Four Weddings and a Funeral
Four Weddings and a Funeral… Plus a Baptism
When asked in retirement whether or not I miss preaching, I reply much too cavalierly, “No.” Were I to be asked (and I never am) whether or not I miss being a pastor, I reply “No” just as quickly.
The first “No” issues, you probably have already guessed, from the emergence in these past six years of another kind of pulpit from which to preach, an electronic one. This one.
The second “No” requires a longer explanation… which boils down to the fact that it’s a role I never abandoned. Oh, the venues of my pastoring have changed, but my way of connecting with people betrays the habit of fifty years of leading a congregation and, in the process, engaging, nurturing, and encouraging souls as we make our way from one eternity to the next.
But this summer my vocational reflex has found renewed usefulness. In the space of six summer weeks I have presided and participated in four weddings, led a memorial service in a cabin in the green hills, and returned to the congregation from which I retired in June of 2002, to preach, pray, and baptize the child of a child I baptized.
Herewith is a pictorial record of this pastoral excess from a fellow who occasionally describes himself as a Was, as in “I was a pastor.”
The Wedding of Jaclyn McGregor and Zach Kreider
Beginning with the wedding in a pastoral (!) setting in Brandywine, Pennsylvania. The second wedding service for Jaclyn McGregor and Zach Kreider found a day of bright sunshine for a joyful crowd of, mostly, young people processing, dancing, singing, and feasting. You may already have seen and read the report of Jack and Zach’s first wedding service at February Wedding for Jackie and Zach.The official nuptials were moved earlier, from June back to February, because Zach’s Dad, Mike, had taken a turn for the worse in his battle with cancer. Mike died the week following the earlier ceremony in the family homestead. The June celebration, long in the planning, went forward as scheduled, with Mike watching this time from above. Critical Christian’s photos of that event can be found atJune Wedding for Jackie and Zach.
Jackie’s brother, Jeff McGregor, provided me with 132 new photos, six of which are posted here with my captions.
The Wedding of Heather McKnight and Daniel Eggermann
Next on the busy pastoral schedule was the marriage for Heather McKnight and Daniel Eggermann, Friday, July 4th. I participated in the service led by Grace Church (Valley Stream NY) Pastor John Cole. You may relive in photos the particular delights of this wedding day at Wedding of Dan and Heather. There remains only one photo to add, and finally it has arrived: the carefully rehearsed and performed conclusion to the bride and groom’s first dance, a spectacular dip and kiss. This moment provided the most spectacular fireworks of Independence Day 2008.
The Baptism of Casey Paige Morton and the Sunday Service at Grace United Methodist Church
Sunday, July 20th, Marryin’ Bob and wife Barb returned to the scene of twenty-nine years of labor in the Lord’s vineyard, Grace United Methodist Church, Valley Stream NY. The leading of worship in the absence of the appointed pastor (John Cole, in Maine preparing his summer cottage for occupancy) was the occasion for only the fourth appearance in a pulpit on a Sunday in the past six years. You may already have read that sermon on this website. If not and you want to, go to Ladder of Success.
The Summer Choir’s anthem, with solos by Lainie Spencer and a recent tenor volunteer, pictured here, was so appealing the visiting preacher led the applause.
The serendipitous event of the morning was presiding at the baptism of newborn Casey Paige, the daughter of Jennifer (nee Casey) and Douglas Morton. A few years ago I was privileged to officiate at Jen and Doug’s marriage. See for yourself, if you have a mind to: Jen and Doug's Wedding.
The Morton’s now live on Elgin Road a few blocks away from Jen’s childhood home, where Mom Barbara and Dad Joe still reside, on Locust Street across from Olivet Baptist Church… which is great for babysitting, while both Jen and Doug work in Manhattan. Jen and her brothers, Joe and Brian, regularly attended the Junior High UMYF, which I led even as they led me on a merry chase around Greater New York and at various camp retreats. I checked with Jen to see if I had it right, that she was the one who introduced me to garlic knots at Amore at Gibson Station. She smiled a big “Yes.”
Herewith are photos of the day, beginning with a few shots of the church and moving to the baptismal reception, separated by an Internet-borrowed photo of the restaurant where Bob the Baptizer and his wife had lunch with a college classmate.
