Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Remembering a Saint
One of those expected, but still dreaded, emails from my old church came on Monday. You know what they are before you even open them, because the subject line is just the person's name. This time it was Jean Cutler, one of the saints of the church. I use her real name because I know she had nothing to hide.
Jean and her husband Bob were among the first to welcome us when we began attending the little Tudor church near the lake. Bob was a mainstay of the choir, and Jean was the Financial Secretary for about 40 years. Being Financial Secretary -- the person who counts, tracks, and deposits the offerings and other church income -- is a lot of work, and many people might consider their volunteer obligations met with that, but not Jean. She was active in Friendly Service- Sewing for Others, in the Women's Circles, and wherever she was needed. The day we joined the church, it was Jean's meatballs we ate at the luncheon after worship, and later, when for a few years we held Passover Seder meals, it was Jean who learned to cook a delicious brisket.
When I was the church newsletter editor, I always tried to write a real obituary for each church member who died, rather than just having a listing of condolences. In the early years especially, I often didn't know the folks who had been homebound or living elsewhere. But I could always count on Jean to give me an idea of who someone had been and what they had meant to the church in their more active years.
Jean grew up around the corner from the church. She and her friend Betty were probably the longest-serving continuously active members, having been confirmed in the early 1930s. She experienced several pastorates and even more changes in church leadership, including the merger that led to the United Church of Christ. There were changes that led to some of her peers leaving the church. One story she told me herself, was that shortly after World War II the then minister left -- perhaps was asked to leave, in any case, she felt he had been ill-treated and didn't particularly care for his successor. Did she leave in a huff? No...she simply volunteered to teach Sunday school for several years, since it was at the same time as church and this way she could escape the sermons. It tells a lot about her loyalty.
Truly Jean was one of the saints of the church. I could go on telling stories of her many kindnesses, traditions she started and carried on, her volunteer work both in church and in the community. Most of us have been privileged to know such saints; I wish especially for my clergy friends to have people like her in their churches. Here's the really important thing about her that continues to inspire me: her loyalty to the church was not contingent on its staying the same or being exactly as she wanted it to be. It was a loyalty that looked forward, welcoming new people and their new ideas, accepting positive changes and dealing constructively with negative change, and never losing sight of the goal of sharing God's love. May perpetual light shine upon her.