Magazine article The Christian Century

Graceful Presence

Magazine article The Christian Century

Graceful Presence

Article excerpt

THOSE OF US who work in the church know how trivial, vain and self-serving the "institutional" church (as we used to call it in seminary--as if there were any other kind) can be. But we also wonder what we would do without the church. How could you celebrate Christmas without the church? How could you wake up in the dark of Easter morning without the church? Where else would one turn when one's spirit is assaulted and one's emotions are raw from loss if not to the church and the people who are the church?

My wife's father died at the age of 97 in a nursing home in a city where none of his family lives any longer. A real patriarch, he had three children, 11 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren, most of whom converged in Pennsylvania for the funeral, the committal service and, a wonderful byproduct, a brief family reunion.

A major part of the proceedings was the Lutheran church in which he and his wife, who has been gone for almost 30 years, were faithful members. When driving became more problematic and he moved to a retirement facility, he stopped attending the church and became a part of the worshiping community at the Presbyterian Home. After be died everyone agreed that the funeral service should be in Trinity Lutheran Church, even though he had not been back for years and most of his contemporaries were gone.

Could the pastor preside at the service? Of course. Could we have the services of an organist and could we sing his favorite hymn? …

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