Friday, October 21, 2016

Haunted . . .

Friday greetings on a beautiful, crisp Autumn day here in the Midwest.

Quite a whirlwind week for me. I left Chicago and headed to the Archdiocese of Baltimore on Tuesday to be in time for Wednesday's planning meeting for the 2018 national convention of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians. There was lots of energy in the room as we talked about theme (or no theme), possible plenum speakers, breakouts sessions, and prayer experiences. Here's a photo I snapped during the meeting.

Last night, I gave a presentation on cultivating baptismal spirituality at a parish at which I was liturgy and music director from 1992 to 1999, my last full-time parish position. During my time at Saint Marcelline in Schaumburg, Illinois, I helped spearhead a huge renovation project, which included the installation of a new baptismal font. We used the original font in the design. Here are a few photos of that font.

The group that had gathered for my presentation was the "Women at the Well." This is a a group of women at the parish that has been meeting several times a year now for ten years. Their husbands volunteer to prepare and serve the meal, then provide the clean-up afterwards. We had about 40 women in all present. The evening ended with these "women at the well" gathering around the baptism font for a ritual of baptismal remembrance.

It was such a delight to greet old friends. One big surprise for me was the fact that the women with whom I had ministered in the parish (who have now either retired or moved on to other things) were invited. It was an emotional reunion filled with the sharing of stories, sad and happy. Surely a step back in time, but a sheer delight for me. These were my "peeps," the women who showed me what real hospitality could be back in the 1990's. This was my family when I came to Illinois. My love for them was rekindled last night.

Something happened after we concluded the evening while I was on my way out of the building; it has haunted me all night and into today.

One woman, who was a parish leader at the time when I was there, a really wonderful dedicated lay minister, ran after me and asked if she could speak with me privately.

She said something like this. "Jerry, I just wanted to thank you for something you did for my family when you were here that I have never forgotten. You may remember that I was caring for my aging mother when you were here. When she died, you allowed us, even though it was against the parish rules, to have someone speak after Communion at her funeral. It meant so, so much to my family and me. I will never forget your kindness in allowing us to do that. I have often told people over the years of that kindness you extended." And then she was choked with emotion, as was I. "I just need to say say thank you now." I gave her a big hug and then I left to head back into the city to my home.

Why did this exchange haunt me? Frankly, I wondered how many other families who had lost a loved one did we simply say, "No, I am sorry but our parish prohibits anyone from speaking at funerals; please do that at the funeral home."

Was I one of those unbending parish staff members who "stuck to my guns" in almost every case when a family asked for some time to talk about their loved one at a funeral? I was so glad to have had the encounter last night with a grateful parishioner. But I wonder how many other people I personally may have alienated because of an unbending attitude and demeanor?

This is what has haunted me since last night.

Anyone else haunted by this kind of stuff?

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

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