The Wedding of Colleen Godshalk and William Conn
Friday evening, July 25th, at Avon Old Farms Hotel Inn, just a few miles over the mountain from our home in West Hartford, I spoke with the wedding ceremony liaison of the hotel. I had just presided at the wedding of a couple for whom the bride’s brother-in-law had interceded with his former pastor (me), to ask if I would be willing to tie the knot. The liaison elicited from me a previously unformulated Howard rule by asking for my business card under the assumption I would be willing to freelance as, well, their Marryin’ Sam… for Protestants, I assume. As flattered as I was by her offer, I declined, saying that I preferred to do weddings only for those with whom I had a previous connection... however distant.
The connection this warm July evening was Rob Perissi and his wife, Kerry. Rob belonged to the famous Grace Church confirmation class of 1989 which boasted five Scottish cousins: Rob; Jeff McGregor; twins, Vincent and Paul Joaquin; and James Harvey. Rob and Kerry lived for a season or two in Granby CT, then moved back to Long Island, but remembered the old pastor in Connecticut to ask of him a favor for family.
Here are two photos of Colleen and Bill’s ceremony.
The Wedding of Jesse Friedman and Daniel Vitchers
Speaking of distant, if long-standing, pastoral connections: Sunday, July 27th, at high noon at Westbury (NY) Manor I officiated at the wedding of a young woman whose late uncle was the president of the youth fellowship the Sunday (February 4, 1956) I arrived in Brooklyn to begin what I did not know then would be seventeen and a half years of a pastorate among Norwegian Americans. Jesse’s Uncle Kenny and Aunt Jackie Hansen have kept in touch with their old pastor through the years. Jesse’s mom, Janet, when graduating from nursing school at Brooklyn Methodist Hospital, quoted a line from a message I gave at her mother’s funeral. Jesse and her sisters grew up in Lynbrook on Scranton Avenue, and she attended the Grace Church Nursery School.
Fifty-two years of pastoral connections! Aunt Jackie is on the Critical Christian mailing alert list and is an occasional correspondent, especially when echoes of Brooklyn are sounded on this website. She has helped with identifying the people in the photos a little further down the page.
Barbara and I boarded the ferry in Bridgeport CT at 8:30 AM and made our way down familiar Long Island highways to Westbury Manor, where I had years ago officiated at a wedding punctuated with the bark of the peacocks roaming the Manor’s grounds. We arrived in plenty of time to fraternize with the wedding party before the ceremony. It was planned for the arbor on the lawn. The intermittent torrents changed the venue to an interior and blessedly air-conditioned room.
Sister Amy read a brief essay on marriage by Frederick Buechner. Cousin Kenny read Scripture. I offered Jesse and Dan the following message:
The Loving Web
I want to speak about the web. No, not that web, the web of human relationships. It has rarely been more obvious to me than a couple of weeks ago as Jesse, Dan, and I spoke over chicken parmagiana, linguine in clam sauce, and veal marsala. We had not previously met. Oh, yes, I’ve been to the Friedman home on Scranton Avenue and Jesse has been many times to the building where I had an office for twenty-nine years. We remembered connections. Jesse’s Uncle Kenny, president of the Norwegian church’s youth group when I first arrived in Brooklyn in February 1956, to stay another seventeen and a half years, during which time Aunt Jackie and Mom Janet came into the picture. Especially one memorable late night when I was summoned as a mediator to the Dietz residence.
Connections, the web of human relationships. Jesse Lee, I was happy to report to the bride who bears his name, was the premier Methodist evangelist who started churches all over Long Island and New England. And waiting upon us in the restaurant, it turns out much to my amazement, was my childhood friend’s granddaughter. I felt positively surrounded. Good strong memories.
And you, Jesse and Dan, will make your contribution, your positive contribution, to that web, the people from whose lives you have issued, and the next generation which will issue from your marriage. We’re all connected. And we all are counting on you to do your part, by your love and service, your intelligence and hard work, your strong intentions to make this world a more compassionate and more livable place… building buildings for our commerce and rescuing young lives trapped in autism.
In just a few minutes I’ll raise my hand in blessing over you and repeat the ritual benediction, a summons too, to serve God and neighbor in all that you do. Like I said, we are counting on you, just as you can count on us, to make the human web of relationships stronger, more far reaching, and more loving. God bless you Jesse and Dan. We bless you too.
