A Community of Love, Hope and Memory

                                                                               Cindy Davidson, Ministerial Intern
During my twenties, when I was not attending a church, Sunday mornings were usually devoted to a close, hours-long read of the Sunday New York Times. Lest you think taking in “All the News That’s Fit to Print” was anything but uplifting, not fitting for a sabbath, or a poor substitute for gathering with others in a place of worship, let me explain. Each week, I wondered, “Who would I meet? From whom would I find inspiration? What wise lessons might I consider following?” You see, a close friend had introduced me to the joys of reading obituaries!

I’ll admit I found the idea unappealing and repulsive, if not voyeuristic, at first. Perhaps that’s because the obits in the paper where I grew up were rather dry, merely a litany of birthplaces, degrees earned, jobs held, relatives left behind, calling hours and burial arrangements. But, as I settled into the comfy armchair week after week, and turned to the back pages of section A, my fondness for taking these reliably provided opportunities to visit the day’s collection of artfully crafted biographical sketches grew. Here, I found plenty of jumping off points to let me imagine engaging with and being influenced by people from all walks of life, a witness to their struggles, accomplishments, and delights. There we met, two souls certainly not ever to meet in the flesh, our common humanity transcending time and distance.  

Something very similar -- and more -- happens whenever I attend a memorial service as part of being an active participant in congregational life. Even when I may not have known the deceased personally, we share a connection by virtue of our involvement in the congregation and through the relationships mutually cultivated with other congregants. I’ve wondered, “What role did this person play in the life and direction of the congregation before I came along? What visions for the future have we shared? What is their legacy? And, what pieces of what was once theirs to do become ours to continue?” 

Sociologists are fond of saying that churches and congregations are “communities of love, hope and memory” to mark the distinctive place they have in society. Certainly, I’ve experienced this congregation to be a community of loving connection and care, vision-filled hope for the future, and a rich and proud collective memory. One place I see this in action is in the ways we come together to grieve losses and celebrate the lives of those who have recently died. There are gifts in these final acts of remembrance, even if we may not have known the deceased well or even at all. When we gather to acknowledge and honor the contributions they’ve made to our community and the world at large, we invariably learn things about their passions, accomplishments, and journey of faith fitting for a posthumous rendition of NPR’s “This I Believe.” Often, we learn something about how they helped nurture or challenge our community into the present and may even gain insights into aspects of this congregation’s history that are important to our understanding of who we are as a faith community and where we’re headed. 

As we weave the threads of our lives together with the ones of those who are no longer with us, we create anew a tapestry for this time and place and build together an even stronger, more resilient community of ever-abundant love, hope for a life-affirming future and deep memory. May we bear witness to the blessings of their memories.

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