Today is All Saints Day, a day in which we remember the lives of those who have gone before us. Though there are many among the faithful who have influenced my journey, today I am specifically honoring two men of God who have gone onto glory this year.
In my two and a half years as pastor at Smithville United Methodist Church I did not once have a funeral – an amazing feat considering that many in the church are seniors. In the four months since I left, however, there have been three deaths. I had the privilege and honor of being invited to return for the funerals of two of these men – Eugene Griffin and Gerald Margraf. (Special thanks to Pastor Matt, current pastor at Smithville, for his graciousness in these circumstances). Here are a few stories about these two faithful saints.
When I became the pastor at Smithville, it didn’t take me very long to get to know Eugene. For the first few weeks I was there he was on his best behavior, but it was about a month after my arrival when I greeted him on a Sunday morning and asked how he was doing that he got this sparkle in his eye and a mischievous grin on his face. He responded, “Mean and nasty.” And from then on, I could count on that response every Sunday morning. “How are you this morning, Eugene?” “I’m mean and nasty,” he would say. I always laughed as there was not a mean or nasty bone in Eugene’s body. This is not to say that he wasn’t a tough guy – he most certainly was. He had to be – he was a truck driver for Freezer Queen for many years and he worked hard in the fields as a farmer, too – but he had a kind and gentle spirit about him and would do anything for anybody.
I have many special memories of Eugene, but there is one that will forever be etched in my mind. On a Sunday morning in October two years ago, Eugene and JoAnne officially joined the church at Smithville. They had been an integral part of the Smithville family for many years and their joining church that day seemed like a formality, but I remember the day well because Eugene was baptized. I had the privilege and honor of baptizing him as he stood at the front of the church and professed his faith in Jesus Christ. Baptism is a covenant through which God marks us, seals us and claims us as a beloved child. Eugene was indeed – and still is – a beloved child of God. I sang to Eugene that day, too. In my home church we have a tradition of singing to those being baptized. Most often those being baptized are babies or children, but I didn’t care. I sang that lullaby to him anyway. “Eugene Griffin, God claims you. God helps you, protects you and loves you, too. We this day, do all agree, a child of God you’ll always be. Eugene Griffin, God claims you. God helps you, protects you, and loves you, too.” In both life and death, Eugene is a child of God who God claims as God’s own. I must tell you on that baptism day there was indeed a twinkle in Eugene’s eye – and a tear or two in both his and mine and JoAnne’s, too. Eugene’s baptism was my first as a celebrant and it seems rather fitting that his funeral was also my first “official” funeral as a pastor (save my own grandmother’s at which I presided last year).
The other funeral in which I participated this year was that of Gerald Margraf. I wish I had known Gerald before that devastating disease – Alzheimer’s – invaded his body. There were times in my visits with Gerald and Doris that I caught glimpses of who the real Gerald was … and I have a feeling that he and I could have gotten into a lot of trouble together! I recall during one of my visits the family had gathered for a meal. When the meal was finished and the table was being cleared, Doris told Gerald to go into the living room where we would continue the conversation. We all stood up and watched as Gerald began walking … and then he bumped into the wall! At first I was concerned that he had tripped and when I reached out for his arm, he turned, and with a twinkle in his eye, he winked at me and started laughing. The little rascal had done it on purpose! He had a wonderful sense of humor and loved practical jokes. A man after my own heart.
On another visit to the Margraf home on a Sunday afternoon in December, Gerald’s daughters Kate and Joanne and I were going through some music for the upcoming Christmas program at the church. His face lit up as we sang. Music was such an integral part of Gerald’s life. When we finished reviewing the Christmas pieces, Kate and Joanne began to play some other music, including some old war songs and pieces from the 1940s. And I got another glimpse of the real Gerald. He began to sing along, something he had not done for a long time. Gerald loved music and that day it made a connection with him in a way that the spoken word no longer could.
There were many pictures taken during the Christmas program at Smithville that year. One in particular was a shot of me laughing (a shock to those of you who know me, I’m sure J). When Joanne showed her Dad the pictures, Gerald looked at the one of me and began to laugh. Though he couldn’t remember my name, he didn’t miss a beat when he responded, “Chuckles takes a good picture, doesn’t she?” From that day on, he always called me Chuckles. It is a nickname I cherish because of the sincerity of this dear man.
I am grateful that the lives of these two men – Eugene and Gerald – intersected with mine and I appreciate their families’ willingness to allow me to share their stories here. On this All Saints Day, may you be reminded of those who have gone before us and be comforted by the fact that in life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us and loves us … and there is nothing that can separate us from that love.
Until next time, peace …