If I go to church at all, I go to mourn.
This past spring, my pastor of 10 years decided on semi-retirement and a new life in a different area of the country. According to the rules of his church, he can’t have spiritually related contact with his former flock.
A favorite phrase, “it is what it is,” comes to mind and rings true here. I know we can’t live in the past and we need to move on but, in the end, grief will have its way.
Growing up, I was baptized, educated, confirmed and married Catholic. After real-life experience with child-bearing, birth control and an egregious divorce, I became a failed Catholic. Later, soul-searching, learning about world religions, and meeting and becoming friends with people of different beliefs, I became a certifiable agnostic. I have no desire to get beyond my agnosticism. I just don’t know. It is what it is.
Before I moved back to Buffalo in 2003, I hadn’t attended church for 40 years. I became a member of this congregation because of its pastor. He let me sit in a beautiful church and listen to a message of all-encompassing love, take Communion (a great comfort, probably related to my Catholic upbringing) and become part of a community that welcomed all comers. I didn’t have to confess my legion of sins and he didn’t chase me out because of my beliefs or lack thereof. This was all new to me.
I not only loved his message, I grew to love the man. I love his orientation to the world and its many issues and facets, his extraordinary intellect (a literary priest? I might believe again), his warmth and quick wit, his big, loping walk, his noteworthy accessibility and his professionalism.
Just before he left, he baptized two of my grandsons. I wanted them to grow up with his message. I wanted their characters to be shaped by and their approach to the world to be guided by his message. I know I can try to pass on the message myself, but I’m a believer that it takes a village.
My grandsons are still very young and now he’s gone.
I believe in process, and grief is a process. Avoid it at your own peril. Feel the pain and understand the full impact of the loss or moving on can be quite treacherous. That is my credo.
The comforts of denial abandoned me sometime between the last celebration of his time with us and the first Sunday I decided I could return to church.
I enter church bargaining: If someone, anyone, would just let the pastor know how hard this is, he would surely come back; we’ll find a clone and all will be well; I promise to believe if you return him to us.
Anger (my strong suit) rises up quickly: I won’t attend church. I won’t contribute. I won’t volunteer – so there. I’m here, he isn’t, there’s an imposter on the altar and he/she is failing miserably at being him. Four-letter words abound –as an agnostic, I’m entitled.
When the word “peace” is uttered or music fills the church, tears well up and a cold, gray fog seeps into my chest and surrounds my heart. Depression has landed.
I’m not sure what happens next or what I want to happen. Since the message is the thing, much depends on the choice of a new rector.
Meanwhile, grief keeps its own schedule and, like finding the new rector, acceptance is slow coming.
It is what it is.