I’ve seen a number of “Name your saints” queries this year. If they’ve been common in previous years, I missed them. Call it selective attention, or selective ignorance, or… something.
This year I noticed.
At Church of the Holy Cross, we observe All Saints Sunday on the weekend prior to November 1st (other churches seems to favor the Sunday after). We have a well established ritual. We name those who have died in the year since the last observance, toll the church bell, and friends or family members come forward to light a candle.
I’ve always been struck by the deliberate pace of this service. For most of my career in New England, we in the liturgy-crafting profession have labored for efficiency in worship, brevity where at all possible. “Keep the service moving,” we tell ourselves.
Our Chair of Deacons read each name slowly, clearly, deliberately.
Then, the crashing tone of the bell flowed in from its perch just outside the sanctuary.
Then, a pause.
Then, some person, some people, stood from their seats and bent their steps forward. They stood before the unlit candles, took one, or two, and bent their tips into a waiting flame. They placed the glowing taper in its row, and maybe paused… before returning to their pew.
And only then did the next name sound.
When all the names had been read, the congregation queued, returning to the sanctuary’s front, to light additional candles in memory and love and honor of those who had died in prior years. When they had finished, and I took my place to speak a final prayer of love and sorrow, the sanctuary glowed in daylight and in candlelight.
I’ve always lit a candle or two during that last portion of the service. Friends, family members, church members have departed from my life and gone to God. I’ve honored them with a flame or three.
This year, however, I stood for a name.
Our Chair of Deacons read his name: “The Reverend Lynn Anderson.”
The bell tolled.
I stood. I hadn’t far to walk — I’d come down from the chancel and taken a seat in the front pew — but I took those few steps to the taper-laden table and chose my candle. My hand trembled as I held the wick to the flame. I placed the candle in its holder. I paused. Then I took the few steps back, and sat.
My heart had broken open.
My father, Lynn Anderson, died on July 1st. He was eighty years old. He’d grown up in the hills of western Massachusetts, where his body now rests. The grandson of a Swedish immigrant, he was the first of the family to attend college. He married my mother, Maren Simonds, in 1962. He went on to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics education from the University of Michigan. Mom, with a master’s degree in biology, ran tests in a medical laboratory.
He and my mother loved each other — and they frustrated each other, too. In the 70’s they chose to do something about it, and deepened not just their relationship with one another but their parenting to their sons. They went on to become national team resource couple for Marriage Encounter, offering others what they so prized.
Shortly after I learned to drive, my mother had a melanoma growth removed. I remember thinking it was convenient that I had my license just when she needed a chauffeur. The cancer, however, had already hidden elsewhere. In the spring of 1983, I came home from college once to visit her in the hospital after a tumor paralyzed her. I came home a second time for her funeral.
I’ve been lighting a candle for her in my heart — whether I used that metaphor or not — for over 35 years.
Dad had to finish raising two sons, one in college and one in high school, without the love of his life, the love he’d worked so hard to nurture and preserve. He succeeded. We each got our college and graduate degrees (Christopher emulated Dad and earned a Ph.D.). We both married. My wife and I blessed him with his grandchildren.
In the meantime, he also heard the call of God, and turned from classroom teaching and school administration to the ministry. He got his M.Div. eight years after I got mine. He served small churches in Connecticut as an interim pastor — long tenures (for an interim), reflecting the challenges of finding pastors for small congregations. After retirement, churches sought him as a favorite supply preacher when their minister was away.
He also met and married the love of his life — again. During his seminary years, he gave his heart to Shirley Sherman and she gave hers to him. They filled one another’s spirits. They shared house and home.
So there are my treasured saints this year. Others called them Lynn and Maren, Dr. Anderson and Mrs. Anderson, Reverend Anderson. I called them Mom and Dad.
My heart breaks that they are gone. My heart sings because they lived.
And I know that my Redeemer lives, and in my flesh I will see God. (Job 19:25-26)