The Dialogue is the newsletter of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in St. Joseph, MO. Oftentimes, I'll post here on the blog my columns for the weekly newsletter. I mention it just so that folks who read the snail-mail version can skip this post if they've already read it.
I write this week’s column the day after the funeral and burial of Karen Ezzell. Just like many of you, I am still in a state of disbelief that Karen is really dead and that I will no longer see her smiling face around the church. At the same time, I am comforted by the outpouring of love towards Karen’s husband Rick and their family by our church and the community at-large.
Our sanctuary was near capacity yesterday for the funeral, just as the funeral home was full on Monday night for the visitation. Even at the graveside, the crowds came—an unusual event, given that most of the time only the family and close friends travel to the cemetery after a funeral. The calls, cards, visits and food given by the many people who loved Karen have truly been a source of comfort to Rick and his family.
Karen’s death offers many challenges to us as a church. The first challenge was to host the tremendous crowd of people that came for the funeral and reception. I believe we were successful in meeting this challenge. Members of both Rick’s and Karen’s extended families remarked to me repeatedly how grateful they were to our church for hosting the day’s events. Janie Kemp deserves special praise for organizing the reception following the funeral and burial. She coordinated volunteers and the many people from outside the church who wished to bring food for the reception with her usual grace and humility. I am thankful to all who helped make the event a time for warm remembrances and comfort. Karen would have been pleased with the nurturing atmosphere, just as she would have been shocked at the turnout. The church staff also deserves credit for things running so smoothly. From turning the furnace on in time to heat the building to printing the funeral bulletins to playing the piano to dealing with the city to make sure no one got parking tickets, everyone did their jobs in a manner that enabled everything to work out as it should.
The greatest challenges posed by Karen’s death remain ahead of us, however. The many members of our church who have experienced the death of a spouse or other loved one know well that some of the most difficult time occurs after the activity of the funeral is over. Some of our members who know firsthand such a process of grief have described to me how lonely it was after the visits and phone calls dropped off. The challenge for us as a church is to walk with Rick and his family through these coming dark days and not to assume that someone else will care for them. I, as the minister, will continue to be there for Rick and his family, but I cannot do it by myself. I need you to be there too. I ask you to continue to call, write and visit Rick over the coming days and weeks. Also, I would like to organize meals for them through the next few weeks. Rick lives with his stepson Matt, who is a student at Western and Karen’s granddaughter Haley. The three of them will need our care and presence. If you would like to provide a meal for the three of them, give the church office a call to sign up.
Another challenge for our church will be to continue the work Karen did of seeking out people who were in need of a church like ours. Many church folks may not realize that Karen routinely and consistantly through her many contacts in the community shared with people about First Christian. She encouraged people who felt ostracized from the churches they were raised in and people who no longer had any faith at all to give First Christian a try. I spoke with one such person in line at the funeral home. I tried to comfort him as he grieved, and he shared with me that Karen had talked with him many times about our church and encouraged him to attend. We must learn from Karen about the many people in our community who desire a church that will accept them and we must be that church.
Finally, we must face squarely the challenges to our faith posed by the nature and timing of Karen’s death. There are few, if any, theological writings out there that adequately explain suffering and death. A treatise on free will and providence does nothing to comfort the soul of one whose loved one has been taken from him or her. There are many questions and even doubts about a loving God in a time such as this. I want to encourage you not to ignore these questions. God is big enough to accept them. We, as a church, must make a space big enough for them too.
Grace and Peace,