I lit a candle for Tom yesterday. It was the Memorial Service at our Virtual Annual Conference. Traditionally, the memorial service is a carefully staged and formal worship service at which those Bishops, pastors, and other significant ministry leaders in the Annual conference who have died in the last year are remembered. As we do at our All Saint’s Celebrations in the local church, often we have lit a candle for each person remembered.
This year the service was virtual and much briefer than the pre-pandemic versions. Few of us, including me, were present in-person. I was at home, in front of my computer and I didn’t know exactly what was planned. I knew, however, that Tom’s name would be read, so I lit a candle for him.
Tom was the only pastor I have ever known. I met him when I was in high school and first started to attend youth group. The first youth group meeting I attended I thought his name was Tony. He came into the basement room where we met (we called it the Catacombs), pulled me off the broken-down sofa on which I was sitting, and dragged me around the room. That’s not the way I recommend greeting people, but something about his vivacity clicked with me and I never missed another meeting. I learned to know God as One who loves all (including me!), moved into leadership positions, and found myself. Tom was a major part of my call to ministry. By the time I was in college Tom had guided the church into forming a student intern position and I began my steps into ministry. Not only was he my pastor, he was my friend, my mentor, my guide, a father figure.
I am a very different person from Tom and so my leadership is my own not his. Still his influence shaped not only my faith but my ministry, even 47 years after I met him. So yesterday I lit a candle for Tom.
Tom died this spring. I had heard his memory was failing and had planned to visit him while he still remembered most things, but he died from pneumonia before I got a chance to see him. As I grieve his passing, my heart is filled with gratitude for the gift he was in my life, a gift that continues to bless me to this day. I give thanks for him impish humor, his passion to open the church to include all people, his faith in a God of justice and mercy, his exuberant joy in life. His daughter assures me that at some point there will be a celebration of life for him and I will make every effort to attend.
Yesterday, though, I lit a candle for Tom.