their intelligence, their wit and their great compassion. They both frequently look out for others and were always eager to lend a hand. They have always done well academically and have been the kind of friend that will be there for whomever needs them. The love this family shared radiated from them.

Last week we learned of her passing and immediately went to Bill and their two teenage boys. As we arrived and heard of how she passed I couldn't help but look around the house, my eyes rested on a framed photograph. I saw that photograph being taken only a month and a half ago. I remember that night vividly and can still remember what she said to me, her laugh as we exchanged funny stories of the week. I remembered the recent BBQ we had with the family, the food eaten and the laughter shared. As I looked around I felt a small hole open within me as I realized she physically was no longer there. I cannot begin to imagine the hole that Bill and the boys must be feeling.

At her funeral her eldest son took a moment to get up in front of the mourners and thank them for the outpouring of support his family had received. He commented on how difficult the week had been and how he loved his mother. He said "all things must come to an end and unfortunately for Mom it came too soon". How true his words are. It hit me to my very core about how soon things come to an end, how transitory this life is, how little time we have in this life.

All things must come to an end and sadly for us Danielle's story ended far to soon for us. Thank you Danielle for the time you blessed us with.