Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Faith Works 8-05-06
Jeff Gill

When Church and Community Meet

Ann Munro Kennedy needs no further praise from the likes of this scribe; her works are written on hearts across this community and far beyond, with indelible ink. She changed lives both with her outward actions and inner decisions. If you did not know her, you might think you are the poorer for it, but most of us who knew her are aware of just how much she quietly and persistently enriched many who never met her, by how much better a place Licking County is to live because of what she’s done.
There’s more that can be said, has been said, will still be told, but the heart of our celebration in the midst of grief was a few Sundays back at a funeral service in her church, First Presbyterian in Granville.
Rev. Karen Chakoian led a wonderful memorial service with gospel music sung, hymns shared by all, and words offered by both pastor and family.
There is an art to the large, public funeral that cannot be taught in seminary, and must be learned, usually in a certain measure of terror, in the process of doing. Some of us have done enough of these that the raw edge of anxiety is a bit less, and the ease is not from it getting easier, but from the experience of how truly healing and helpful such events are for the wider community.
Don’t get me wrong: every funeral service is of major importance to the family and "loved ones" involved, and any pastor or lay leader worth their salt feels a sense of awe and anxiety about presiding over an occasion of such significance even to just half a dozen people. Truly.
But there are certain times when you know that this particular funeral is not just about large numbers present (some families can muster a big crowd even for crosspatch old Uncle Ebenezer), or about so-called big names in town (who can surprise you with how few turn out to mourn their passing). It is when you know you are part of laying to rest a person who lived at the intersection of so many paths through the vital regions of a place, and that many who walk those paths will wend their way into this particular funeral, whatever their faith or lack thereof.
That sort of funeral becomes, for good or ill, a significant moment for that family, that church, and that community (village, city, county, region, profession, all of which were communities represented in Ann’s homegoing). What is said, how presented, the sense and feel of the occasion, will echo in those communities of relationship for a long time to come.
When you try to take such a moment and turn it into your own direction, it can be worse than awkward (I think of the pastor who was part of the Reagan funeral: oy.); when you try to capitalize on such a moment for a cause or purpose, no matter how well intended, it can go very badly for all concerned.
But getting out of the way, letting the life speak of the deceased in the light of eternity, and allowing this to be a worship service even more than a memorial, but because we are remembering together what we know shouldn’t be forgotten . . . that craft can’t be taught, but we can learn together from such an occasion.
Thanks to Rev. Chakoian for providing such a moment with Ann Munro Kennedy’s funeral, and we will remember.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him a story at