That sounds odd, doesn't it? But it's true. On Saturday we laid to rest our beloved Ms. Betty, and it was done beautifully. After it was over, several people told me, "Just save that funeral bulletin. It's exactly what I want." And I pretty much agree.
Part of what happened was to honor Ms. Betty personally. And part of it was to honor the place she held in the parish. People who were not even particularly close to Ms. Betty were still affected by her death. They were moved by the loss of a person who was a visible symbol of continuity, stability and faithfulness. Betty was very loved, in a personal sense, but she was also respected and honored for the place she held within our family.
This makes perfect sense to me. Stuart, a convert from the black Baptist church tradition, says that in many black churches where he grew up (he is in his mid-50's), the older women, often widows, had a special place they sat in the church. They often wore white on Sundays--part of the position they held. Though it was no position that would appear on any organizational chart, it was as real as those that did. And whether or not other women in the church used the title, they were invariably called "Sister _____".
Oh, yes. That was it exactly. She was one of our church matriarchs, though she would have laughed at being called so. Dignified, humble, loving. She would not, and did not, realize in what high esteem she was held.
We need those people. It is why Fr A is right about community and its importance. It is tempting, oh so tempting, to withdraw from the community as we age--we "put in our time", we've "been there, done that."
But you know what? You don't get to take off the yoke until the end. While you might not need the community (though I would argue the opposite of that--and strongly), the community needs YOU. We need the example of a lifelong faith. We need the example of lifelong service. We want to see Jesus.
And I saw Jesus in Betty.
And so did a bunch of other people.
So we sent Betty off with the best that we can do. And she would have loved it. It was good. Very, very good. And though I will miss her every time I walk into the sacristy to do Altar Guild, I know that I will see her again. And she will tell me, "You know, those were too many roses on the altar. Ya'll shouldn't have gone to that trouble."
And I will laugh. Because, if anything, there weren't roses enough.
Not in the whole world.