You Are Loved
This past Sunday was Valentine’s Day. It was also the sixth anniversary of my father-in-law’s death and the day of the memorial service of one of my colleagues, the Rev. Keith Mills. Keith was the Conference Minister of the Northern Plains Conference of the United Church of Christ. His family and his Conference held a worship service on Zoom to celebrate his life. Like so many things we have done during the pandemic, an online memorial service didn’t seem the same as being in person sharing this moment of remembering as a community of faith.
What I did not expect was how intimate this service felt. When it comes to funerals, we have so many spoken and unspoken rituals and rules about what is expected--everything from how family and friends would process into the church and where people should be seated to what should be said, sung or worn. While there was a structure and flow to the time together, much of the pretense and pomp were stripped away. Something I know Keith would have appreciated.
There was no guest book to be signed. No bulletin to follow. No family pew or ushers to tell us where to sit depending on how we were related to the deceased and their family. No floral arrangements. No funeral banners, paraments or a casket pall. And there was no opportunity to distract ourselves by focusing on the fidgeting child, the movement of participants walking up to the lectern, the vestments of the officiant, or the fingers of the pianist flying off the keys of the piano.
Following good Zoom etiquette, those participating kept their cameras on as a way to acknowledge our commitment to be fully present for one another. This meant instead of being distracted by things in the room from which we were Zooming, the only thing we could really be focused on was each other, which at times was almost too intimate and raw for me to bear. As the intense mix of love and loss on display not only in the words that were shared, but in the close up faces of those attending, family members, friends, and colleagues alike, I could see their tears and they could see mine. Seeing all of these faces of people who were logging in from different parts of the country was a visible reminder of all the ways Keith’s life had intersected with people as a son, husband, father, pastor, Conference Minister, leader and friend at different points along his earthly journey. Outside of this context, we might wonder what this diverse ensemble might have in common. Yet, in this context, it was abundantly clear that the one thing we had in common was love.
A love of Keith who shared his deep faith, sense of humor, and joy of life with all of us. A love of the One who created Keith and gifted all of us with the opportunity to be in relationship with him. A love which understands, in moments like these, there is only one true thing in life that is lasting—love itself. And so, a memorial service on Valentine’s Day seemed so fitting, so beautiful, so meaningful.
On a day when it is easy to be swept up in the notions of romantic, fleeting love, this was a reminder of the deeper, lasting love of which our faith calls us to embody. It was also a powerful reminder of something we all intellectually know, but I believe bears repeating—don’t ever pass up opportunities to express this love to others.
We convince ourselves that we will always have tomorrow to say or do something for someone else. Yet, the truth is the only thing we can know for certain is that we have this moment. Don’t wait to tell others and to show others you love them. No one regrets how many times they said or showed others how much they loved them and how important they are to them.
So…let me go first. Dear friends, you are deeply loved. God loves you and so do I.
Blessings, Rev. Shana Johnson, ISC Conference Minister