August 28, 2008

You Never Know

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 10:29 am by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

On Friday, my one day off in the week, our home phone rang.  Usually I find it best to ignore the phone on Friday or else it becomes just another work day.  But this call was about a funeral and I would never ignore someone in grief, and I worried about who might have died.  

It turned out that the call was not from a member or friend of my congregation.  It was from the brother of someone who had lived in Chicago, and who had never been a UU, but who had once said , “If I went to church it would be a Unitarian church.”  What is more: the service was the next day, and it was not in my town but in a smaller town some thirty minutes or so north of Muncie.  Well I was ambivalent but I said yes.  As I hung up the phone my wife said, “What?  You are adding to your work on the last day our daughter is in town?!”  (Our oldest is moving to Austin.) I argued that I already had three hours of work scheduled for that day, my sermon was in great shape, and I would not spend more than three hours on this service.

On the way there I hit a detour and almost got lost in the countryside.  I began to think that gas alone would take up a quarter of the honorarium, and I wondered if this was worth the trouble.  Happily, I made it with time to speak with the family, especially the brother who had called me, and to prepare my thoughts. 

The man who had died was a true activist: he had worked as a social worker and a labor union organizer and had marched with ML King and had been arrested in protests.  He was a quirky guy, intelligent, compassionate and dedicated to making the world a better place.  He had a sense of humor and a deep sense of hope.  He had loved a passage from Job (20:4,7) “Surely you know… that the mirth of the wicked is brief, the joy of the godless lasts only a moment.  Though his pride reaches to the heavens… he will perish forever, like his own dung…”   

Perhaps if he had not found community in AA he would have made a perfect UU.  It was easy to evoke his values, his faith in humanity and a higher power, and his scepticism about religion.  It was easy to talk about the worth and dignity of every person and the essential unity of humanity.  My usual words about sorrow and gratitude seemed especially meaningful this time.  During the service one little boy burst into tears in his father’s lap.  We played a recording of John Lennon in the middle of the service, followed by wonderful, heart-felt sharing by some of those present, evoking his love for “Its a Wonderful Life” and the card game Euchre. 

Afterward the family seemed very moved by the service.  I stayed to tell the family I felt it was an honor to do this, and to talk about faith and hope and worship with some.  A few individuals came up to thank me, and to add to the honorarium!  I stayed to see the casket opened for the last time, and I almost went to tears seeing the loss of this person, who I had just learned about, so very tangible and present.  I felt I had done something with my day very worth doing: To help other people celebrate life, consider what makes life worth living, to offer hope, and laugh and cry together. 

As a minister you never know if something you do is worth doing. You never know exactly what your schedule is from week to week.  Usually when you schedule three hours of work it takes four.  But this past Saturday was one of those days that remind me why I am a Minsiter.

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