Each year, I am profoundly moved by All Saints Day. Perhaps some of it has to do with the fact I have been a pastor more than three decades. The list of “saints” whom I have buried, or have loved and lost gets longer each year. Time is precious because I realize it is not a given or is not promised.
A couple of weeks ago, I was stunned by the sudden death of a colleague. A. Mark Conard has been a part of the annual conference I have served since I began ministry. Mark had a droll funny sense of humor, a depth of knowledge of United Methodist history and doctrine and loved the church with a passion unsurpassed by many. I served on the General/Jursidictional Conference delegation with home 3 times. He was an early adapter of social media and on Sunday, October 16, he posted on my Facebook wall about the sermon I had preached. I wasn’t even out of worship yet! Two days later he died.
In the service celebrating his life, all I stated above and more was shared. I still can not quite comprehend that he is gone. I will miss him, his smile, his posts, his sense of humor and his ability to lower the tension in a room by just the right words.
Another friend, Ben Murray, took his life over Labor Day weekend. Ben was an amazing chef. It was from Ben I learned that good food is not expensive food, necessarily. Good food, was food that used the best ingredients available, cooked to bring out the essential nature of those ingredients. It was Ben, who invited me to “guest chef” at his restaurant, me, with no culinary training. It was Ben, who when a disc exploded in my back, drove to my home and as I lay flat on my back in a twin bed in the dining room, cooked me a four course dinner, beginning with a lobster entree and a lovely steak entree.
I believe Mark and Ben, like many others I have loved and appreciated, are part of what the book of Hebrews calls the great cloud of witnesses. His memory, their memories are a blessing. I believe that, I truly do.
The problem, of course, is that I miss them. I miss those who have meant so much to me. I miss my grandmother Nana, and grandfather Big Bob, my step-father Pep, my mom. I miss my friends and mentors through the years: Charlie Harrison, Jack Porter, Porrteus Latimer, George Gardner. Bill Shuyler, Les Hankins, Forrest Robinson, Paul Matthaei, and a host of others with whom I have life and laughter. I miss them.
“I sing a song of the saints of God, patient and brave and true. Who toiled and fought and lived and died for the Lord they loved and knew. And one was a doctor and one was a queen and one was a shepherdess on the green, they were all of them saints of God and I mean, God helping to be one too….They lived not only in ages past, there are hundreds of thousands still. The world is bright with the joyous saints who love to do Jesus’ will. You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea, in church, or in trains or in shops, or at teas; for the saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too.” Lyrics by Lesbia Scott
I sing a song of the saints of God. On this All Saints Day, I am truly grateful for those who have gone before me, for those I have loved and laughed with and for their unique and unrepeatable spirits. Their lives have not been forgotten and their lights continue to shine through all of us who have known them and who continue to live out the values they held dear. I sing not only their song, I pray that I might be one, a saint, too.