A young man in our church died in a bicycle accident and the funeral was this last week. It was the celebration of a life well lived.
Daniel was an earnest, thoughtful young man, with many gifts. And as it turned out, many friends. Although our rural church runs about 250, easily a thousand people showed up for the visitation, which turned into eight hours instead of four. And over 500 came to the funeral service itself.
The Parker family, which includes six younger brothers and an older sister, managed a difficult and unexpected loss with uncommon grace. The parents especially made every effort to see that Christ was honored. They made tough decisions about life support and organ donation, and were gracious to a stream of visitors flowing through the hospital as well as all the well-wishers and mourners who passed through their lives during these very difficult days.
They were not alone, however.
The elders showed up, of course, praying for Daniel in the hospital at 2 in the morning and visiting both days. Rob, our associate pastor, was there practically the entire time. Their small group leader, who happened to be a nurse, was there probably 12-15 hours, helping them negotiate the difficult conversations with the medical staff.
These are things you would expect. And you would expect someone to take care of their farm chores, feeding the goats and collecting the eggs. But there were many things to take care of that you would not expect or think about. And an army of support materialized immediately, helping to meet the many emotional and logistical challenges of a church taxed to the edges of its capacities.
There was food, of course; in the hospital, at the memorial service, and at their home, where extended family was housed in campers provided by church members. Food came from everywhere.
A friend called Katie to say eight ladies from her church in Jackson were bringing food. Lori, our kitchen coordinator, fielded calls from churches and camps that wanted to help. A dozen ladies from Lickley Corners Baptist Church brought food. I’m not sure there are much more than a dozen ladies in Lickley Corners.
But volunteers were also stringing cable for video in an overflow service, setting up and taking down tables and chairs several times, helping with parking. Ushers appeared, serving for several hours at a time.
This was the body of Christ, the hands and feet of Jesus himself. It was the church organizing itself to do its work in the world, not three or four guys sitting around sipping latte and talking about global warming and the theological implications of Lost.
In Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religioncoauthor Kevin DeYoung describes such a church as one that
exults in the cross of Christ, sings songs to a holy and loving God, has church officers, good preaching, celebrates the sacraments, exercises discipline, and takes an offering. This is the church that combines freedom and form in corporate worship, has old people and young, artsy types and NASCAR junkies, seekers and stalwarts, and probably has bulletins and by-laws.
Last week I was grateful for such a church.
So were the Parkers.
See also A Web of Grief