The reception was, of course, delicious, festive, heart-warming, and uproarious (in a very endearing way). When the pipers arrived, I thought again of the book a generation ago by a Jewish schoolteacher from Carolina, Only in America. We gathered in what was once a WASPish enclave, in a restaurant where the owner is Italian-American, for a bride whose Dad is Jewish, her mother German and New England DAR, marrying a groom whose father was Polish and mother Irish, celebrating the melting pot with an Irish jig to the melodies of the NYPD pipers, and, of course, singing “Sweet Caroline.”
Memorial Service for Robert Bales
Saturday, August 2nd, at 1 PM family and friends gathered at "The Point" below the Bales cabin on the hillside meadow of the Chelsea Farm Society. The skies were threatening and here and there a raindrop could be felt. The purpose of the gathering was to remember a man, Bob Bales, for whom that spot on the Vermont hillside always brought forth warm and happy memories of hours spent on summer evenings with family sand friends. The rain, however, increased in intensity. Bob's wife, Mary, said they were God's tears. We moved into the sheltered confines of the Bales cabin.
Sister Cheryl Bales Capelle read a poem she composed:
Brother Paul spoke about this "big brother" to whom he went often for advice about the many issues that vex a young man even when he no longer is so young. Bob could always be counted on to be open, caring, and the font of very good advice. Brother Jim offered in turn a very certain "Amen."
Here is my tribute to the other Bob on the hillside in Corinth/Chelsea:
This hillside in Vermont makes me think and feel that time travels quicker than anywhere else. Oh, I understand the psychological reasons. You surely do also. If not, we can talk about them later. Just that I can easily reach back in time forty years, as I do nearly every night when I go to bed in that room we built for Grandma and Pop-Pop Howard. Before sleep claims me, I look to the ceiling, the three 12’ x 4’ plasterboards that would never have gotten up there or survived so long had not a near neighbor offered his help and he was a master of plasterboard (and a lot of other things). When I said to Bob a couple of summers ago that I think often of him, I wasn’t gilding the lily; I was remembering the plasterboard. Gratefully. That’s the kind of guy Bob was, gentle Bob, filled with Mom’s cheerfulness and fulfilling Dad’s ambition to be an expert in the construction arts.
If now we mourn his passing and tell one another how very much we miss him, let’s also remember in this place where remembering comes so easily, how good it was that we had Bob for a season, to put plasterboard in place, sure, but far more to bring to every gathering his special grace, the caring, the listening, the patience, the kindness which he never failed to offer us, more so than ever in these last years of his illness when we would easily forgive him for a show of impatience and frustration. Bob was Bob, not like this nettlesome one, his own Bob, and we loved him for it.
And here is the Prayer of Thanksgiving I offered:
God of the gentle heart, who came among us and shared our bread as one who was gentle and lowly in heart, we praise and thank you for those in our midst who seek to live lives of kindness and goodness, who count a day well-spent when spent in the company of family and friends, singing songs, telling stories, listening, caring, and in so many ways making it plain that they truly love us. Just so our thoughts turn to Bob and his time among us, too short by years and years but never short on compassion and good cheer. We thank you for him; and on his behalf we thank you for putting him in a loving family with a surplus of brothers and a sister, with whom he and they faced more than their share of sorrow, yet who never lost heart or faith, nor turned away from us or you. He would want us especially to thank you for the gift of Mary, who watched over him in good times and bad, when the smiles were easy to come by, and when the tears issued from a heart near to breaking. Thanks too would overflow from his grateful heart for a mom and dad, brothers and sister who surrounded him then and now in their familial love; nor would Bob want us to forget your double gift to him of a son and daughter, who gave him the assurance of your blessing into another generation. Enfold Bob, God of the gentle heart, in your everlasting arms. Let his carpenter’s hands touch even now the hands of the Master Carpenter. Save for him a place at the Great Banquet Feast of Heaven, and let it provide echoes of feasts enjoyed here on this hillside a little closer to you than anywhere else. All in the name of the friend and savior, our Lord Jesus. Amen.
The words said, the memories recalled, the tears shed, we linked hands in the manner of the MYF benediction in younger years. And we sang "Blest Be the Tie That Binds" (from memory!).
Herewith are two additional photos supplied by Mary and Stephen. The first depicts Bob with one of his favorite "toys," a motorboat with which to tame the lakes and shores of Maine. Plus a father-son photo of Bob the woodsman with stepson, Stephen Chan.